Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Malta’

On the Theme of Islands

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th May, 2017

Europe Day concert 2017The annual Europe Day concert in St. John’s Smith Square is always an emotional occasion for me. Although I abandoned any ambition for a musical career in my early teens, music still has the ability to move me more than any other art form. So strong is its influence that I cannot write with music on in the background, as it distracts my mind from the task at hand. But it’s not just the music that stirs my emotions on Europe Day; my belief in the European project is unshaken, while arguing that the EU should certainly reform — as many political leaders on the continent, such as the European Commission’s Foreign Affairs supremo, Federica Mogherini, now concede. And yes, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy does sometimes bring tears to my eyes. How brave Emmanuel Macron was to use that European anthem for his victory celebration in the Louvre on Sunday, rather than the Marseillaise! Would even Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron dare to do that in the UK? I have attended several Europe Day concerts and for me tonight’s programme beat all previous offerings. The Maltese presidency chose a subject thread for the evening: Music on the Theme of Islands — underlining not only Malta’s maritime history but also the situation of the British Isles, too. There was a brilliant selection of both orchestral and choral music, from Sibelius’s The Tempest to Martinú’s Ariane. Of course, there was an added edge to this evening’s concert as everyone was aware that it might be the penultimate occasion of its kind, assuming Britain leaves the EU by the end of March 2019. In common with many people in the church this evening, I find that a matter of immense sadness. But while I would prefer to stop Brexit in its tracks it is absolutely vital that a Hard Brexit is avoided and that the UK maintains as close a connection with the EU27 as possible.

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Brexit and the Commonwealth

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th October, 2016

jf-speaking-at-upf-conference-smallYesterday I was a keynote speaker at a conference on Cultural Diplomacy and the Commonwealth hosted by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) in London. My brief was to address the consequences of Brexit for the Commonwealth; some Brexiteers had argued that leaving the EU would enable the UK to forge closer links, especially in trade, with countries such as Australia. But they glossed over the fact that whereas trade with the rest of the EU accounts for 44% of total UK trade that with Australia is only 1%, and the potential for great expansion is not there. Moreover, Australia has in recent decades recalibrated its own trading relationships to focus more on China and South East Asia.

During the referendum campaign, some UKIP supporters in the North of England were telling Muslims of Pakistani origin that after Brexit, EU migrants would no longer be able to come to the UK as a right and that therefore more people could come from Pakistan. But that flies in the face of the fact that the Conservative government is determined to reduce numbers of immigrants across the board. The prospects for Commonwealth students are discouraging as well, as Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said that she will make it harder for students to come, which incidentally is economically illiterate as they are a big boost to the UK’s economy and should not be included in immigration figures at all.

Parts of the Commonwealth have done well out of Britain’s EU membership as African, Caribbean and Pacific nations were able to benefit from the Lomé Convention aid and trade deal and its successors. That has been especially useful for small and island countries. When Britain leaves the EU it will no longer be a champion for Commonwealth countries’ concerns over such matters as sugar and bananas. Although Malta and Cyprus will still be able to speak up, being both EU and Commonwealth members, their voice is inevitably weaker than that of Britain, as the Cyprus High Commissioner, Euripides Evriviades pointed out in a speech following my own at the UPF/ICD event. The Conservative government appears not to have fully taken into account how significant the impact will be of not having a seat at the EU table at the myriad ministerial and other meetings that take place, thereby seriously weakening the country’s influence. Furthermore, the withdrawal process from the EU and the subsequent complex bilateral trade negotiations between Britain and its trading partners are going to consume most of the government’s time and energy for years to come, as well as costing a great deal of money.

[photo by Euripides Evriviades]

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A Common EU Asylum Policy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th June, 2012

Immigration and asylum are twin subjects that are guaranteed to get  Daily Mail columnists’  blood boiling; add the word Europe and the mix is toxic. Except that of course, in the real world, it isn’t. And indeed both the EU’s Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are hard at work on the construction of a common EU Immigration and Asylum Policy. This clearly makes sense for countries signed up to Schengen, as people can move freely between them. But the outsiders, including the UK, would do well to be fully involved. This afternoon, as the rainclouds delivered a Jubilee encore, Europe House (London HQ for the European Parliament and European Commission) hosted a seminar on the topic, asking the question ‘Is the UK in or out?’ I’m not sure we got a definitive answer to that, but in the meantime it was fascinating to hear from the very impressive Maltese MEP, Simon Busuttil, who is a leading EPP (centre-right) representative on the European Parliament’s committee dealing with Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. He pointed out that last month, Maltese authorities rescued and brought to land 600 African migrants (mainly from Somalia) from small craft floundering in the sea. On a per capita basis, that is the equivalent of Britain taking in 90,000 refugees/migrants. Malta, Italy and Greece have really received the brunt of the influx of asylum seekers, legal and irregular migrants arriving from North Africa since the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring. Obviously these initial host nations cannot be expected to shoulder all of the burden, even though an agreement signed in Dublin means that in principle asylum seekers must apply in the first EU country they arrive at, rather than cherry-picking among the rest. A European resettlement Plan is being discussed, but there is a degree of urgency. According to the EU’s timetable, there is meant to be a Common Immigration and Asylum Policy in place this year, though I suppose any delay could be solved by the old ruse of stopping the clocks at 23.59 on 31 December.

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Mdina, The Silent City

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th November, 2009

MdinaI suppose technically any town that boasts a cathedral qualifies as a city, but few can be as small or as exquisite as the hilltop former capital of Malta, Mdina. The city houses only a few hundred inhabitants, but a whole series of beautiful baroque palaces and churches (including the Cathedral of St Paul) are gathered within its Norman walls. A notice at Mdina’s entrance boasts that its origins date back to 4000 BC, which is maybe pushing ita bit, but certainly underneath what we see today are Punic remains and other classical vestiges. The Romans called the place Melita, and the Arabs Medina, whereas the Knights of St John lauded it as the Citta Notabile. Tradition has it that the Apostle Paul lodged in the city after his shipwreck off the Maltese islands.

Mdina is spotlessly clean and only a very restricted number of vehicles (including bridal cars) are allowed in. The drivers of horse-drawn vehicles are also sternly warned at the gate that ‘Horses’ hooves and wheels are to be rubber lined.’ I travelled up this afternoon from Valletta on the No 84 bus, a splendid 1950s curved contraption that could have come out of an Ealing comedy, only painted yellow and white rather than the green livery of many of post-War Brtitain’s rural transport. A day ticket that gets one round the island is a snip at 3 euros 49 cents. Malta is so small that one can see a great deal in a day, but one of the pleasures of lecturing on cruise ships is calling in at repeat ports like this and going off in one’s spare hours from lecturing and researching to discover places or buildings one has never been to before.

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