Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Iceland’

Croatia, New Kid on the EU Block

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th April, 2013

Croatia flagcroatia mapOn 1 July, Croatia will become the 28th member state of the European Union, having cleared all the accession hurdles. It may come as a surprise to British Eurosceptics that there is still a queue of countries wanting to join the EU, but despite the ongoing economic and financial problems of the eurozone the EU project remains something to which newly democratic countries of eastern Europe, in particular, remain committed. This point was stressed by Croatia’s Ambassador to London, Ivan Grdesic, when he spoke at a lunch hosted by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) British Section at Europe House in Smith Square today. Croatia will be one of the smaller EU states, with a population of under 5 million (even including Croats living in Bosnia Herzogovina, most of whom hold joint citizenship), but it recognizes that being part of the EU brings not only the benefits of being part of the Single Market but also should strengthen democratic transparency inside Croatia and the fight against corruption, which remains a factor in several Balkan nations. Of course there will be some downsides; when Croatia becomes a full member of the Schengen Agreement it will have to consolidate its borders with non-EU states, and it is going to have to introduce visas for tourists from countries such as Russia and Turkey. However, Croatia will be a significant beneficiary of EU funds, helping develop its infrastructure, industry and agriculture. There was some lively discussion with the Ambassador about the legacy of not only Communist Marshal Tito but also the distinctly right-wing and authoritarian President Franjo Tudjman, who was in power during the 1990s, not to mention the unfortunate earlier period of Croatia’s existence as an “independent” state during the Second World War when the fascist Ustasha ruled. It is a remarkable tribute to how far Croatia has come from those dark days on 70-odd years ago that now it is on the doorstep of EU membership. And who is next waiting in the wings? Probably Iceland!

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Norway and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th January, 2011

The people of Norway have twice voted — by a narrow margin — to stay out of the European Union, even though many of the so-called opinion formers in Oslo favour membership. So it was interesting to get the (relatively new) Norwegian Ambassador Kim Traavik’s take on the matter when he spoke at an Association of European Journalists UK Section lunch at Europe House today. The Ambassador was speaking off the record, but that does not stop me making some background comments and personal observations. The bizarre situation Norway is now in is that it has to comply with EU law (being part of the European internal mrket, as well as the Schengen area), yet has no say in how such laws are formulated. Of course, Norwegians hardly look on their EU neighbours with envy. The country posts regular large surpluses thanks mainly to its oil and gas and has built up a massive sovereign wealth fund — investing some of that in Britain. But if Iceland is successul in its bid to join the EU, then Norway is going to find itself alone with tiny Leichtenstein in the rump European Economic Area. I don’t think that prospect bothers the Norwegians much, however. So whatever the EU’s fortunes over the next few years, I don’t think we will be seeing a third Norwegian approach re membership in the forseeable future.

(photo: EU-delgasjonen)

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Iceland, the EU and the Euro-elections

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th January, 2009

Iceland is now seriously considering applying for membership of the European Union, having followed a ‘go it alone’ policy for many years (mainly to try to keep control over its fishing grounds). The country metaphorically sank when the tide of the global financial crisis washed over it, making not just politicians but also the general public realise that at times of crisis,  it is maybe wiser to be inside a big tent rather than outside on one’s own. As all prospective members of the EU have to agree to adopt the euro, the Eurozone is therefore likely soon to absorb Iceland and reach up into the northern Atlantic, leaving Britain sticking out like a sore thumb. This is bound to reignite debate about the UK’s eventual adoption of the single currency.

In a recent Europe policy paper, passed by the last Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Bournemouth, the party reiterated its belief that Britain should join the euro in due course. That does not mean we will be campaigning in this year’s Euro-elections for immediate Eurozone membership — indeed, the pound sterling needs to recover quite a bit before it would be at an appropriate level for that to happen — but we should not ignore the issue. Informed opinion is beginning to shift on the desirability of Eurozone membership and I believe British public attitudes on the matter are starting to change.

Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a meeting at the European Parliament in Brussels between British MEPs, some of their staff and the London-based European elections manifesto team, chaired by Danny Alexander, MP. It would be improper of me to divulge details of the discussions, but suffice it to say that the elections are indeed going to be fought on European issues, notably the way that Europe can work together better to tackle current economic challenges, as well as climate change and other environmental priorities, and cross-border security issues. It will doubtless be a huge relief to all those who were embarassed by the party’s  failure to pin its European colours to the mast in previous European elections that this time there is to be no ambiguity. The Liberal Deùocrats have a unique selling point on this in the UK context and at least 30 per cent of the British electorate agrees with us, so let’s go for it!

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Will Iceland Sink or Save the World?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th October, 2008

Iceland rarely hits the world’s headlines, except when it launches a Bjork or hosts a Cold War summit. But now it stands accused (by the British) of starting a Cold War itself, with its sudden freezing of nearly nine hundred million pounds worth of British assets in Icelandic banks, much of these deposited by local authorities in the UK. Kent County Council is particularly exposed, while in London, the borough of Barnet has substantial holdings which it might not be able to get its hands on. In retaliation, Gordon Brown has ordered the freezing of Icelandic assets in Britain, though James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, was singularly unable to specify on ‘Newsnight’ tonight the scale of what those might be. This all brings back memories of the Cod Wars between Britain and Iceland over fishing rights in the 1950s and 1970s, though this new Cold War is potentialy far more serious. The LibDems have rightly said that the local authorities need to be reassured by the British government that their money in Iceland will be covered by some compensation scheme, otherwise Councils might start start withdrawing money from all banks everywhere, which would dangerously exacerbate the financial crisis here.

By supreme irony, tonight’s ‘Newsnight’ programme also screened a feature by the Science Editor, Susan Watts, on the possiblity of using Iceland’s basalt rock as a giant carbon sink — to suck in carbon dioxide from the atmopshere and thereby help save the planet from global warming. This is all a weird coincidence, of course, but I am sure I won’t be the only person going to bed tonight wondering whether there isn’t some way of profiting from this juxtaposition to make what Karl Popper would have called a ‘leap of the imagination’ to combine the two things, so Iceland can help save us rather than sink us.

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Freedom of the Press

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st May, 2008

Christopher Walker, Director of Studies at Freedom House, New York, gave a presentation to the Association of European Journalist (AEJ UK) at the European Parliament office in London earlier today, outlining the situation regarding media independence in OSCE member states. This showed just how far some countries in the ‘greater Europe’ have to go before they can be proud of their record. Freedom House ranks countries using a scale of negative points out of 100 judged on their degree of press freedom, with Finland and Iceland coming out top, at an impressive 9, while Turkmenistan is right at the bottom with an appalling 96, even worse than Uzbekistan. The UK can’t crow, as it comes out at 19th equal, on 18 points, alongside Lithuania. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, interestingly, are the only former Soviet republics that score well enough to be granted the status of ‘free’. Ukraine and Georgia are in the next category down, ‘partly free’, while all the other 10 former Soviet Republics, including Russia, are slated as ‘not free’. All of the Western European countries manage to get into the ‘free’ category, though when Silvio Berlusconi was last Prime Minister, Italy dropped into the ‘partly free’. It won’t just be Freedom House in New York which will be watching to see if Mr Berlusconi’s recent return to office will once again mean that Italy slips.

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