Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Schengen Agreement’

Croatia, New Kid on the EU Block

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th April, 2013

Croatia flagcroatia mapOn 1 July, Croatia will become the 28th member state of the European Union, having cleared all the accession hurdles. It may come as a surprise to British Eurosceptics that there is still a queue of countries wanting to join the EU, but despite the ongoing economic and financial problems of the eurozone the EU project remains something to which newly democratic countries of eastern Europe, in particular, remain committed. This point was stressed by Croatia’s Ambassador to London, Ivan Grdesic, when he spoke at a lunch hosted by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) British Section at Europe House in Smith Square today. Croatia will be one of the smaller EU states, with a population of under 5 million (even including Croats living in Bosnia Herzogovina, most of whom hold joint citizenship), but it recognizes that being part of the EU brings not only the benefits of being part of the Single Market but also should strengthen democratic transparency inside Croatia and the fight against corruption, which remains a factor in several Balkan nations. Of course there will be some downsides; when Croatia becomes a full member of the Schengen Agreement it will have to consolidate its borders with non-EU states, and it is going to have to introduce visas for tourists from countries such as Russia and Turkey. However, Croatia will be a significant beneficiary of EU funds, helping develop its infrastructure, industry and agriculture. There was some lively discussion with the Ambassador about the legacy of not only Communist Marshal Tito but also the distinctly right-wing and authoritarian President Franjo Tudjman, who was in power during the 1990s, not to mention the unfortunate earlier period of Croatia’s existence as an “independent” state during the Second World War when the fascist Ustasha ruled. It is a remarkable tribute to how far Croatia has come from those dark days on 70-odd years ago that now it is on the doorstep of EU membership. And who is next waiting in the wings? Probably Iceland!

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ELDR Council in Dresden

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st May, 2011

There was a time, not all that many years ago, when most of the meetings of the governing Council of the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) were held in Brussels. But these days they occur all over the Continent, both to give the participants a taste of the local sister party and its activities as well as to generate some publicity in the city or country concerned. Thanks to the German Free Democrats (FDP), this weekend’s Council was in Dresden, capital of the Free State of Saxony and known as Paris on the Elbe before the British bombed it to smithereens during the Second World War. Although I did travel a lot in the old DDR (East Germany), I had never been to Dresden until now, so it was interesting to see how much of the old city — including the celebrated Frauenkirche — has been rebuilt or refurbished, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Saxony had a standard of living well below the European Union average when German reunification took place, but the city benefited greatly from funds made available under the EU’s Cohesion Policy, which was the subject of a seminar attached to the Council meeting. It was good to hear from several Saxon state Ministers at the event, as well as the UK LibDems’ own Flo Clucas, who extolled how EU funds had helped Liverpool regenerate once the Trots were ousted from control of that city. The ELDR Council itself is largely an administrative affair (including the passing of urgency resolutions on such issues as human rights in Russia and threats to the Schengen Agreement), but there was a worthwhile session led by Mohammed Nosseir of Egypt’s Democratic Front on how Europe should respond to the Arab Awakening — a theme much preoccupying me at the moment and one which the ELDR will doubtless return to at its Congress in Palermo in November.

Link: http://eldr.eu

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Michael Connarty and European Scrutiny

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th September, 2008

Considering the precipice down which the Labour government is currently tumbling, Michael Connarty, MP for Linlithgow and Falkirk East, was remarkably chipper at the Association of European Journalists’ lunch at the European Parliament office in London today, but he was there in his role as Chairman of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, rather than in his party political capacity. A convinced European — as well as a socialist who was against the Iraq War — Mr Connarty ruffled feathers earlier this year when he said that the Lisbon Treaty was basically the same as the European constitution that had been rejected by French and Dutch voters. Euro-sceptics, like his sparring partner (and fellow jazz aficianado) the Tory MP Bill Cash, agreed, but in Connarty’s case, it was a sort of compliment, as he believed — and still believes — that Europe needs the Lisbon Treaty, in order to be more efficient and more democratic.

Indeed, much of what he said today chimed in with Liberal Democrat policy. He was in favour of Britain joining the euro and speculated that the crisis over HBOS might have been averted within the sort of disciplined structure inherent in the eurozone. Moreover, he regrets the UK’s holding back from joining the Schengen area. ‘As you can see, I am not a Euro-sceptic,’ he said, ‘but rather a government sceptic — whichever government is in power!’

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