Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘European Union’

Peace Beyond Borders

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 4th July, 2016

Peace beyond Borders coverDespite what most Brexiteers believed, the European Union has been a great success as a peace project. That is the central thesis of veteran Indian peace and justice campaigner Vijay Mehta’s latest book, Peace beyond Borders (Catapult, £9.99), in which he argues that exporting the EU model to other parts of the world would help end conflicts. In fact, several other parts of the world have indeed been regionalising in recent decades, from South East Asia (ASEAN) to the Gulf Arab states (GCC) and South America (UNASUR). None has up till now gone as far in terms of economic let alone political integration as the EU, but they all acknowledge that they are stronger together. The author looks at each continent or sub-continent in turn, seeing how cooperation has overcome divisions and historic rivalries, as well as championing the potential of further cooperation. This strengthening of a multipolar global reality is healthy, he believes, rather than the United States being the only super-power (as it became after the collapse of the Soviet Union), acting like some sort of world policeman. In a final section, Vijay Mehta acknowledges that there are nationalist forces resisting the sharing of sovereignty, just as within some countries (including the UK and Spain) there are forces that want more regional autonomy or even independence. Scotland, of course, may well re-examine the case for independence if Brexit is now successfully implemented, preferring to remain within the EU. Reading this book one can only lament that just over half the voters of Britain did not understand the elements of peace and hope inherent in the European project. Had some been able to read it before they cast their vote on 23 June, maybe it would have changed their minds.

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Why the Risk of Brexit Alarms the G20

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 27th February, 2016

G20 ShanghaiFinance Ministers and Central Bank Governors from the Group of 20*, meeting in Shanghai this week, have unanimously agreed that Britain’s possible withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit) could pose a risk to the global economy. In a draft statement from China’s business capital they highlight this as one of the most serious potential dangers confronting the world economic outlook. Growth in many of the leading industrial economies is sluggish and there are particular concerns regarding the performance of the two biggest economies, the United States and China. “The global recovery continues, but it remains uneven and falls short of our ambition for strong, sustainable and balanced growth,” a draft statement from the summit says. The statement notes that markets have reacted adversely to economic anxieties exacerbated by such things as Britain’s possible exit from the EU, as well as the European refugee crisis. The British Chancellor, George Osborne, has seized on the communiqué to underline why the British government’s formal position is to campaign for the UK to remain in the EU, despite opposition from many MPs within the ruling Conservative Party. The matter is being put to the British electorate in a referendum on 23 June, following Prime Minister David Cameron’s negotiations with his continental counterparts to promote limited EU reforms. Those campaigning for Brexit will doubtless maintain that this is another example of scaremongering by the “Remain” camp, but they should take note of the fact that the G20 is about as serious as it gets when it comes to global economic analysis and forecasting. The message is clear: Brexit would not just be a leap into the dark for Britain but would also cause instability within the EU and the wider world economy.

  • The G20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, plus the European Union. For the first time, Egypt also joined the Shanghai summit.

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Rwanda and Regional Integration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st December, 2015

imageAs a small landlocked country in the heart of Africa, Rwanda would have limited economic possibilities if it tried to go it alone. But by cooperating more closely with some of its neighbours it can gain many benefits. A degree of regional integration — without undermining national sovereignty — is accordingly being promoted through the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP), which held its latest Summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, just over a week ago. The NCIP groups Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, and as of this Summit Ethiopia as well. As the name suggests, the initiative is project-focussed, in particular promoting the development of railways in the sub-region and in improving both the road network and the efficiency of the port of Mombasa in Kenya, on which the land-locked members — in other words, all of the countries except Kenya — depend for many of their exports and imports. Tanzania is currently only an observer, but logically it would make sense if it joined NCIP too and integrated the port of Dar Es-Salaam into overall planning.

Regional integration has had something of a chequered career in East Africa, notably the East African Community that brought together Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda but failed to live up to its expectations. By being project-focussed the NCIP probably has more chance of success and it confirms a trend towards regional integration that is happening all round the world as a by-product of globalisation. The European Union is, of course, by far the most advanced example of regional integration, as well as being the most ambitious, having political as well as economic dimensions and grouping no fewer than 28 countries. Not everything is running smoothly in the EU, but it is too important to fail in a world where new economic giants are rising. Africa is beginning to understand that as well, and although the continent-wide African Union is provably over-ambitious as a model of integration for the foreseeable future, smaller sub-regional groups such as the NCIP are feasible and promising.

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UK Misses the EU Boat — Again!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th February, 2015

Angela MerkelFrancois HollandeAngela Merkel and Francois Hollande are in Kiev today and tomorrow will move on to Moscow — all in aid of trying to mediate a peace deal between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels on Eastern Ukraine. They are to be congratulated for confronting head-on the most serious threat to security in the European Union’s neighbourhood since the Cold War. They are right to believe that the European Union should be pro-active in its commitment to peace and stability, not only within and between EU member states but in the neighbourhood as well. But where is Britain in all this, or more precisely David Cameron? The UK is a major player in NATO operations, but under Mr Cameron it has increasingly side-lined itself from EU activity. The Ukraine peace initiative would have been stronger with the involvement of the three most powerful member states: Britain, France and Germany. But once again, as so often over the past half century and more, the British government has left it up to a Franco-German alliance. David Cameron might claim to be too busy to drop everything to go to Ukraine and Russia, though Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande cleared their diaries for the trip. Besides, Mr Cameron had no problem dropping everything recently to go cap in hand to Riyadh, to pay his respects to the Saudi Royal family. No, what I fear is all to obvious is that the Prime Minister didn’t want to be seen as doing anything too ‘European’ out of fear of UKIP and his own Tory backbench MPs. So once again The UK has missed the boat at a crucial moment in the EU’s evolution. And Mr Cameron should hang his head in shame.

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Electrical Safety First

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th April, 2014

Electrical Safety FirstOne of the joys of be a European politician — at least, from my point of view — is that almost daily one is confronted with an issue that deserves careful study and sometimes a practical or even legislative response. So I was particularly pleased this evening to take part in a dinner briefing and discussion session with Electrical Safety First (formerly the Electrical Safety Council), examining matters ranging from fatal household fires caused by faulty electrical wiring or equipment to product recall. Fellow LibDem politicians there were Mike Hancock MP (Eastleigh), Lords Dykes and Tope and Baroness Tonge (whose own daughter was the victim of an awful fatal electrical accident), and Councillors Richard Kemp (Liverpool), Michael Bukola (Southwark), Chris Naylor (Camden) and Simon James (Kingston). Simon is also one of my fellow Euro-candidates (as well as on the Council of Europe’s equivalent of the committee of the regions), and so too is Turhan Ozen (also LibDem PPC for Totenham) who was present. In my short remarks I stressed that although I am a keen European, and have been following European affairs ever since Reuters sent me to Brussels in 1974, nonetheless I don’t believe there has to be a European law for everything. However, clearly in the field of consumer protection the EU does have a role to play in setting standards and guidelines (as, for example, with food quality), even if most of the relevant laws should be national or even regional or local. In the UK there is a general trend towards less EU regulation, but I have always argued that the EU should do less, better. In the field of consumer protection relating to electrical goods and appliances that obviously should include compulsory safety levels, and maybe qualifications/training for electricians, though it does not necessarily have to go into the minutiae of plugs, sockets, fuses, etc. But as others round the table rightly stressed, a lot needs to be done at a local level, not only protecting council tenants but also private rental properties. It’s obligatory for gas safety, so why not for electricity, which can be just as fatal. So for me this was an extremely productive evening. I learned a lot, but also I realsied that if I do get elected on 22 May there are some very practical things I can be pushing for to help consumers in London.

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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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Has Erdogan Finally Lost the Plot?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th March, 2014

Erdogan twitterThis evening the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan closed down twitter in his country, having previously warned he might do so. As a longstanding friend of Turkey I tear my hair out. There’s a saying in Britain that politicians go off the boil after 10 years (think Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair) and Erdogan has gone off big time. When he was first elected he and his moderately Islamist AKP seemed destined to lead Turkey through to a bright new future, unworried by the sort of military coups that have peppered the country’s political history. And indeed the government pushed through many remarkable achievements in infrastructure and economic development (sometimes without taking the environment into due consideration). Huge swaths of the economy were privatised and per capita GDP levels rose at a rate that suggested Turkey might indeed be capable of meeting the criteria to join the European Union in the foreseeable future. Sure, there were some warning signs, such as the on/off nature of the PM’s reaching out to the Kurds — one step forward, one step back. And while some people in the media might have been involved at some stage in some shady business did not justify a situation in which there are more journalists in prison in Turkey than in any country in the world. Then with the Gezi Park protests last year the wheels really started to come off the AKP bandwagon. What started as a grassroots campaign to preserve one of the few remaining green spaces in central Istanbul quickly turned into something much broader — not least when the police and security forces cracked down brutally. The protests have not completely gone away, but Erdogan meanwhile has been inflating conspiracy theories: declaring that outside forces (including the foreign media) have been fomenting dissent and that certain groups, including his erstwhile ally, the Gulen Movement, are out to bring him down. Thus the banning of twitter — which had become for him an agent of the great conspiracy — had to be silenced, despite the fact that it has been one of the most faithful, consistent and up-to-the-minute channels for ordinary Turks to voice their opinion. Like an ancient Roman Emperor, Erdogan has chosen to kill the messenger, rather than listen to the message. Will the voters forgive him when the local elections come round shortly? He certainly still has a formidable body ofsupport, especially in conservative rural areas, though nowhere near the approximately 50% he garnered for his third general election win. No, this silencing of twitter smacks of the acts of a desperate man who has lost touch with reality. His days must surely be numbered, but don’t ask me to guess how many.

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UK Should Be Leading, Not Leaving, the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th January, 2014

Danny AlexanderWith just five months to go before the European elections, the junior partners in Britain’s governing Coalition, the Liberal Democrats, have been showing just how much  they differ from their Conservative partners when it comes to the country’s relationship with the European Union. The Party Leader, Nick Clegg, as well as its President, Tim Farron, have made abundantly clear why the LibDems are the party of “IN”, not “OUT”, as many Tories appear to be, aping UKIP. This weekend, the LibDem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, has a strong piece on Liberal Democrat Voice (Link here: http://www.libdemvoice.org/danny-alexander-mp-writes-we-shouldnt-fritter-away-our-eu-influence-when-we-can-lead-drive-for-jobs-and-growth-37788.html) arguing that Britain mustn’t fritter away its EU influence when it could be leading the drive for jobs and growth. Danny is well placed to comment, having followed EU affairs closely since working as a young man for the European Movement. But I would go further than him and say that without Tory shilly-shallying, Britain could be leading the EU, as an equal patrner alongside Germany. The Germans would love that, especially now that France has a rather flakey President in Francois Hollande. And we have so much to offer the EU. We could be championing reforms that do need to occur, but are franklçy unlikely to do so long as Britain has its coat on and one hand on the door to leave, as European Council President Herman van Rompuy once brilliantly put it. So in the run-up to May, the two Coalition government partners will be singing from very different hymn-sheets when it comes to Britain in the EU — and it is vital that that LibDem voice be amplified, in the best interests of this country.

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A Centenary for Reflection

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th January, 2014

WWI CentenaryThis year’s centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is, according to the British Government, going to be about Reconciliation, and of course that is a noble thing. But I can’t help feeling that reconciliation between the Brits and the Germans (and other parties to the conflict) happened long ago — even though a Second World War occurred in the meantime. So, Reconciliation itself is not enough. 2014 should be a year of Reflection, on a number of very serious subjects. The first is the folly of War — particularly the so-called Great War, of course — and the fact that humankind still hasn’t worked out a way to avoid it. The New Year was ushered in with ongoing hostilities and a humanitarian disaster in Syria, as well as more recent but extremely dangerous conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. It is interesting that most Wars these days are within states, rather than between states, though that does not make them any easier to avert or resolve. And since the horrors of the aftermath of the break-up of Yugoslavia, Europe has remained free of War. Some would argue that has been as a result of the existence of NATO (though the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, among others, might raise their eyebrows at that). Certainly, the European Union has played its part, which is why it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The EU is not a perfect institution, but it has provided a framework in which European states can cooperate rather than confront each other, and disagreements can be resolved around a meeting table in Brussels rather than on the battlefields of Flanders. That is no mean achievement. So as Centenary-mania takes over in the UK in the run-up to the European elections in May we should indeed reflect, not just on why we believe “never again” in Europe but also on how the EU can grow and reform itself to be a brighter beacon to bloodier parts of the world.

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The EU’s Nobel Prize

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th October, 2012

I confess that when I heard that the European Union had been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize I was somewhat surprised — and I was even more taken aback today when I learnt that it had won it, against competition from over 100 other organizations and individuals. Predictably Nigel Farage, UKIP and the Tory Euro-sceptics immediately went on the offensive, and they got far more coverage in the British media than they deserve. But such is the nature of the UK tabloid Press (and the Daily Telegraph). The more I thought about the award, however, the more I realised how well deserved it is. The EU and its various predecessors have made war between France and Germany unthinkable, which was the prime motivation of the founding fathers. And even more remarkably, the EU has enabled formerly Communist countries of central and eastern Europe to glide back into the mainstream of Europe where they belong, with astonishing speed. Of course the eurozone is going through a difficult patch, but let’s not forget that the global financial crisis began with the sub-prime mortgages in the United States, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and irresponsible practices by bankers, not least in the City of London. That is not the EU’s fault; on the contrary, a more cohesive EU offers the best possible route out of the current problems. It is also notable that the Peace Prize is decided by the Norwegian Nobel committee and that Norway is not a member of the EU. That is basically because Norway has a relatively tiny population and an enormous sovereign wealth fund based on its huge earnings from hydrocarbons extraction. But that did not stop the committee understanding what has been happening in the wider Europe. And I can see Norway one day joining the EU, just as one day Britain will probably be forced to join the euro, after the pound sterling slides into oblivion. But in the meantime, what the Norwegians have said is: ‘the EU has brought peace and stability to our often war-torn continent, and shows every sign of continuing to do so, once the current troubles are over.’

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