Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Lisbon Treaty’

Pessoa’s Lisbon for Tourists

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th August, 2015

imageimageOne if the things I so love about travel is the serendipity of chance encounters with unknown books in other people’s bookshelves, which is how I came across Fernando Pessoa’s Lisbon: What the Tourist Should See (Bilingual edition, Companhia das Lettras, 1992) here in Fortaleza, Brazil. Widely recognised as Portugal’s second most important poet (after Camoes), Pessoa spent his formative years in Durban, South Africa, where his stepfather was Portuguese Consul, and he wrote this little guidebook in English in the 1920s, by which time he was well installed in Lisbon, a city he adored. The manuscript was among the many papers found after his death and published posthumously. Although the book starts off as little more than a catalogue of sights that a casual visitor to Lisbon might see it starts to take on real life when Pessoa lets his romantic imagination roam in the bye ways of history. I particularly savoured glimpses of places now no longer extant, including the metallic covered market in the Praca de Figueira and the open-air public library that operated under the shady branches of a vast cedar tree. Lisbon has long been my favourite European city and this literary curiosity adds another little sparkle to its glory.

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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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Thank You, Vaclav Klaus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 4th November, 2009

Vaclav KlausI’ve never been a great fan of the Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, who has none of the breadth of intellectual and human experience and understanding of his predecessor Vaclav Havel. But all true Europeans should feel nonetheless grateful to Mr Klaus for recognising that it would be quite wrong for him as an individual to try to stop the ‘train’ of the Lisbon Treaty when even his own country’s government wants to see it brought into force. Thus by signing the Treaty he has ensured that the last remaining hurdle was removed. not only for the ratification of the Treaty by all 27 member states but also for the European Union to move forward with the reforms that are contained within the Treaty, which will make the Union more democratic and more accountable, as well as more efficient.

David Cameron 5The other great aspect of President Klaus’s decision is that David Cameron has now been given an exit strategy from the corner into which he and his Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman William Hague had painted the Tory party, rather like schoolboys in the playground taunting the rest of the class that they would reject and overturn what everybody else wanted by holding a referendum on Lisbon and campaigning against it. If we take Mr Cameron’s recent statement on the matter at face value, then that will not happen after all. Bravo. Eurosceptics will fume and some Tory voters may switch to UKIP, but so be it. Having a more reasonable policy towards the EU makes the Conservative Party more sensible, indeed more electable, and it gives pro-Europeans in the Liberal Democrats a good opportunity to put further pressure on the Tories to make sure that if they do become the next government in the UK, or the biggest single party in parliament, then they must engage constructivey with our European partners and ensure that Britain is at the heart of the onging European project, not sniping from the sidelines.

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The Tories Just Don’t Get It on Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th October, 2009

George OsborneThe Conservative Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, looking all serious in long trousers at the party’s conference in Manchester yesterday, solemnly trotted out the new Tory mantra: ‘We’re all in this together!’  The deliberately Churchillian echo was designed to conjure up wartime nostalgia, of getting everyone to put their shoulders to the wheel at a time when Britain stood alone. The glaring flaw in this analogy is that in the current economic, rather than military, crisis, Britain does not stand alone — and it would be fatal if it did. On the contrary, the country’s best chance of emerging from the downturn strongly is to work more closely with our 26 EU partners. But the Conservatives are effectively doing the opposite. They have insulted and enraged the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, by leaving the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, the EPP, and they still mutter about torpedoing the Lisbon Treaty. Even Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who ought to be a natural Cameron ally, is instead championing former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair as the potential first President of the European Council (God help us). No, the Tories just don’t get it on Europe. And their Little Britain mentality on the world stage will not save these islands of ours, but rather risk sinking them in an increasingly competitive and globalised environment.

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Europe Must Now Move Boldly Forward

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 3rd October, 2009

Yes to ıiısbonSitting on a hilltop in the Turkish capital Ankara this evening İ can almost hear the collective sigh of relief emanating from Brussels and most other EU capitals following the İrish voters’ ringing endorsement of the Lisbon Treaty. The European Union would not have collapsed if the İrish had given the Treaty the thumbs down a second time, but it would have been hobbled, at a time when on the contrary it needs to be reinvigorated in order to confront the challenges of the economic downturn, climate change etc. At the next European Council, there needs to be a collective statement of determination to make the EU work more effectively and efficiently, not least in foreign affairs. Some discreet pressure on the Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, not to put a spanner in the works would not go amiss.

Meanwhile there is the matter of Britain’s attitude to post-Lisbon. Gordon Brown often gives the impression of being a wounded bear, skulking in a cave, waiting to die, but he needs to shake himself out of his torpor, pick up the EU ball and run with it. The İrish vote is a huge setback for David Cameron and the Tory Eurosceptics and the Conservatives need to be pushed onto their backfoot on the issue so they can’t logically try to undo Lisbon if  they do get their hands on the reins of power next year.

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Oh No, Not Tony Blair, Please!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st October, 2009

Tony Blair 2The story was bruited in the British Press today that if the Irish vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty tomorrow, then Tony Blair’s chances of becoming the first ‘permanent’ President of the European Council will be enhanced. Is this some fiendish rumour propagated by Declan Ganley and others who want to encourage the good residents of Eire to vote No? Wherever the impetus is coming from, the pro-Blair movement must be resisted. A Blair presidency would hardly be likely to boost the EU’s international credibility or effectiveness. Just look at his record (or lack of it) when he was Prime Minister. He was swept to power in 1997 with a mandate that would have allowed him to do almost anything, including persuading the British people to vote in favour of adopting the euro and putting the United Kingdom right at the centre of the Union. But he flunked it. It’s not as if he doesn’t have enough to do already, as the (unfortunately rather unsuccessful) Quartet’s mediator in Israel/Palestine, head of his own faith foundation and money-spinner on the US lecture circuit. The last thing we want is a half-hearted, half-time Council President. It’s not as if there is any lack of competent and potentially inspiring people to choose from.

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Ireland Gets a Second Chance Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th September, 2009

Irish referendum posterWith just three days to go before Irish voters give their second verdict on the Lisbon Treaty in a national referendum, the polls are predicting a comfortable, if not landslide, victory for the Yes campaign. To the dismay of most of the political parties in Eire (though to the undisguised glee of UKIP and the Conservatives in Britain), the Irish voted No last year — a substantial proportion of them because they felt they didn’t know enough about the treaty. Some people, like millionaire Declan Ganley, were and still remain opposed in principle to the advancement of the European project. But many others were cajoled into voting No by being told (wrongly) that the Republic would have to allow abortion and a raft of other things which (rightly) in fact remain a matter of national, not European competence.

Irish referendum poster 2So why is a Yes vote much more likely this time? Partly it is because the other 26 member states have given Ireland a few concessions, notably guaranteeing that there will always be an Irish member of th European Commission. But mainly it is because people are better informed this time and they have been shaken by the economic and financial crisis that makes it perilous to be marginalised from the rest of Europe (a message that David Cameron and William Hague should take to heart). The Yes campaign has been much better this time, employing some strong, simple messages such as: the choice is between ruin and recovery; on October 2nd vote Yes — Put Ireland First. So despite the fact that Brian Cowen’s lacklustre government is currently deeply unpopular, and the bumptious Michael O’Leary of Ryanair has somewhat crassly offered one million free flights if there is a Yes vote, there is room for optimism that Ireland will now enable the European Union to make necessary reforms to move forward in confidence in a world in which greater European integration is needed more than ever.

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Why David Cameron Should Be Dating Angela Merkel

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd August, 2009

Angela MerkelAccording to Forbes Magazine, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has risen significantly up the charts of the most powerful women in the world. Actually, one doesn’t really need an American publication to tell us that: here in Europe it is bleeding obvious. At least, one would have thought so. But apparently that is not the case for the UK Conservative leader, David Cameron, who recently cold-shouldered Frau Merkel and her Christian Democrat party by getting into bed with some pretty distasteful Eastern European fringe politicians in the European Parliament. He may well live to regret this move, as like Mrs Thatcher when she was in office, Angela Merkel keeps a close eye on who is ‘one of us’ and who is not. Moreover, despite being dismissed as a frowsty East German technocrat when she first entered post-reunification German politics, Frau Merkel can be steely when she wants. She certainly knew when to stick the knife into her former leader Helmut Kohl when the time was ripe.

David Cameron 4David Cameron’s crass misjudgement of where his party’s best interests lie, in terms of European alignments, could unfortunately have serious repercussions for Britain. Angela Merkel is no longer just the apparent ‘token woman’ in photo line-ups of EU or G8 leaders. She positively oozes authority and competence, in contrast to counterparts such as the superannuated Italian Lothario Silvio Berlusconi or the flash Frenchman Nicolas Sarkozy. Those two men do nonetheless have the nous to keep close to her politically, as any sensible British Conservative leader should have done. If the Irish approve the Lisbon Treaty in their second referendum this autumn, as seems highly likely, it will be Frau Merkel who will be seen to be then pushing the European project forward, even if technically the Swedes are occupying the presidential seat.

If David Cameron becomes Prime Minister next year (and increasingly I believe it is ‘if’, not ‘when’), far from automatically being one of the Big Four political beasts at the heart of Europe, he will look very much out on a limb — which reflects current Tory policy towards the EU, of course. This is bound to weaken Britain’s role in European decision-making. Cameron will also stand out for his blatant inexperience, which has already been made painfully obvious, by his politically snubbing Anglea Merkel instead of dating her.

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The UK Conservatives’ European Hole Gets Deeper

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th August, 2009

Michal KominskiWilliam HagueAchilles had a heel, but Tory leader David Cameron has a hole: a continent-sized hole called Europe in which he and his mate William Hague keep digging deeper. In flagrant disregard for Britain’s best interests, the man who aspires  to be Britain’s next Prime Minister ordered his MEPs out of the largest political grouping in the European Parliament, in which representatives of the parties of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sakozy sit, in order to form a new fringe grouping of Euro-sceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), alongside some pretty reactionary and non-inclusive Poles, Czechs and Latvians. As the biggest fish in this little pond, the Tories would normally have been awarded its presidency automatically. But because the dissident Conservative MEP Edward McMillan-Scott stood against his new Polish ‘colleague’ Michal Kominski to become a Vice-President of the Parliament and beat him, Kominski had to be made leader of the ECR as a consolation. McMillan-Scott subsequently had the Tory whip withdrawn. But that was not the end of David Cameron’s Euro-woes.  Kaminski then revealed in a Polish media interview that far from opposing the Lisbon Treaty — a key plank in the British Conseratives’ European policy — he thinks it will be very good for Poland. This certainly leaves Dave and William with egg on their faces. But Hague says that if the Lisbon Treaty has come into force by the time a Conservative government takes over in the UK, that won’t be the end of the story, whatever that might mean. Hague the Vague,  once more filling us with confidence that he will make the perfect Foreign Secretary to defend Britain’s interests on the European and world stages. But never mind, William. Just keep digging.

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Blair Should Not Be EU President

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th July, 2009

Tony Blair 1It is looking increasingly likely that the Irish will vote ‘yes’ in the re-run of their referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the autumn, which means that the Treaty could be operational before the end of the year. Among the various important implications of that is the replacement of the cumbersome six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers (currently held by Sweden) with a so-called ‘permanent’ president — an individual who could serve a maximum of two two-and-a-half year terms. The thinking behind this is that this will give more continuity to decision-making by the Council and could attract a person of high calibre who would have significant standing on the world stage (which is why the Euro-sceptics hate the whole idea).

The good news is that Britain’s Labour government has embraced the notion of an EU President warmly. The bad news is that they are promoting the candidacy of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. One had hoped that the campaign for  ‘Blair for President of Europe’ (as the job has been inaccurately described) was dead in the water, having been mooted long ago. But Gordon Brown and his colleagues have been injecting new blood into it; ironic, when one considers that the Brown government is itself on its last legs. Once again, Labour is ignoring public opinion, just as Blair himself turned a deaf ear to public opinion when he led Britain into the Iraq War.

According to a YouGov poll in the Sunday Times, only 28% of people interviewed thought it would be good for Britain if Tony Blair got the EU presidential job, whereas 54% believed that it would be mainly good for Tony Blair, not the country. John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, is right to note that the polling question was pretty loaded. Nonetheless, from soundings I have been taking, the message is clear: most Britons do not want to see Tony Blair in the post. It’s not just that they haven’t forgiven him for Iraq. It’s also because he seems to be collecting titles and positions and fat salaries and fees galore without achieving great results in any one field. I was always sceptical that he could deliver anything significant in the cause of Middle East peace, on behalf of the Quartet, or that he would be perceived as an impartial mediator there, but even I have been suprised just how invisible his impact has been in the region. Meanwhile, he has been raking in the millions with lecturing and publishing deals. Let him get on with that and keep him out of the EU presidency. Blair in that job would harm not just Britain’s interests, but the interests of the whole EU.

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