Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘European Parliament’

Cameron’s Shameful Saudi Arms Sales

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th February, 2016

Yemen strikesWhen he visited the BAE Systems factory in Preston yesterday UK Prime Minister David Cameron boasted of his success in helping promote “brilliant” arms sales top Saudi Arabia, whereas he should have hung his head in shame. Of course the Desert Kingdom and other Gulf states have the right to defend themselves and it is natural that Britain, as a major arms producer, should wish to corner an important part of a lucrative market. However, Saudi Arabia is not a normal case, for at least two reasons. The first is the air campaign it has been waging in Yemen, which has caused not only immense physical damage — including, reportedly, to all the country’s universities — but serious civilian loss of life. All this in by far the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula, in which hundreds of thousands of people, especially children are suffering from acute malnutrition. The second reason for Britain to balk at its cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia, rather than bask in it, is the Kingdom’s egregious human rights record. Since King Salman came to power, far from reducing the number of executions Saudi Arabia has accelerated their number. Medieval punishments are carried out under the false flag of religion, while women are still denied a full place in society and those who dare criticise the system, such as the liberal blogger Raif Badawi, face imprisonment, flogging or worse. The European Parliament rightly called for an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia this week, because of the Yemen conflict, though Mr Cameron’s Conservative MEPs failed to back that resolution. Labour politicians Jeremy Corbyn and Hilary Benn, to their credit, have spoken out in Britain and Tim Farron and other Liberal Democrat figures have also made their revulsion known. But the spotlight needs to be turned on David Cameron, who is presiding over a government that has put human rights concerns on a back burner and which celebrates making billions from arms that are not for legitimate defence but for offensive action beyond Saudi’s borders and sometimes for domestic oppression as well.

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Terrorism and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th February, 2016

imageMuch of Europe is on alert following the Paris outrages late last year and London in particular is braced for one sort of attack by radicalised Muslim youths or returnees from service with ISIS/Deash in Syria. Having lived through years of IRA bombings the British public is probably more phlegmatic about terrorism than most, but it was nonetheless reassuring this afternoon to hear at first hand about the anti-terrorism work of Europol from that agency’s Director, Rob Wainwright. He was guest speaker at a Global Strategy Forum event at the National Liberal Club, speaking on the record, so not revealing any deep secrets, but nonetheless presenting a brilliantly cogent exposition of how Europol operates against terrorism through a three-pronged approach relating to radicalisation, migration and cyber crime. The sharing of information between different European police forces as appropriate has helped avert a number of planned attacks and Rob Wainwright says that Europol manages to track a very high percentage of potential terrorists and their international links, not least through monitoring financial transactions and social media. Because of the heightened security threat, the agency is doubling its personnel from 50 to 100 approximately, which is still tiny compared with the challenge, though most of its work is in collaboration with national forces. Currently the EU has no specific competence in this field, but the European Parliament should keep an eye on areas where more formal cooperation would be desirable. When an audience member at today’s forum asked Rob Wainwright if Britain would benefit from the same degree of such cooperation if it left the EU, he replied that he could see no security benefits from Brexit.

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Shout out for Raif Badawi

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th December, 2015

imageYesterday, at the European Parliament, the wife of Saudi liberal blogger Raif Badawi, Ensaf Haidar,  collected the Sakharov Prize on his behalf. An empty chair had a prominent place in the proceedings, as Badawi himself is still in prison for the “crime” of expressing his view that Saudi Arabia should become more democratic, and allegedly insulting Islam. His sentence was 10 years and 1,000 lashes, the latter to be administered in batches of 50 every Friday, though after the first dose of this medieval punishment he has been considered too unfit to receive it. But he has now been in jail for more than 1,300 days. The agony of not knowing each week whether he will be flogged or not is a form of torture no country should impose upon anyone. The new Canadian Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has called for Badawi to be pardoned and to be allowed to join his wife and three small children in Canada, where they have wisely sought safe haven. Although Saudi’s major trading partners (and arms suppliers), the United States and Britain, have put some sotto voce diplomatic pressure on Riyadh regarding the case, this has had no effect. Something stronger is needed, in the form of sanctions. Although there is the occasional glimmer of positive developments in the Desert Kingdom, such as the recent election of women municipal councillors in the first election in which women have been allowed to vote, there is much about the country’s legal system that is barbaric — including the high number of executions — and unfit for the 21st century. The West was not shy about condemning the faults of Communist states when Communism held sway in the Soviet Union and central and Eastern Europe, and it should not flinch from turning that critical eye on Saudi Arabia now.

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UKIP’s Nasty Nationalism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd July, 2014

UKIP protestSeeing UKIP’s MEPs literally turning their backs when Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was played at the inaugural session of the new European Parliament yesterday really made me ashamed to be British. Such behaviour is not only childish but also deeply insulting, both to others present and to the memory of the founding fathers of the European Union whose idealism helped shape a Europe of peace rather than of war. Like a naughty boy at school, one of the new UKIP intake, Patrick Flynn, also tweeted that he had spoiled his ballot paper in the election for the President of the European Parliament, because the whole thing is a “farce”. It’s UKIP that are truly a farce, by getting themselves elected to an institution they despise (while claiming their salaries and generous allowances, of course). But whereas good farces make one laugh, there is an undercurrent of nastiness in UKIP — nationalism of the worst sort, often propounded with blatant xenophobia, as we saw in May’s European elections, backed up with dodgy statistics and outright lies. Their demonisation of Bulgarians and Romanians, in particular, and unjust charges that foreigners are stealing “our” jobs have undoubtedly worsened community relations in parts of Britain. Nigel Farage is the bandmaster in charge of these sinister clowns and usually manages to maintain his facade of hail-fellow-well-met when interviewed on TV. But it will be interesting to see how quickly the UKIP bubble in British politics deflates. And also how soon some of their MEPs fall by the wayside, as has happened each time in recent European Parliaments.

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Lobbying and the European Elections

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th April, 2014

lobbyingMEPs in Brussels are used to being lobbied — by business groups, farmers, trade associations and NGOs of every description. This year, in the run up to next month’s European elections, MEP candidates are getting the same treatment as well. I have already replied to over 1,000 lobbying emails (over half of them from the Trade Justice/World Development Movement) and we are still over a month away from polling day. Because of the Liberal Democrat debacle over the NUS pledge about tuition fees before the 2010 general election in the UK, LibDem MEPs have decided not to sign pledges as a general rule, but I am prepared to view each one on its merits, on a case-by-case basis. Thus I have been happy to sign up to human rights pledges (including on LGBT+ issues) and various animal rights pledges, from the RSPCA to Horse Welfare. Some of the other pledges are so detailed, and yet sometimes also prone to ambiguity, that I have preferred to make my own statement of beliefs and intents, for example with example to the digital rights campaign. I know some candidates get browned off by the hundreds of emails flooding into their inbox each day, but I celebrate that as part of a healthy democratic process. If you can’t stand the heat, keep out of the kitchen. I aim to answer every single email I get in this election campaign — though I know that means some late nights sitting over my computer!

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The Second Nick versus Nigel IN/OUT Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd April, 2014

Nick Clegg 2Nigel Farage 1This evening saw Round 2 of the Nick Clegg-Nigel Farage IN/OUT debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union, this time hosted by BBC2 and that evergreen fixture of BBC political programmes, David Dimbleby. I made a short speech at the National Liberal Club before the screening there, highlighting what for me are the three greatest achievements of the EU: (1) peace in Western Europe, (2) the re-integration of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe into the European family, and (3) the European Single Market, including labour mobility, which we must resolutely defend. I also briefly touched on the three strands of Liberal Democrat campaigning in the current European elections: jobs (especially for young people), the environment, and crime & security — the last mentioned including the European Arrest Warrant, promoted by Sir Graham Watson, LibDem MEP for South West England but now threatened with being undermined by the Tories. As for the televised debate itself, I thought Nick performed really well for the first 40 minutes or so — much more strongly than last week — though Farage got the upper hand towards the end. As I said in a Q&A afterwards with Vince Cable and Michael Moore at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blackfriars — where a Liberal Business Forum event was in full swing — I think Nick missed an opportunity to counter Farage’s jibe about laws being made in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats. Nick reposted that the number of European civil servants is on a par with those working for Derbyshire County Council, but he could fairly have argued that laws are actually passed by Ministers of the member states (most of them elected by popular mandate) and increasingly in co-decision with the European Parliament — directly elected, and surely something we should be pushing hard over the next eight weeks. Moreover, UKIP is vulnerable when it comes to the European Parliament as their attendance record at committees, in particular, is dire, and they often vote against Britain’s interest in plenary sessions. That fact needs reiterating time and again for people to realise that voting UKIP is actually wasting one’s vote if one wants to see the EU changing for the good.

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Bye Bye BNP?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th January, 2014

Nick GriffinNick Griffin, Leader of the British National Party and MEP for the North West of England, was declared bankrupt at his home town of Welshpool this week, but he announced that he will still be standing for re-election at the European elections on 22 May. He is legally entitled to do so, as bankruptcy is no longer a barrier to candidature and he will be entitled to a better redundancy package when he loses his seat in the polls, which I hope and believe he will. The BNP is a stain on multicultural Britain, but fortunately like most far-right groups it has been a hotbed of factionalism and personal rivalries. The other BNP elected as an MEP in 2009, for Yorkshire and the Humber, Andrew Brons — previously Chairman of the National Front — withdrew from the BNP and now sits under the label British Democratic Party. I suspect he will lose his seat as well, if he stands again. That is not just wishful thinking. Though far right fringe parties come and go in Britain, they are always a flash in the pan. The BNP had 12 councillors in the London borough of Barking & Dagenham, as well as a few in neighbouring Havering and Redbridge, for example, but subsequently lost the lot. It’s been a similar picture in the rest of the country, so that at the moment there are just three BNP councillors left in the whole of the UK. Given the way the party has imploded, how soon will be able to say farewell to them as well?


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The UK’s Future in the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th September, 2013

At the LibDem Conference in Glasgow this week, Ben Jones, Chair of the Party’s Europe Working Group successfully proposed a motion on the EU. Here is his text, first published in a blog piece for the European Movement (UK) euroblog:

The UK’s future is in a prosperous, sustainable and secure European Union.

Ben JonesNext year marks the centenary of the First World War: that cataclysm that opened up the darkest decades in European history. We should be grateful that – for all our concerns – the Europe of today enjoys an unprecedented peace: its peoples among the most free and prosperous on earth.

Without the sacrifice of our ancestors we would not have that freedom.

But neither must we forget that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today did not glide effortlessly out of post-war Europe. Nor was it underpinned by the military might of NATO alone.

In fact it was a soldier – the great American General, George Marshall – who surveyed a broken post-war Europe, and saw that without common endeavour, there would be no prosperity and therefore no security to speak of. He, like Churchill, Schuman and others, understood that old Europe had failed – and, unchanged, would fail again. The mould had to be broken.
So, when that centenary comes next year, let’s not be complacent about what we have today. Let’s be glad that Europe was re-founded on common endeavour – on democracy, human rights and the rule of international law. Glad that Britain supported and became a part of it. And glad, that we Liberal Democrats have never wavered from that vision – always the party of In. The EU has faced big tests in its history and yet the challenges of the future will be – in many ways  – just as formidable as those of the past. The world is changing rapidly – a global shift in economic power the like of which has not been seen for centuries. Globalisation gathers pace – across trade, new technologies, people and ideas. We should welcome the opportunities this new world offers. But neither can we ignore the tests it will bring: tougher competition, cross-border crime, fragile states, instability on European borders, and unprecedented environmental challenges, not least climate change.
Certainly, no nation today can tackle all this alone. But the question for the EU remains – can it meet the challenge and continue its historic purpose of prosperity, sustainability and security? Our firm view is that it can. But as reformers and critical friends of the EU, we believe that only by focusing ruthlessly on those areas where it can really make a difference will the EU win back the trust of all its citizens. So in our motion:
First, if the EU does not stand for prosperity and jobs, it stands for nothing. In the wake of the Eurozone crisis, getting the single currency on to a firm footing will be a long and difficult process, but it remains as vital for the UK economy as any other, and we must support it. But setbacks must not blind us to the opportunities of the single market. The world’s biggest marketplace – Britain’s biggest market. An 11 trillion pound economy linked to millions of British jobs, and a pre-requisite for billions of pounds of inward investment into our country. Without it, we would be poorer. And we still need to unlock that market on our doorstep – in services, digital and green technology. We need to work hard for EU trade deals with the US and others to unlock billions in GDP and deliver more jobs. But only as part of the world’s biggest single market can the UK hope to get the best deal from tough negotiations with trading giants. And, let’s be absolutely clear, the only way to influence and determine the rules of the single market is through EU membership – the Norwegian and Swiss models are either undemocratic, ineffective or both and none cut it for the UK.
LibDem ConbferenceSecond, sustainability – we want ambitious new EU targets to reduce greenhouse gases. We want continued radical reform of fisheries and agricultural policies including a complete end to wasteful fish discards.
Third, a more secure Europe. Police and prosecutors must have the tools they need to catch the criminals who slip across borders. But we want a fair Europe too – ensuring common-sense use of the European Arrest Warrant and levelling the rights of suspects up – not down – across Europe.
And it is vital that the EU speaks with a more coherent voice in the world – combining diplomacy, trade and development more effectively, and pooling and sharing military capability to get value for money and meet our commitments. Deeper Eurozone integration is a necessity. But it must not compromise the coherence of the single market. Future treaty change should guarantee equal voice for euro ins and euro outs in single market rules. And, if the EU is to win back the trust of its publics, it needs to work harder to demonstrate accountability, efficiency and transparency in all that it does. That means more effective scrutiny from national parliaments on subsidiarity. And it means greater transparency – secret ballots on budget and policy in the European Parliament are unacceptable. But when it comes to reform – let’s be clear. Tory hopes for a swag-bag of unilaterally repatriated powers are an illusion – a huge waste of diplomatic capital. Yes the EU needs renewal and reform – but you only do that by leading and building alliances for change with like-minded countries. And – as we have argued consistently – the next time the UK signs up for a significant transfer of powers, triggering the EU Act, we should have an In Out referendum, giving the public a say on the whole relationship.
Sceptics will say this agenda is too ambitious. But our record shows it can be done: Chris Davies MEP leading a historic reform of EU fisheries policy. Ed Davey MP working with like-minded states to win an opt-out from regulations for small businesses. Sharon Bowles MEP negotiating hard to ensure non-euro states like the UK have a strong voice in future decisions on financial services. This is the winning approach. Getting stuck in, leading the agenda, building coalitions for change. Renewing and reforming the EU for the 21st Century. No surprises then that a recent survey found Lib Dem MEPs to be the hardest working. And no prizes for guessing who are the laziest… There’s a wonderful double meaning in the name UKIP. It’s not just what’s written on the ballot, it’s their daily approach to politics: You get up. You get your expenses. You kip.
With the right attitude, we can ensure a reformed EU delivers – on jobs, on crime and the environment. But we have a fight on our hands. There is a new isolationism creeping into our politics – a delusion that Britain can simply pull up the drawbridge and escape all the demands of the modern world. It is hurting our influence in Brussels. The fact is without EU membership we can’t have a stronger economy and a fairer society. This country would matter less in the world. That’s why President Obama – like each president before him for sixty years – insists that we walk taller in Washington when we count for something in Europe. No offence Geneva – but I don’t want the UK to be a big Switzerland. I’m proud that this country fought for freedom in Europe, drafted the European Convention on Human Rights, pioneered the biggest single market in the world, is a UN Security Council member – a country that wants a say on our children’s future in this world, and – when push comes to shove – will stand up and be counted.
Does anyone really believe that we can be that same country if we leave the European Union?

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The EU and Media Freedom

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th June, 2013

A useful briefing on the European Parliament’s recent resolution on standards of media freedom across the EU, from David Geary of the European Movement UK:
media freedomThe European Parliament adopted recently a resolution on standards for media freedom across the EU. In the context of recent debates in this area from media ethics to political collusion to the debate about privacy and the fallout from the Levenson Inquiry, this resolution is both timely and relevant.
The resolution on the EU Charter: standard settings for media freedom across the EU, was passed 539 votes to 70 (with 78 abstentions). The Rapporteur was Romanian Liberal Democrat MEP, Renate Weber. The text calls for the governments of all member states to ensure that threats to media freedom, such as attempts to influence, pressurise or otherwise interfere with the view of restricting the ability of the media to function freely within a state, are prohibited. It also suggest that legal mechanisms must be established to ensure that senior appointments to public media organisations safeguard that candidates selected are best enabled to maintain the independent integrity of the respective media organisations. The text covers both public and private media, because both outlets play their own significant role in society and seeks to make sure that both are provided with the same rights, such as those derived from the media plurality clause of the Charter on Fundamental Rights. The Parliament calls for full implementation of the rights established under this Charter.
media freedom 2Acknowledging current challenges to media freedom, especially in cases where governments have cited security concerns, the Parliament requests that such moves should not be abused or used to exercise a degree of political control over the media. Bureaucratic processes such as broadcast licensing were also identified as potential areas of concern which might be manipulated to limit access to the media market for political or partisan reasons. The Parliament requests that both the Commission and Member States take action to address and prevent dominant positions by establishing lower competition thresholds in the media industry than in other markets. The European Parliament establishes two factors which give rise to a dominant position within a media market. First is the ability to benefit from monopoly pricing power. Secondly, the ability to benefit from political influence, especially when that influence creates the opportunity to implement regulatory practices and changes which can offer a competitive advantage. Both characteristics of a dominant media power make it difficult to combat or regulate and the European Parliament identifies this as a critical issue for member states to address. In accordance with previous requests on the Commission to establish a legislative framework governing media ownership, Parliament once again calls for a set of concrete measures to provide a legal oversight to media ownership, establishing minimum standards for Member States.
The independence of journalists is at the centre of the European Parliament’s effort to protect medial plurality. Noting that journalistic independence requires that journalists must not be prevented from accessing public documents and information, Parliament calls on Member States to establish a comprehensive legal framework protecting and promoting freedom of information requests. Alongside access to public information, Parliament notes that true journalistic independence cannot be achieved as long as members of the security services of Member States infiltrate the offices of public and private media organisations. Parliament calls on Member States to stop such activity. The Parliament also notes the effect of poor working conditions and the lack of security of tenure can have on journalistic independence. So it calls for regulation in this area as well as safeguarding journalists from undue pressure from publishers or owners.
Parliament identified the need for promoting ethical journalism and the establishment of professional standards for ethics and conduct, notably the obligation to identify the difference between a fact and an opinion, to ensure that the accurate, impartial and objective media content becomes the standard by which media organisations are assessed. Parliament calls for the establishment of a regulatory authority independent from government which can ensure compliance with standards and ethical codes and provide an avenue to consider complaints from affected parties.
Having the entire range of media operating across the EU in mind, the European Parliament considered developing standards for social media and internet based media providers alongside the more traditional print and broadcast media. In addressing online media, Parliament called for the Commission to include internet media operators in the EU Regulatory framework when the time comes to revise the Audio-visual Media Services Directive.
The importance of monitoring media freedom in the Member States is of critical importance and the European Parliament called on the Commission, the Fundamental Rights Agency and/or the EU Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom to publish an annual report on media freedom, which would then be presented to both Parliament and the EU Council for their consideration and with the intention of having the two co-legislators make proposals to follow this report.
David Geary
European Movement policy officer


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UKIP’s Waifs and Strays

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th April, 2013

Geoffrey BloomNigel FarageKen Clarke — the thinking man’s Conservative — has aptly described UKIP as a rallying point for waifs and strays. Though some of its members — and presumably its MEPs — are genuinely motivated by a belief that the European Union is the worst thing since the Third Reich a great many of its supporters are essentially people who look at a ballot paper marked Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and respond “None of the Above”. One reason for that is that none of the three major British political parties manifests xenophobia as overtly as does UKIP. It’s no use party leader Nigel Farage pleading that UKIP is not racist: the party’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, including the latest demonisation of Bulgarians and Romanians, is distinctly racist in tone. Some of the motley crew who have been signed up to stand for UKIP in this Thursday’s County Council elections have expressed openly homophobic opinions as well; one described gays as “termites”. Farage himself has admitted that the party has not had time to vet these newbie candidates thoroughly and that there might indeed be some members of the BNP and convicted criminals among them. It is significant that the hateful English Defence League (EDL) urged that other far-right parties, including the BNP, should not stand against UKIP candidates so as not to split the vote. As Geoffrey Bloom, one of UKIP’s more colourful MEPs, has warned, the party has not had time to draw up a clear manifesto of policy either. Mr Bloom, you may recall, is the gentleman who argued that women should spend more time cleaning behind the fridge. Feminism is almost as sinful as homosexuality in the lexicon of many “Kippers”. It is a fact that several of UKIP’s MEPs later walked out of the party after they got elected, and I won’t go into the criminal activity that landed certain people in jail. But Farage is a good comedy turn and is getting blanket coverage in the media so is an attractive nanny for the “waifs and strays”. For me the most alarming thing, however, is the way that the right-wing of the Conservative Party is cosying up to UKIP because it is afraid the party is taking away Tory votes. It’s a very dangerous strategy, but maybe not all that surprising when you consider that the Tories are in a group in the European Parliament that contains some pretty intolerant and offensive right-wing parties. UKIP’s intervention could lead to some very interesting results on Thursday, with the Conservatives likely to be the biggest casualties. The number of UKIP councillors elected might be small, thanks to Britain’s quirky electoral system, but the party’s bubble needs to be burst — and its shortcomings highlighted — before next year’s European elections, when a sizeable UKIP vote under a proportional system could make them the biggest contingent, doing incalculable damage to the UK’s reputation amongst our continental partners.

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