Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘European Parliament’

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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Euro-elections Brought Forward

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th March, 2013

European Parliament logoDirect elections to the European Parliament every five years have usually been held in Britain  on the first Thursday in June, with most of the other EU member states voting on the following weekend. But next year the elections will be brought forward slightly to May (22 May in the UK’s case). The EU Council press release below explains why. It is therefore highly likely that British local elections (including the London all-out borough council elections) will be put back three weeks, to be held on the same day.

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/136041.pdf

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Montenegro’s EU Aspirations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th January, 2013

Montenegro flagAleksandar Andrija PejovicWhen the former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s,  the immediate concern of the new states created was to secure their boundaries and to establish the apparatus of a national government. But most also dreamed of the day when they could complete the transition from Communist province to full member state of the European Union. Slovenia — which has always thought of itself as being in central Europe rather than the western Balkans — was the first to achieve that goal, in 2004; Croatia will follow suit this year. But the next is likely to be tiny Montenegro, which only declared independence (from a rump Yugoslavia made up mainly of Serbia) in 2006. Last night, the tiny republic’s chief negotiator for Montenegro’s accession to the EU, Aleksandar Andrija Pejovic, joined London Tory MEP Charles Tannock — who is the relevant rapporteur in the European Parliament — at Europe House to give a presentation on Montenegro’s progress. The government has managed to put together an impressive array of committees and structures in Podgorica to manage the adjustment of Montenegro’s laws and practices to fit in with the EU’s massive acquis communautaire. Interestingly, a sizeable majority of the key people in that process are women. Moreover, local NGOs have been integrated into the deliberations, which is a first. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Montenegro will complete the accession process before the end of the decade. This is partly because the EU is going through a difficult time at present but also because there is general recognition that Romania and Bulgaria were unwisely fast-tracked into membership in 2007 before they had sorted out some serious deficiencies. As Charles Tannock warned, Montenegro also needs to tackle some issues around corruption and organised crime. But it should become the 29th EU member state one day — or the 30th, if Iceland gets its act together and races past on the inside track.

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Andrew Duff’s Eurovision

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th January, 2013

Andrew Duff 3While far too many people in Britain are pondering the question “Should the UK leave the EU?”, our continental neighbours are more concerned with debating the issue of how the European Union should now evolve. Evolve it must, as the prolonged crisis in the eurozone has highlighted that the current methods of governance are no longer fit for purpose. Probably they never were. Instead, there will have to be a form of fiscal and banking union, though that is something Britain is likely to remain detached from for the forseeable future. Last night, at a Federal Trust seminar at Europe House in Westminster, arch-federalist and LibDem MEP for the East of England, Andrew Duff, set out his vision for the future, arguing that the EU’s treaties need to be revised as soon as possible, as the Lisbon Treaty is being stretched to breaking point by the current crisis. He predicted that there will be a Convention kicking off the new treaty process in the Spring of 2015 (once the European elections are out of the way and a new Commission is in place). It falls to the federalist movement to draft a new constitutional treaty for a federalist EU, Andrew said — and of course he would normally be part of that, having been intimately involved in preparations for the last draft Constitution, which had to be dropped because of public opposition in several member states.

Federal Trust logo Andrew also once more floated the idea that in future there will need to be a group of MEPs in the European Parliament who are elected from transnational lists. And more controversially, he developed his concept of associate membership of the EU, describing four possible categories: (1) Norway and Switzerland, (2) Serbia and other aspirant member states which still have a lot of changes to make domestically, (3) Turkey, and (4) the UK and any other member state which feels it does not wish to be part of a federal union. This all led to a lively debate; as ever Andrew was thought-provoking and the discussion was far more intelligent than what one hears in the House of Commons or reads in most of the British Press.

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20 Years of the European Single Market

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th November, 2012

When people ask me ‘What has the EU ever done for me?’ my answer usually relates to the Single Market, which has given individuals and businesses four basic freedoms of movement throughout the 27 member states, relating to goods, people, services and capital. The EU is now celebrating 20 years of the Single Market, though given the current problems in the eurozone it is not, as Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier has said, the right moment for a birthday party. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to take stock of what the Single Market has achieved and what still needs to be done. So in member states across the EU events have been going on bringing together interested parties from government, business and civil society to discuss the Single Market 20 Years On. Today the EU Commission’s London Representation has been hosting a conference subtitled ‘ What’s in It for the UK?’. The star speaker this morning was Lord (Leon) Brittan, a former Vice-President of the Commission and one of the leading pro-Europeans in the parliamentary Conservative Party. Unlike many of his colleagues he sincerely believes that Britain should be at the heart of Europe; indeed, he says Britain will probably join the euro one day, when the eurozone has sorted out its problems and, alas, the UK is experiencing its own. It is worth reminding ourselves that it was a Tory peer and Commissioner, Lord Cockfield, who largely designed the Single Market and persuaded Margaret Thatcher to endorse it. And of course it was another Conservative, Ted Heath, who took Britain into the EU in the first place. The Europhobic headbangers of the Tory right should ponder on that more often. Interestingly, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Internal Markert and Consumer Protection Committee, Malcolm Harbour, is also a British Conservative; he spoke constructively this morning too. But I’ll leave the final word to Leon Brittan who declared that ‘we have to sell the EU of consumers and citizens and that is done through stories’. We pro-Europeans have some very good stories to tell and it would be good to hear more of them out in public discourse.

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My London Euro-hustings Speech

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th November, 2012

For the benefit of those who weren’t there but who have asked what I was going to say, this is the speech I gave at the European candidates’ selection hustings meeting in central London today:

Good afternoon everyone. I know it can be quite tiring listening to a whole series of speeches, but this hustings meeting is important. It’s crucial that we have a credible, committed team in London for the 2014 Euro-elections. And we need to have the right leadership at the top of the list. 2014 isn’t going to be easy. The Euro-poll will probably be on the same day as the London borough elections. So we need to have a twin-track strategy. By that I mean we must target hard in the locals to ensure that we hold what we’ve got – and maybe pick up a few new seats, if we’re lucky. But we also need to deliver a strong London-wide Euro-campaign so we can harvest votes efficiently in our weaker areas.

In that Euro-campaign, we LibDems must be the Euro-realists. The Tories will be vying with UKIP in their Europhobia. And Labour seems to be repositioning itself to become Eurosceptic, as it was in the bad old days under Michael Foot. So we’ll be the only major party setting out honestly how Britain benefits from being a member of the EU – and how the world benefits from a more united Europe. One thing I’ve been focusing on recently is how European funds help create jobs and promote regeneration in deprived areas of London such as Newham, North Greenwich and Tower Hamlets. Of course, not everything about the EU is perfect. Far from it. There needs to be more democratic accountability. And excessive bureaucratic delay must be tackled. But the shortcomings in the EU do not outweigh the fact that in an increasingly competitive, globalised world European states are better off together than alone.

In this selection campaign, my team and I have been using the slogan “Expert – European – Liberal – Campaigner”. This sums up neatly in four words what I’m offering you.

Expert: because I spent seven years in Brussels as a journalist covering the EU institutions. And I’ve been writing about what’s being going on in the EU ever since.

European: because being European is an important layer of my identity, along with being a Londoner and a Brit. I speak several European languages, which comes in handy. And my work has taken me to all twenty-seven EU member states.

Liberal: because from the day the late Jo Grimond came to speak at my school, I’ve shared in the values and principles that lie at the heart of Liberalism. We Liberal Democrats believe in an efficient mixed economy that rewards creativity and endeavour. And we care passionately about social justice. We are also firmly internationalist.

Campaigner: Like many of you in this room, I’ve flown the flag for the Liberal Democrats at local, national and European elections, not just as a candidate but as a member of a hard-working team. I served for a while as a borough councillor – in Bromley. And I’ve lost count of the number of local and parliamentary by-elections I’ve helped in across London over the years – right up to the Action Day yesterday campaigning for Marisha Ray in Croydon North.

I can honestly say that I have joined in activities, both political and social, with all the local LibDem parties in London. And of course as Chairman of London region for the past three years I’ve played a key role in making the regional party more professional. Now, as I hand over my administrative responsibilities, I can concentrate full-time on campaigning in the run-up to 2014. Many of you will know that in the last two Euro-elections I was number 2 on the London list and just missed actually getting elected to the Parliament. Someone the other day asked me, “Jonathan: how do you keep up your stamina? You’ve devoted so much time, effort and money to European campaigns and all you’ve achieved is to get someone else elected!” Well, I have three answers to that. First, I’m fully committed to delivering the best possible result for London LibDems in 2014. And that means working hard to ensure maximum representation in Europe. Second, it’s essential that we have people at the top of the list who really know what they are talking about on Europe. And last but not least: I’m as determined as ever to become a London MEP. It’s the only full-time job I’ve ever really wanted. And with your help, I can make it this time! Thank you!

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Why I Want to Be an MEP

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd November, 2012

Today ballot papers started arriving at the homes of Liberal Democrat members in London so they can choose the order of the list of candidates for the European elections in 2014. There are nine candidates for eight places (a tenth, Elaine Bagshawe, has withdrawn). The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, so everyone who has been a member for longer than a year gets the chance to take part by single transferable vote (STV). In 2004 and 2009 I was Number 2 on the list, and as such just missed actually getting elected to the European Parliament by a whisker, so no-one can be surprised that I’m going for Number 1 this time. Being an MEP is something I have always wanted, more than any other form of political office, though I did serve as a borough councillor for a while. I used to cover the European Parliament and other European institutions when I was based in Brussels, originally with Reuters but later freelance. In the early days it was something of a talking shop, whose members were appointed by their national parliaments and had almost no power. But in 1979 there were direct elections for the first time, giving the institution more democratic legitimacy. In Britain these were on a first-past-the post system in large constituencies, in London’s case usually comprising three boroughs (I fought London South East, which was made up of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich). But in 1999, the Labour government rightly bowed to pressure from our continental partners to adopt a fairer, more proportional system.

I have often attended events at the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg (yes, of course I am in favour of the abolition of the wasteful shuttle between the two!) and for many years I have been an elected member of the governing Council of the ELDR — the European Liberal Democrat and Reformist party, which groups like-minded parties from across Europe, including a number of states not currently members of the EU. In fact, this time next week I’ll be in Dublin at the 2012 Congress of ELDR. This moves round Europe, partly to give a boost to the host party; the last ELDR event I attended was in Yerevan, Armenia, in May. The Parliament itself now has much stronger powers than it did in the past, with many major decisions now being subject to ‘co-decision’ between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (which is made up of Ministers from the governments of the 27 member states). MEPs usually sit on a couple of major committees; my choice ideally would be in EU external policy/foreign affairs and overseas development, but of course London concerns would figure large among my priorities, including the use of European structural funds to help create jobs and foster regenration in deprived areas of the capital, including my own home borough, Tower Hamlets. Because of my professional background, obviously culture, media and related issues are also of great interest. In fact, I write regularly for the culture website of the European Commission’s London representation. And I agree with EU founding father John Monnet that one thing maybe the European project should have stressed earlier and more strongly at the beginning is the crucial value of culture, identity and diversity.

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EU Action on Human Rights

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 12th July, 2012

When Cathy Ashton was appointed High Representative in charge of the EU’s external action service, she declared that she wanted human rights to run like a ‘silver thread’ through the service’s policies. But as Edward McMillan-Scott — Liberal Democrat MEP and a Vice President of the European Parliament — said at  a roundtable at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime, human rights have sometimes played second fiddle to trade matters and other practical concerns. He, the Labour MP Michael Connarty (the senior Labour figure on the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee) and Nicholas Beger (from Amnesty International’s Brussels office dealing with the European institutions) were therefore not surprisingly all in favour of the proposed appointment of an EU Special Representative for Human Rights, whose specific job it would be to focus on human rights concerns, wherever they occur in the world, irrespective of other considerations. As Nicholas Beger pointed out, there is currently often a lack of balance in the EU’s stance regarding the transgressions of other states; Belarus rightly comes under criticism for its many shortcomings, but why not Azerbaijan? Oil is a sad but obvious answer, but the putative Special Representative must be above such considerations and look at the world’s nations objectively. I said that I thought the litmus test for the new human rights action plan — of which the Special Representative would be the most high profile part — will come with regard to Israel/Palestine. Michael Connarty rightly touched on Israeli violations in his introductory remarks, but I believe the EU’s credibillity on human rights will only be proven when it does take an objective stand and condemns various elements of the occupation, house demolitions, administrative detention and so forth — though the wide divergence of views among member states relating to Israel could prove to be a problem. By coincidence, while our roundtable was discussing these matters, the House of Commons was getting ready to debate to desirability of appointing the EU Special Representative. Michael Connarty was worried some eurosceptic Tories might use this as an opportunity to further their prejudices, but it is to be hoped that the British parliament will indeed give the initiative its blessing. It would be shameful otherwise.

 

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A Common EU Asylum Policy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th June, 2012

Immigration and asylum are twin subjects that are guaranteed to get  Daily Mail columnists’  blood boiling; add the word Europe and the mix is toxic. Except that of course, in the real world, it isn’t. And indeed both the EU’s Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are hard at work on the construction of a common EU Immigration and Asylum Policy. This clearly makes sense for countries signed up to Schengen, as people can move freely between them. But the outsiders, including the UK, would do well to be fully involved. This afternoon, as the rainclouds delivered a Jubilee encore, Europe House (London HQ for the European Parliament and European Commission) hosted a seminar on the topic, asking the question ‘Is the UK in or out?’ I’m not sure we got a definitive answer to that, but in the meantime it was fascinating to hear from the very impressive Maltese MEP, Simon Busuttil, who is a leading EPP (centre-right) representative on the European Parliament’s committee dealing with Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. He pointed out that last month, Maltese authorities rescued and brought to land 600 African migrants (mainly from Somalia) from small craft floundering in the sea. On a per capita basis, that is the equivalent of Britain taking in 90,000 refugees/migrants. Malta, Italy and Greece have really received the brunt of the influx of asylum seekers, legal and irregular migrants arriving from North Africa since the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring. Obviously these initial host nations cannot be expected to shoulder all of the burden, even though an agreement signed in Dublin means that in principle asylum seekers must apply in the first EU country they arrive at, rather than cherry-picking among the rest. A European resettlement Plan is being discussed, but there is a degree of urgency. According to the EU’s timetable, there is meant to be a Common Immigration and Asylum Policy in place this year, though I suppose any delay could be solved by the old ruse of stopping the clocks at 23.59 on 31 December.

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Europe’s Parliament

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th June, 2012

The European Parliament is little understood and in England, at least, much misrepresented. This is largely the fault of the British media, most of which either ignores or lampoons the institution. But many UK politicians — including some MEPs — share the blame. One expects UKIP to be misleading and nasty; after all, they want Britain out of the European Union (though I am sure the UKIP MEPs would be the first to bemoan their consequent loss of salary). But an alarming number of Tories also take part in the ritualistic slagging-off of the EU in general and the Parliament in particular. Three of the worst Conservative offenders in the last parliament, were Daniel Hannan (still there), Roger Helmer and Chris Heaton-Harris; they were apparently known to their fellow MEPs as “The H Block”. That is one of the myriad facts that even a longstanding observer of the European Parliament such as myself picked up from a new book: Europe’s Parliament (John Harper Publishing, £29), by Julian Priestley and Stephen Clark. Julian was an Oxford contemporary of mine, and our paths crossed again when I started covering the then appointed European Parliament in Strasbourg and Luxembourg for Reuters in 1974, when he was a junior official. He rose to become the Parliament’s Secretary General, and it is not difficult to work out which parts of this weighty but accessibly-written tome came from his pen. I particularly relished the description of Andrew Duff (LibDem MEP for the East of England) as an Ayatollah among the group of revolutionary constitutionalists. Inevitably the choice of personalities is somewhat subjective. Nigel Farrage, UKIP’s Leader, gets more than his fair share, whereas Sharon Bowles (the South East LibDem MEP who is sometimes rather grandly described as the most powerful women in European financial circles) doesn’t get a mention. The French and Germans not surprisingly receive full coverage, as they have been so key to the Parliament’s development. The early part of the book is largely about the three parliamentary sites and their buildings, which I fear will be red rag to the Eurosceptic bulls. Luxembourg now merely houses officials, but there is still a ridiculous and ridiculously expensive moving cricus of MEPs and hangers-on between Brussels and Strasboug each month, despite the valiant efforts of Edward McMillan-Scott and others to press for a Single Seat. That would, alas, require a Treaty change, which can only happen by unanimity; no prizes for guessing which country would block Strasbourg’s demise (though as Priestley and Clark point out, many Germans have a strong attachment to the Alsace city too. The book is probably too hefty to be of much direct use in schools, but certainly it will appeal to politics undergraduates, journalists and politicos, not least aspirant MEPs such as myself.

Link: www.johnharperpublishing.co.uk

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