Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal International’

The European Liberal Family (ALDE)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd November, 2019

12836C57-4082-48C4-B8C6-5EA2ED7AF71AFor most of last week I was in Athens, the cradle of democracy, for the ALDE Party Congress, which brought together dozens of Liberal parties from across Europe, not just the EU. I’ve been on the ALDE’s elected Council as a UK Liberal Democrats’ representative for many years and am currently standing for re-election to that role (all LibDem members can vote). As ever, one of the highlights of the Congress was the welcoming into membership of new parties, the details of which can be found on the ALDE website*. But inevitably a lot of the political discussion, especially outside the plenary sessions, was about Brexit. It was good to be able to confirm that the UK would not be leaving the EU on 31 October after all, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s do-or-die pledge. The British delegation worked hard to strengthen the resolve of our Continental counterparts (the Irish are well on board!) to support our efforts to Remain. When Luxembourg Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, declared in his plenary speech that he regretted the UK’s departure, he was rightly heckled by London MEP Irina von Wiese, “We’re not Leaving,”

5D6E7B66-4657-4764-A539-A4A387F6AD9BSubsequently, after the Congress, a 3-month extension to Article50 was granted by the EU27 and a general election was called in Britain for 12 December, in which Brexit will inevitably be a major issue. However, the ALDE Congress agenda was much broader than that and there was a range of interesting fringe meetings, including an event put on by (the worldwide) Liberal International on fighting Fake News and Alternative Facts.

ALDE itself is a very broad church, embracing social liberals, like the UK LibDems and D66 from the Netherlands, as well as more economically conservative parties, such as the German and Swiss FDPs. But there are many strongly shared values, not least on human rights (including LGBTi matters) and environmental protection. In the European Parliament, ALDE parties are together in the Renew Europe Group with Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche from France, and with 108 MEPs — a sharp rise from 2014 — constitute the third largest grouping, with considerable influence. But one of the healthy things about the ALDE Congress is to remind us all that Europe is far wider than just the EU and that all of us have a shared European heritage, despite our glorious diversity.

*link: https://www.aldeparty.eu

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Cambodia Once Again Will Stun the World ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th August, 2018

COUTEL-Temoigner, entre acte et paroleThe title of Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s new book (Cambodia Once Again Will Stun the World, Balland, €15) reflects the boundless optimism that the man himself displays, despite the many hard knocks he has received over the years and his involuntary status of political exile. I guess the allusion in the title is to the golden era of Angkor, where, at the start of the 12th century, an estimated one million people lived around the temple complex, which would make it the largest conurbation of its time. But for most people, of course, Cambodia entered their consciousness when the genocidal crimes of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) came to light. Though a sizable majority of the population today are too young to have any direct experience of the horrors of the concentration camps and killing fields, the trauma endures, barely alleviated by the kleptocratic nature of the regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The PM, his family and cronies have amassed great fortunes over recent decades while most Cambodians suffer a standard of living that is among the lowest in South East Asia, and much of the country’s environment has been ravaged.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won 90% of the seats in last month’s general election, which was widely denounced by foreign governments as a sham. Sam Rainsy’s National Rescue Party was excluded, having been forcibly “dissolved” by the authorities last year, though he pursues his political agenda in exile through the newly-created Cambodia National Rescue Movement. This book, in a series of sometimes sketchy, very short passages, gives some pointers to the sort of society he would like to see in a putative Cambodian renaissance, based on the rule of law, an end to corruption and full civil rights. As a devout Buddhist, he is forgiving towards his political enemies, even if they do not return the courtesy, and he is prepared to work with any outside country, including China, to build the nation he envisages. This is not entirely pie-in-the-sky, as Sam Rainsy in the 1990s was Minister of Finance in the government of Norodom Ranariddh (which was overthrown in a coup in 1997) and he has excellent international contacts, not least through the Liberal International. But for the time being, he is an outcast, admired (often in secret) by millions of his compatriots, denounced by Hun Sen, and sadly unlikely to be able to flesh out the bones of his vision for a new Cambodia any time soon.

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Sustainable Cities

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 24th June, 2018

61FE9C9F-3DBF-422F-BA46-EA249C559737The key theme of the 200th Executive Committee of Liberal International, which finished in Berlin last night was climate justice — how climate change and other environmental problems can be tackled in a way that improves people’s lives. A striking difference between Green and Liberal political parties is that whereas the former are eco-centric, the latter see the quality of human life as central to political priorities. With parties from more than 50 countries (both developed and developing) represented at the Berlin gathering, there was inevitably a wide range of views, but also common cause in stressing the urgency of action to address the issue, as reflected in a new LI Berlin Declaration that was passed nem con and will be available through the organisation’s website. As more than half the world’s population now lives in cities, the challenges of urban sustainability were a topic for special consideration by a panel of politicians from the Philippines, Senegal and Poland. Josephine Sato and Diene Farba Sarr spoke respectively about what is being done to enhance living conditions in Manila and Dakar, while Marek Szolc posed the question of how far governments should either encourage or force citizens to be more environmentally responsible. Certainly this is something that cannot be left to market forces alone, but a balance between incentives and punitive measures needs to be struck. Doubtless further discussion on such matters will take place at the Liberal International Congress in Dakar at the end of November.

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ALDE’s Balkan Serenade

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th April, 2018

A198F168-1FAA-4223-9CE5-D5648356448FThe Sofia ALDE (Alliance of Liberal Democrats for Europe) Council finished this evening with a dinner reception in the Lozenets Residence, a nostalgic monument to Communist grandeur; once an officers’ club it now serves as a government entertainment venue, with live music, rather good food and decor that took me back to 1960s Eastern Europe: square marble faced pillars with faux Doric capitals, symmetrical carpets and chandeliers about half the size that would look right. The hospitality was most generous, in true Balkans fashion; I am often embarrassed by how mean Northern European sometimes are in comparison. Though this was an ALDE event, Juli Minoves, President of Liberal International, gave a Liberal medal for sterling service to Sir Graham Watson, former leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament and later President of the ALDE Party. He recalled that he has been attending international Liberal events since the LI Congress in Ottawa, which I believe was my first entry into the circuit as well. Graham enjoys crafting eloquent speeches and his gracious acceptance of the award was no exception. But of course for all Brits present this was a bitter-sweet occasion, as our participation in ALDE will inevitably diminish if Brexit goes ahead, as seems likely (though not inevitable). It is paradoxical that the Brits (including the Conservatives) were the most enthusiastic of the EU member states in welcoming formerly Communist countries such as Bulgaria into the fold, but are now trying to remove the UK from the 28-member body. For the Bulgarians there is the added resonance that the late 19th Century, Liberal statesman William Gladstone was a great champion of Bulgarian Rights in Ottoman times — there is even a street in central Sofia names after him. So they ate particularly saddened by Brexit. At least the UK LibDems will be able to remain part of ALDE whatever happens over the next year or so, and in the Council meeting earlier today, a plea was made for continental parties to encourage their nationals resident in the UK (an estimated 3 million) to vote next Thursday for us to help to try to stop Brexit.

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The Liberal International’s 70th Anniversary Congress

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 19th May, 2017

IMG_2400The Liberal International was founded in Oxford 70 years ago, as Europe and the wider world emerged from the physical and psychological trauma of the Second World War. The idea was to bring together political parties, originally predominantly in Europe, who had enough of a shared ideology to collaborate in the interests of promoting liberal values of individual freedom, human rights and a (regulated) free market economy. I went to Wadham College, Oxford, a few weeks ago to celebrate the 70th anniversary and to help put the finishing touches to a new Liberal Manifesto which aims to update what was put together in 1947, without losing the central principles. Tomorrow, in Andorra, at the Liberal International Congress, we will adopt the new document and I will have the honour of signing it on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats.

IMG_2411I am sure the founding fathers (and, yes, in keeping with the times they were almost all men) would have been thrilled to see how LI has grown and how these days European parties are outnumbered by counterparts from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Indeed, Liberals are now in government in so many countries in the world, from Taiwan to Côte d’Ivoire, Canada to the Netherlands. Will the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, be the next new recruit? The reason the current congress is in Andorra is because the LI President at the moment is Juli Minoves, former Foreign Minister of Andorra, who has done us proud reminding us just how ancient the principality’s parliamentary system is. But on Sunday I shall return to London and throw myself back into the general election campaign, in Dagenham & Rainham and beyond.

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Liberal International at 70

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th April, 2017

Yesterday, at Wadham College, Oxford, the Bureau of Liberal International (LI) gathered, along with several other members of the LI Executive, including myself, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the organisation. We stood for a group photo on the very steps where our predecessors posed for a photograph in 1947. At its inception, LI was largely a European affair, but over the intervening decades, it has grown to take in parties first from Latin America and Asia and more recently from the Middle East and North Africa as well as Africa. There are over 40 member parties in Africa now, as part of the African Liberal Network, based in Cape Town. After the photo opportunity we retired to Harris Manchester College for a working session on the draft Liberal Manifesto, which is due to be adopted at the LI Congress in Andorra next month. This document, put together by Karl-Heinz Paqué, in consultation with member parties,is seen as a spring board for us to campaign on liberal values such as anti-discrimination and human rights in an increasingly illiberal, post-truth environment. In the discussions it was stressed how important it is that we reach out to millennials, who are largely dissatisfied with recent developments (Brexit, Trump, etc), but that means also changing the nature of some of our messaging. Bite-sized chunks of the manifesto will have to be fashioned, some to fit within twitter’s famous 140 character limit. We will also need to set up Facebook groups and other opportunities for discussion where young people are, as the Internet age and social media have radically changed the way political discourse develops.

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Verhofstadt’s Warnings to Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th February, 2017

guy-verhofstadt-isaiah-berlin-lectureEurope currently faces three serious threats: Islamic terrorism, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. At least that was the view of Belgian MEP (and the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator), Guy Verhofstadt, when he gave the Isaiah Berlin lecture for Liberal International at Chatham House in London earlier this week. He warned that the European Union now has fewer friends in the United States than ever, with Mr Trump himself openly trying to break it up, just as Mr Putin is trying to undermine it. But Guy acknowledged that Europe itself is in a crisis — a “polycrisis”, as he called it — “a crisis of migration, of internal security, of geopolitical weakness in our neighbourhood.” This is unsustainable in the modern world, he argued, urging that the EU must reform. However, his words were not all doom and gloom, as he declared that Brexit “is a golden opportunity … to get our act together inside the European Union. What is really needed is not new ideas; the ideas already exist… we have the building blocks… we need the capacities… to do what is necessary.”

Guy is a former Prime Minister of Belgium who leads the ALDE group within the European Parliament. His latest book is entitled Europe’s Last Chance, which I shall review when a copy is available. For many of us in Britain, of course, the great tragedy is that the UK has willfully stepped aside from confronting the challenges facing the EU, at a time when we should be leading, not leaving. Prime Minister Theresa May blithely says that Britain will be great on the global stage, but even if she can hold the country together (which is far from certain), Britain on its own is far weaker than being part of the EU — and Donald Trump for one is well aware of that.

 

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Liberal International’s African Reach

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th November, 2016

hakima-el-haite-and-juli-minovesWhen Liberal International was founded in Oxford nearly 70 years ago it was very much a European affair. With the noble exception of Canada, Liberal parties and values were largely confined to northern Europe, but since then the picture has changed dramatically. As we in Britain lick our wounds from the double whammy of the Brexit vote and the triumph of Donald Trump in the United States let us take comfort from the fact that the Liberal family is growing worldwide. This was dramatically illustrated by the Liberal International (LI) Executive in Marrakesh, at which five new African parties – from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Madagascar, Senegal and Somalia – were welcomed into membership last weekend, which means that LI now has almost 50 member parties from Africa alone.

The Marrakesh gathering was timed to coincide with COP22, the latest in a series of global conferences following up on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. So it was hardly surprising that environmental issues figured prominently in LI’s discussions this time. Indeed, one of the keynote speakers was Morocco’s Minister for the Environment, Hakima el Haite, who belongs to the Moroccan party that was one of our hosts, le Mouvement Populaire. Human rights were also very much on the agenda; to a large degree they are LI’s USP, as none of the other political internationals address them sufficiently seriously. Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape in South Africa (which LI member party, the Democratic Alliance, controls) gave a particularly inspiring address relating to gender equality.

For much of 2016 a working group has been writing a Liberal Manifesto which aims to be a campaigning tool for Liberal parties worldwide. This was also discussed at Marrakesh and a final version should be ready in time for the organisation’s 70th anniversary next year. 2017 will see crucial elections in both France and Germany, in particular, and as the forces of illiberalism rally to fight those it is vital that the Liberal International’s member parties, including the Liberal Democrats, are in fine fettle to take them on.

[photo: Hakima el Haite and Juli Minoves at COP22]

This article was first published on the Liberal Democrat Voice website

 

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Liberal International Executive in Georgia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd May, 2016

imageLiberal international held its first-ever Executive Committee in the South Caucasus republic of Georgia this week, fortuitously coinciding with the 38th anniversary celebrations for our host party, the Republican Party of Georgia. Security issues were at the fore outside of the purely administrative session, including a trip to the “separation line” — where Geirgian troops face encroaching Russians, who have taken over South Ossetia and occasionally push forward their barbed wire barrier, separating Georgian farmers from their land and cutting them off from friends and family on the other side. On Friday night a fading party came over and killed one young Geirgian man. The Georgian Defence Minister, Tinatin Khidasheli, was a keynote speaker. Slovenia’s former Defence Minister, Roman Jakic — recently one of LI’s Treasurers — made the point that NATO cannot say it has an open door policy and then turn people away, which offers a potentially challenging situation with regard to both Georgia and Ukraine.

imageLooking further afield, there was a debate on whether the world can unite successfully in its fight against ISIS/Daesh. But I was especially interested in a session on the implications of the nuclear deal with Iran. Former Belgian junior Foreign Minister, Annemie Neyts, echoed my feelings by arguing that we need to engage with the Iranians and to recognise their historical importance, while not keeping our eyes off the security ball, whereas Dan Kucawka from Argentina took a much more hawkish position, basically asking how we can trust a country whose forces are helping Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. All in all, the world seems a more troubled place than it did a decade ago, though one of the positive developments has been the expansion of Liberal International to take in new member parties, not least from Africa.

 

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60th Liberal International Congress

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 4th November, 2015

imageMexico City was an inspired choice as the venue for Liberal International’s 60th Congress, not just because it culminated in the national festivities of the Day of the Dead — one of Latin America’s great folkloric celebrations — but also because this was the first such Congress in the region. Our host party, Nueva Alianza, did us proud, as did a partner organisation Caminos de la Libertad. The latter invited everyone to their annual awards ceremony, at which the former US presidential candidate Ron Paul was the main laureate. His speech helped me to understand why he is a libertarian and I am a Liberal.

imageMuch more palatable was the keynote speech by another former US presidential hopeful, Governor Howard Dean, who is one of those rare politicians to whom one could happily listen for hours. He stressed the central importance of values in political messaging, something the Liberal Democrats could have usefully borne in mind during this year’s general election campaign. Key issues at the LI Congress were migration and populism, prompting very lively debates, which cannot possibly be summarised in a short blog item (though it will be worth keeping an eye on LI’s website for reports). There was an active fringe programme, including some unusual but stimulating topics such the impact of German reunification on Germany, Europe and the world. The former Foreign a Minister of Andorra, Juli Minoves, pictured here with Howard Dean, was re-elected President of LI and a very well deserved decoration of President of Honour was bestowed in absentia on the former LI President Lord (John) Alderdice.

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