Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘LSE’

EU-Russia Relations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 20th August, 2011

The European Union’s relations with Russia hit a low in the summer of 2008, when Russian troops intervened in Georgia. And the energy crisis triggered by the Ukrainian gas dispute of January 2009 didn’t help. But in the two-and-a-half years since then, there has been a degree of reconciliation, or at least the mutual acceptance of a kind of modus vivendi. As  the Centre for European Studies’ short book, EU-Russia Relations: Time for a Realistic Turnaround (CES, Brussels, 2011), points out, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants to see more Western investment in Russia, while President Dmitry Medvedev concedes that Russia will need Western (including European) assistance if it is to modernise. One of the main conclusions of the book is that at the end of the day, Russia needs Europe more than Europe needs Russia. Three authors have provided short essays that form the core of the work: Katinka Barysch (the Deputy Director of the Centre for European Reform), my chum Christopher Coker (Professor of International Relations at the LSE) and Leszak Jesien (EU coordinator at the Polish Institute  of International Affairs). It is good to have a Pole involved, as the Polish-Russian dynamic has often been the most problematic within the overall EU-Russia relationship. A central, stark warning by the book’s authors is that the EU still tries to change not only what Russia does but also what it is. Europeans like to think that Russians should be just like us, whereas in fact they aren’t, and probably never will be. In short, Russia is not a Western society.

Christopher Coker takes a cultural approach to the subject. He draws a valuable distinction between what we profess (values) and what we practise (norms). He pulls no punches: ‘Russia is less a functioning nation state than a collection of vested interests… Russia is still trapped in the old ways of thinking.’ He nonetheless foresees a way of resolving the dilemma inherent in bilateral relations: ‘Only by granting [Russia] a distinctive identity will be able to acknowledge that its norms may not be ours, any more than ours are America’s.’ Leszek Jesien focuses on energy relations and trade. Russia enjoys a faourable balance of trade with the EU, but its exports are mainly gas and steel — commodities that are vulnerable to the whims of the market. Europe, on the other hand, is keen to secure its energy supply, even though the trade is currently mainly bilateral between Russia and EU member states, rather than being coordinated Europe-wide. Russia uses energy supplies as an instrument in its foreign policy. ‘For Russia, energy seems to be more like a chess game than a market game,’ Jesien writes. Europe needs to build up a single energy market, he argues. Finally, Katinka Barysch examines the institutional framework. The admission of central and eastern European states into the EU during he 2000s complicated maters considerably, even driving Russia to argue for compensation because of new barriers to trade with its former satellite partners. The current institutions for EU-Russia relations function badly, she argues. But we need to recognise that a chaotic, angry and unstable Russia is a risk to European security and prosperity, So the EU must continue to offer assistance and advice in helping Riussia strengthen the rule of law, build solid institutions, diversify its economy and develop a vibrant civil society.



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The EU as a Global Player

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd November, 2010

The President of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Turk, was the guest lecturer at an LSE event this evening, taking as his subject the EU as a Global Player: Reality or Illusion? I’ll be writing the event up at much greater length for Diplomat magazine, but a few coments are perhaps warranted earlier. Slovenia is definitely among the ‘good guys’ of the new EU intake of 2004. Indeed, it joined both the euro-zone and Schengen in 2007 and in January 2008 even assumed the Union’s presidency (very competently). But as the first of the former republics of Yugoslavia to join the EU, it inevitably has a particular vision of the Union’s future vocation. Dr Turk — who was a law professor and UN diplomat prior to his becoming Head of State — highlighted what for him is the primorial importance of the EU’s looking East: not just to taking the Western Balkans and Turkey into membership, when they have met the necessary conditions, but also maintaining positive relations with Ukraine and Russia. Of course, the EU is currently beset by the problems of the financial crisis in general and Ireland in particular, but that should not blind us to its global potential, he argued. That means championing our shared set of European values — including human rights — while not lecturing or being condescending to outside powers such as China. Probably the EU is over-respresented at present within the G20, but nonetheless, in the shifting geopolitics and economic balance in the world, the EU can and should be punching more at its natural weight.

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Human Rights, Turkey and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th March, 2009

This evening I was one of the speakers at a big meeting at the LSE, focussing on aspects of the European media’s coverage of Turkey’s progress (or otherwise) towards EU membership. Quentin Peel of the Financial Times was in the Chair at the event, which was organised by the British-Turkish Business Network, BizNET. The other panelists were William Horsley, former European affairs correspondent of the BBC, Ayca Abakan Duffrene of the BBC World Service’s Turkish Service and Ruth Mandel from University College London (UCL). I concentrated on the human rights angle to the subject, pointing out how the EU’s Copenhagen criteria for prospective members puts serious obligations on their governments to make progress in the field of democracy and human rights. To his credit, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has made quite a number of positive reforms since he came to power, though dismayingly these seem to have slowed rather. Moreover, last year there was actually a marked increase in the number of prosecutions against writers and journalists who fall foul of the country’s notorious Article 301, which makes criticising Turkey, Turkish identity or Turkish institutions a crime. Many of these prosecutions are maliciously brought by ultra-nationlist lawyers and others with an axe to grind — not a few of whom would be delighted if Turkey’s road to EU membership were blocked.

Link: www.biznet-uk,org

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Europe at the LSE LibDem Policy Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th January, 2009

fiona-hall liz-lynne       There was a Europe break-out session at today’s Liberal Democrat ‘Creating a Progressive Society’ Policy Conference at the LSE, focussing on key issues that will feature in the European election campaign. Fiona Hall (MEP for the North East) gave a detailed presentation on top environmental concerns, notably underlining the fact that it is the EU that is making the running on climate change and mandatory limits on carbon emissions. Liz Lynne (West Midlands) spoke eloquently about aspects of employment and social affairs — notably anti-discrimination policy, in which she has been very involved — as well as rehearsing the arguments regarding opt-outs from the working time directive. Sarah Ludford (London) was due to speak on security, international crime and civil liberties, but she is sadly currently out of action through illness again.

I think even the Euro-candidates in the room — of whom there were quite a few — learnt a lot, not least on what individual LibDem MEPs have been doing, as well as the ALDE Group to which they belong. But I sensed a certain degree of frustration as well, as many people present were really hoping for some Focus-item-sized nuggets they can start putting in campaign literature. That really must be the priority for MEPs and the party over the next five months: spoonfeeding (to put it bluntly) local parties and the Press with ‘sexy stories’ which illustrate not just why being in the EU is good for Britain, but in particular why having LibDem MEPs is better than having any other kind.

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Muslims in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th July, 2008

There was a lively gathering at the Universal Peace Federation’s building in Lancaster Gate, Bayswater, this evening, when the political and social theorist Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh spoke on ‘Muslims in Europe’, on the occasion of the launch of his new book, ‘A New Politics of Identity’ (Palgrave Macmillan, £19.99). An academic expert on multiculturalism (and former Chair of the Runnymede Commission) he outlined in his talk some of the reasons why many Europeans are anxious about Muslims, and why many Muslims are anxious about the host community in which they live, not least in Britain.

The two discussants who followed his talk with short presentations were Professor Kenneth Minogue (Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the LSE) and myself. Ken Minogue effectively played the role of devil’s advocate, even to the extent of advocating war in certain circumstances, whereas I was able to parade arguments for: a genuine European citizenship for everyone, irrespective of ethnicity, religion etc; an analysis of British, French and Spanish approaches to social cohesion in Europe; and a recognition of society as a living organism in a permanent process of mutation. Well, as a Liberal Quaker, I would, wouldn’t I?

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