Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Roger Helmer’

Europe’s Parliament

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th June, 2012

The European Parliament is little understood and in England, at least, much misrepresented. This is largely the fault of the British media, most of which either ignores or lampoons the institution. But many UK politicians — including some MEPs — share the blame. One expects UKIP to be misleading and nasty; after all, they want Britain out of the European Union (though I am sure the UKIP MEPs would be the first to bemoan their consequent loss of salary). But an alarming number of Tories also take part in the ritualistic slagging-off of the EU in general and the Parliament in particular. Three of the worst Conservative offenders in the last parliament, were Daniel Hannan (still there), Roger Helmer and Chris Heaton-Harris; they were apparently known to their fellow MEPs as “The H Block”. That is one of the myriad facts that even a longstanding observer of the European Parliament such as myself picked up from a new book: Europe’s Parliament (John Harper Publishing, £29), by Julian Priestley and Stephen Clark. Julian was an Oxford contemporary of mine, and our paths crossed again when I started covering the then appointed European Parliament in Strasbourg and Luxembourg for Reuters in 1974, when he was a junior official. He rose to become the Parliament’s Secretary General, and it is not difficult to work out which parts of this weighty but accessibly-written tome came from his pen. I particularly relished the description of Andrew Duff (LibDem MEP for the East of England) as an Ayatollah among the group of revolutionary constitutionalists. Inevitably the choice of personalities is somewhat subjective. Nigel Farrage, UKIP’s Leader, gets more than his fair share, whereas Sharon Bowles (the South East LibDem MEP who is sometimes rather grandly described as the most powerful women in European financial circles) doesn’t get a mention. The French and Germans not surprisingly receive full coverage, as they have been so key to the Parliament’s development. The early part of the book is largely about the three parliamentary sites and their buildings, which I fear will be red rag to the Eurosceptic bulls. Luxembourg now merely houses officials, but there is still a ridiculous and ridiculously expensive moving cricus of MEPs and hangers-on between Brussels and Strasboug each month, despite the valiant efforts of Edward McMillan-Scott and others to press for a Single Seat. That would, alas, require a Treaty change, which can only happen by unanimity; no prizes for guessing which country would block Strasbourg’s demise (though as Priestley and Clark point out, many Germans have a strong attachment to the Alsace city too. The book is probably too hefty to be of much direct use in schools, but certainly it will appeal to politics undergraduates, journalists and politicos, not least aspirant MEPs such as myself.



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Europe at the Gateshead LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th March, 2012

The agenda of this weekend’s LibDem spring conference in Gateshead has been almost entirely devoted to domestic matters, from tax to the NHS. But this morning, Conference overwhelmingly passed an important motion reaffirming the Party’s belief in the future of the European project and how Britain needs to be right at the heart of the European Union, not on the margins to which David Cameron foolishly propelled us at the Brussels Summit last December. I’ll be writing up the debate of the motion in next Friday’s Liberal Democrat News, including the recognition of necessary reforms in the way the EU functions. But in the meantime I offer here the speech I gave in the debate this morning:

Way out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean there is a small island, called Little Britain. A strange tribe known as the UKIP lives there, and over the last few weeks several Conservatives — notably the MEP Roger Helmer — have swum out to Little Britain, to help the UKIP repel foreign boarders. Alas, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, seems to dream of moving there himself — or at least that’s the impression he gave our European partners at the Brussels Summit in December. He thought they would be impressed, but they weren’t. And Cameron has done a grave disservice to the British people.

Let’s be brutally honest. Britain is no longer a first rank global power. Just recently, Brazil leapfrogged Britain in terms of GDP and India won’t be far behind. The world is moving rapidly towards a multipolar reality, in which Asia, Latin America and one day even Africa will assert their economic and political might.

For Europe to survive as a potent force in the 21st Century world, the European Union has to proceed with further integration. It must increasingly speak with one voice, not only on issues such as Trade and the environment but also in areas of common foreign and security policy. Currently, despite the best efforts of Cathy Ashton, the EU is punching below its weight. That situation must not continue, otherwise Europe itself will be marginalised.

So what does all this mean for Britain? At the moment, as so often during the past 60 years, the driving forces in Europe are France and Germany. But they would like Britain also to be at the heart of the European project. Because of our rich history and experience in international relations, Britain has so much to offer Europe. But there is a real danger that that opportunity is being lost. And the longer Britain positions itself on the margins of the European Union, the less the country will matter in global affairs. David Cameron needs to stop pandering to those in the Conservative Party who look through rose-tinted spectacles at the mid-Atlantic island of Little Britain  and instead face up to the real challenges ahead.

The world is changing fast and the EU must adapt to ensure that it keeps and indeed enhances its influence globally. It would be tragic if the United Kingdom were not a full partner in that development process. I do not want to live on the island of Little Britain, Mr Cameron — and neither should you.

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The UK Election and Brussels

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th March, 2010

Yesterday lunchtime I took part in a debate in Brussels (hosted by LutherPendragon) on what the next UK government will mean for the EU and the various interest groups who lobby there. My fellow panelists were Jessica Asato, Director of the Labour magazine Progress, and Jonathan Isaby, formerly of the Daily Telegraph and now co-editor of ConservativeHome. The audience were a mixture of lobbyists, diplomats and Euro-parliamentary staffers, plus a couple of Tory MEPs (including the somewhat Euro-sceptic Roger Helmer). I stressed that the answer to the debate question depended totally on the outcome of the election (stating the obvious), but that the Liberal Democrats would be pressing for a far more constructive engagement with our European partners. It will be particularly important to try to moderate the Conservatives’ semi-detached approach to the EU, whether there is any formal arrangement between them and the LibDems or not. Personally, I suspect that David Cameron will be more pragmatic over Europe if he does indeed become Prime Minister than he and William Hague have been stating recently — presumably to try to counter the attraction of UKIP. It is interesting to remember that it was Conservative leaders who took Britain into what is now the EU, facilitated the single market and approved the Maastricht Treaty. But such has been their drift away from pro-European position in recent years that most of their pro-European MEPs left, were deselected or else joined the Liberal Democrats.

[photo: Oliver Kaye]

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