Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Herman Van Rompuy’

A Stronger EU Leadership?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th August, 2014

Donald TuskFederica MogheriniI only met Herman Van Rompuy once, finding him courteous and professorial, which is maybe not surprising given his low-key personality and taste for composing haiku, but I always felt it unfair the way the British Press ridiculed the former Belgian Prime Minister once he became President of the European Council; even Jeremy Paxman on BBC2’s Newsnight couldn’t resist the red-tops sobriquet for him, “Rumpy Pumpy”. Anyway, his now nominated successor, Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, is an entirely different creature and should give added weight to the EU Council role. Even David Cameron approves of Mr Tusk (though I shan’t hold that against him). Moreover, it is a good move to have a Pole in this position, as Poland is something of a modern EU success story, as well as being firm on the EU and NATO’s need to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s outrageous Russian expansionism. The other big change to emerge from Brussels today is the replacement for Cathy Ashton, the (British) High Representative for Foreign Affairs (in effect, a putative EU Foreign Minister). Baroness Ashton also came in for some stick in the British media, not least because she was an unelected politician, having previously been Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords, as well as not having much of a foreign policy background. In fact, she performed better than I was expecting — for example, succeeding in visiting the ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in prison — but again I believe her successor will shine more brightly. This is Federica Mogherini, currently Italy’s Foreign Minister. It’s true she has only been in the job for six months, but at least she has political legitimacy. And it must help in her preparation for her new post that Italy currently holds the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Union. So these two new appointments are, I believe, largely to be welcomed, and may, possibly, stem some of the criticism targeted daily at the EU by the British media, which was far from happy at the accession of Jean-Claude Juncker to the presidency of the European Commission, where he might indeed find it difficult to make as much of an impression as the outgoing José Manuel Barroso. . 

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The EU and Ukraine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 6th March, 2014

EU UkraineEuropean Union Heads of Government met in emergency summit in Brussels today to discuss what to do about Ukraine. Although there was not complete agreement about how forcefully to react to provocative moves by President Putin and pro-Russian forces inside Crimea, everyone understood the need to prevent a further escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. Interestingly, Romania offered to act as an honest-broker between the EU and Moscow, which is a promising development; certainly, diplomacy will remain Europe’s tack for the time being, though European Council President Herman van Rompuy warned that various economic sanctions will be imposed if Russia does not change its tune soon. As it is, preparatory talks for the panned G8 Summit in Sochi have been abandoned, and the mood in both Washington and London is in favour of cold-shouldering Russia from the G8, which could possibly revert to being the G7. Meanwhile, ominously, the state-oriented Russian TV channel Russia Today showed viewers a map of Russia into which Crimea had already been incorporated. And the Crimean regional government’s parliament voted to hold a referendum to secede from Ukraine, to be held on 16 March — i.e. in 10 days time. That not only violates Ukraine’s constitution but would also make any proper debate about the pros and cons of the status quo, independence, devo max or incorporation into Russia impossible. So the situation remains extremely tense. However, the EU is right to try to pursue the diplomatic route — while offering financial and moral assistance to the provisional government in Kiev — rather than inflaming the situation further.

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Making Europe Engaging

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th May, 2013

EU Nobel Peace PrizeRichard CorbettThe European Union has a good story to tell; you don’t win the Nobel Peace Prize without one. But alas all too often the story gets lost in a mist of jargon and worthiness. Having covered the European project since Britain joined the then European Community in 1973 I am only too aware of the problem, even while being an ardent supporter of the European project myself. These thoughts came to my mind today at Europe House (the London HQ of the European Commission and European Parliament’s representation in London) when the British Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) held a lunchtime event for Richard Corbett, special adviser to the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. Now Richard is a nice and intelligent man and it was a tragedy that he lost his seat as a Labour MEP in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2009 while UKIP noodle Godfrey Bloom hung on to his. Herman Van Rompuy is also a nice and even more intelligent man. But it is a sad fact that the vast majority of Brits ( and many other European citizens) have not the faintest clue what he does or indeed what the European Council is. Richard this lunchtime gave us a very fair and balanced appraisal of where things stand in the eurozone and the wider EU, stressing how Europe has avoided protectionism in no small part thanks to the single market. The major objection to putatative UK opt-outs is that it would mean Britain competing under unequal circumstances. Germany’s Angela Merkel has said she is keen to keep the UK in, but as Herman van Rompuy aptly commented re David Cameron’s position, when someone has one hand on the doorknob and is looking for his coat he can’t expect people to take him very seriously. Indeed, the message the Conservatives are giving, through the crackle of Cameron’s ambiguities, is not so much about an opt-out as about a walk-out. That is of course what UKIP wants. Now Nigel Farage has been getting more than his fare share of publicity recently, including on the BBC, but this is not because his rather vague policies are supported by the media. It’s because he fires witty rhetorical fireworks from every orifice; in short he entertains. So a big chunk of the public warms to him. What the proponents of the EU project — and defenders of Britain’s membership — need is to loosen up, to drop the jargon and worthiness and to present a narrative that will make people in the UK and beyond enthusiastic about being European citizens. Engage them!

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Reviewing the Lisbon Treaty

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th March, 2011

The London branch of the European Movement decamped to my home district of Mile End last night, for a seminar on the Lisbon Treaty 16 Months On. Valsamis Mitsilegas, Professor of European Criminal Law at Queen Mary University of London (which hosted the event) emphasized how the Treaty stresses core European values, notably a respect for fundamental rights, the rule of law, and democracy, but much of his presentation was about the specific area of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA). Since Lisbon, JHA has been subject to more qualified majority voting and co-decision (in which the European Parliament has a say in decision-making, not just the Council of Ministers) than was the case in the past. He cited three areas in which there could be said to have been a particular transfer of sovereignty from the national to a European level, namely economic migration and the status of third country nationals; substantive criminal law, including the definition of criminal acts; and judicial cooperation, building on earlier experience of the European Arrest Warrant.

The other speaker at the seminiar was Richard Corbett, a former Labour Member of the European Parliament who now works for the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy. He argued that the main objective of the Lisbon Treaty was to make the workings of the European Union and its institutions more effective and more democratic. As part of the improved efficiency, the role of the Council President had been enhanced in three main ways: (1) the term of office of the person concerned was extended from six months (non-renewable) to two-and-a-half years (with the possibility of one renewal); (2) the incumbent now does the job full-time, rather than in addition to what was often a heavy national, ministerial responsiblity; (3) there is a proper secretariat in Brussels to assist him.

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Poland’s Priorities for the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th February, 2011

Only a little over two decades after the struggles of Lech Walesa and his Solidarity colleagues led to the downfall of Communism in Poland, the country is making preparations for holding the rotating presidency of the European Union. Although the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty has meant that there is now a ‘permanent’ President of the European Council — currently the former Belgian Prime Minister, Herman van Rompuy — every six months a key role in the organisation of the Union passes to one member state (currently Hungary). Today, at a Kettner’s lunch held at the National Liberal Club, which I chaired, the head of the political section of the Polish Embassy in London, Jacek Gajweski, gave an excellent, succinct presentation about what Warsaw hopes to prioritise during its half-year in the Brussels sun, starting on 1 July. The final programme will not be unveiled until June, but as far as Mr Gayewski can predict, the six main themse are likely to be:

1) strengthening the EU’s internal market

2) improving relations with the Eastern neighbourhood, including Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia etc

3) strengthening the EU’s energy policy

4) consolidation of the common security and defence policy

5) neogotiating the 2014-2020 financial framework

6) full utiliastion of Europe’s intellectual capital

He said that Poland hopes to see progress in EU enlargement moves, relating to Iceland, Croatia, other parts of the Western Balkans and Turkey. And he noted how internally, Poland has been changing since the country joined the EU in 2004. The proportion of the population employed in agriculture has been halved — though those remaining farmers are perhaps the most pro-EU of all Poles — and as far as the role of the Catholic Church is concerned, he quoted a media commentatorwho said a few yers ago, a propos of John Paul II, ‘We heard the Pope, but we did not listen.’

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Challenges for the EU in 2011

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 13th January, 2011

When former Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy was chosen as President of the European Council, there was much derision in the puerile British Press: crude jokes about ‘Rumpy-Pumpy’ and fatuous remarks about how he wouldn’t even make the list of 10 Famous Belgians. But in fact, he was in many ways the ideal choice, having dealt with the Belgian budget when it was drowning in debt and having been used to managing a government of five difficult Coalition partners. It’s not his fault that he looks like a compassionate undertaker, as I can confirm, having attended the presentation he gave at a splendid event at Europe House in Smith Square this lunchtime. But what a cool cookie he is. It would have been a disaster if a ‘star’ such as the ghastly Tony Blair had got the job, as he would inevitably have taken initiatives, which is not the Council President’s role. He chairs the (seemingly ever frequent) meetings of Heads of State and Heads of Government of the 27 member states and soothes them into reaching a compromise which can then be put into practuce. Herman van Rompuy clearly gets on well with most of the top men and women he has to deal with, and indeed told us that he had had a very fruitful encounter with David Cameron at 10 Downing Street before coming on to Europe House. The year ahead holds many challenges on the economic front, though the eurozone goes relatively confidently forward, whatever its critics say, while on the external front, strengthening the partnership with (and I hope eventual membership of) Turkey remains a rop priority.

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European Liberal Democrats Back Turkey’s EU Accession

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 20th November, 2009

European Liberal Democrats, meeting at the annual congress of the ELDR in Barcelona, this morning passed a resolution (which I proposed) stating clearly our support for Turkish accession to the European Union, providing Ankara fulfils all of the so-called Copenhagen criteria for membership. This is in sharp contrast to the negative comments about Turkey´s EU vocation made recently by conservative leaders such as President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, as well as the newly appointed President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

The resolution noted the progress that Turkey has been making with regard to the Copenhagen criteria — as acknowledged in last month’s report from the European Commission — while pointing out that more needs to be achieved in areas such as freedom of expression and the media. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s initiatives towards resolving Turkey’s longstanding Kurdish question were welcomed.

The resolution — which was finalised in consultation with the German Liberal FDP (now in charge of the Federal Republic’s Foreign Ministry) — also called on the European Union to do more to facilitate a settlement of the Cyprus dispute and to end the isolation of Turkish Cypriots.


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