Category Archives: Europe / International

Anything to do with European / international issues

Farron: UK Government must push for better LGBT rights in the Commonwealth

Speaking to the Independent, Tim Farron has said that he’s disappointed that the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference is not discussing the issue of LGBT rights.

But Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said last night that the issue should have received greater prominence in Malta. He said: “Sadly, a majority of Commonwealth nations criminalise LGBT people, and in some places homosexuality still faces the death penalty.

The Government should have used the meeting in Malta to press commonwealth countries to live up to our collective values. We must be a beacon of human rights, tolerance and the defence of minorities. The British government must use our strong position to press the case for better LGBT rights in other Commonwealth nations.

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Baroness Ros Scott writes…Up for the new challenge

Liberals from across Europe have been meeting in Budapest for the annual Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe,  including a sizeable delegation of Lib Dems led by Party President Sal Brinton.

ALDE has 55 member parties from across the continent,  49 members of the European Parliament, 5  European Commissioners and 7 Prime Ministers. There’s also a local government group in the shape of Committee of the Regions, and a network of Liberal Mayors.

A recent decision to trial an individual membership scheme has gone from strength to strength, with over 1,500 joining up already.

On Saturday, after a intense campaign, I was lucky enough, and honoured, to be elected as one of the new Vice-Presidents of ALDE,  which means serving as a member of governing body, the Bureau.

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Africa Liberal Network undertakes first ever election observation mission in Zanzibar

Zanzibar 4
International Office_with textWhite sandy beaches, glamorous resorts, history and beautiful architecture. These are some of the things that come to mind when we think of the exotic island of Zanzibar. But for the Africa Liberal Network (ALN), Zanzibar was – and is – much more than that.

For the ALN, Zanzibar was the destination for our first-ever election observation mission. Following the unanimous decision taken by the network’s executive committee, the ALN Secretariat arranged and coordinated this mission in partnership with the LibDem International Office and the Friederich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). The mission was led by our East Africa Vice President, Rosemary Kariuki (Orange Democratic Movement, Kenya).

Arriving in Zanzibar, the team and I quickly realised that we were truly the ‘’guinea pigs’’ of this new ALN project, and what an exciting challenge it was!

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The race for the ALDE Presidency – and why it might matter

Four years of an ALDE Party led by Sir Graham Watson is nearly at an end and, following his announcement in Oslo in May that he would not be seeking a third term, one might not be surprised to hear that the campaign started almost before he sat down. I for one was lobbied by a potential candidate at the reception that followed and, since then, two candidates have emerged to contest the succession. So, who will the Liberal Democrat delegation, which represents 12% of the votes to be cast, have to decide between?

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What they don’t tell you about TTIP

Countless articles, emails and campaigns have expressed anger about TTIP. This is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which would cover over 800 million people in the EU and US, as well as helping determine the shape of future agreements the world over. There are numerous concerns – some entirely misguided, some merely exaggerated – and from reading the literature of campaign groups like 38 Degrees it might be hard to know whether there are any benefits at all from this trade deal. So supporters of free trade need to straightforwardly spell out some of TTIP’s advantages.

In particular, lost among the scaremongering and obscure debates has been the very foundation of TTIP: an abolition of almost all the remaining import and export tariffs between the US and EU. It’s true, as both supporters and opponents of TTIP say, that tariffs are only a part of the deal: harmonising regulations (without lowering standards) is now often more important. But when the entire process is under attack, the scrapping of tariffs should not be glossed over. I hope it’s not too insulting to suggest that many of those attacking TTIP or signing petitions (not to mention those who haven’t heard of TTIP) may have no idea that it includes the scrapping of import and export tariffs.

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Migration and the future of the EU

Bach’s cantata “Brich den Hungrigen dein Brot” got the nickname “the refugee cantata” in 1732 when Protestant refugees fleeing a clampdown in Salzburg arrived in Leipzig. The title translates as “Bring the hungry your bread”. It was to be taken literally. It’s a reminder of how much forced migration has shaped European history.

As an island, the UK has escaped the experiences of invasion and moving of borders which have shaped so much of the history of the European mainland — though I suspect that one of the things fuelling both pressure for Scottish independence and the Scottish affinity for the EU is their experience of domination from London.

My Scottish great grandfather who moved from Perthshire to Essex was an economic migrant. My surname is an old Huguenot name — brought by people fleeing genocide in France. Others of my forebears had the name “Woodward” — anglicised from an old Dutch name. I’m not sure if fleeing near-starvation made them “refugees” or “economic migrants”.

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Ed Fordham’s Letter from Belgrade

I am sitting in a hotel here in Belgrade eating my breakfast. It’s Serbia so meat is the dominant feature.

But I have just walked around the corner of the block to the hotel where they are issueing the accreditation to volunteers stewards who are marshalling the Pride March today and in the course of that short journey I have passed over 200 riot police (I stopped counting). The roads are closed and the streets ghostly quiet.

I am fairly confident here and know Serbia pretty well – but I found myself nervous, uncertain and even tearful as I walked through the streets. I was clutching my phone, hiding my camera and very mindful that as best I try I probably look like a visitor.

In three hours I will meet other friends who are LGBT activists in the Human Rights Council of the Liberal Democrat Party of Serbia whom I will march with. In London, the UK, much of Europe we can be confident of who we are and who we love. Here people, friends, folks I know, are fighting, literally, for the right to exist and be themselves.

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The shocking stories of refugees from Syria should stir a response

David Cameron seems, at last, to be softening his stance, but references to “swarms” of refugees have been shocking. It has felt as if he were a party-politician more in sympathy with the xenophobic strand of his own party than a statesman able to see the plight of people making desperate journeys to escape a situation in Syria that most of people in the UK should be glad not to understand.

The numbers should inject some realism. The total population of Syria is just under 23 Million. The total population of the European Union is 503 Million.Around 7.6 million people have been displaced within Syria, 1.6 million to Turkey, 1.2 million to Lebanon, 600,000 to Jordan, 242,000 to Iraq, 136,000 to Egypt. That puts the 150,000 who have sought asylum in the EU into perspective.

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Christians continue to suffer on the West Bank

There are constant reminders of the sheer awfulness of the illegal occupation of the West Bank by Israel.  The video which went viral last week showing an Israeli soldier assaulting a 12 year old boy, with his already broken arm in a plaster cast, is a case in point.  He was rescued by his mother and other women from the village, who are now depicted in much of the Israeli press as the attackers and the soldier as the victim! Minister of Culture Miri Regev said the troops should have used their guns!

The British media often presents the conflict as one between mainly Muslim Arabs and Jews, forgetting that there is a significant Christian Arab population, albeit one that continues to decline as more and more leave the country.  I am grateful to the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Foundation for sharing this information.

Christian communities suffer just as much as Muslim communities in the West Bank. In July, the Israeli High Court reversed a previous decision to halt work on the wall which will separate the mostly Christian-populated Beit Jala and the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, and the Cremisan monastery from its sister convent and school. The new High Court ruling has been challenged. Israeli forces however hastily uprooted dozens of olive trees of Palestinians and leveled land belonging to a number of families as part of its plans to resume the construction of the wall, which is also close to the illegal Israeli Har Gilo settlement.

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Liberal Democrats should commit to abolition of all global borders

The upcoming referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union is both an opportunity and a threat for the Liberal Democrats.  The party has an opportunity to define itself clearly as the most forward-thinking, internationalist force in British politics.  However, if it fails to do this then it risks looking like an irrelevant, also-ran defender of the status quo.

The 2014 European election campaign shows the threat that the party faces.  It was insufficient to simply argue that the European Union must be retained because it preserves jobs and helps our on-going effort to prevent climate change.  If we want to galvanise support then we have to offer a vision of the future, not simply a defence of the present.

Similarly, the Better Together campaign in the Scottish independence referendum ended up creating the impression in far too many voters’ minds that the Liberal Democrats and the other unionist parties were simply interested in defending the UK as it exists now.  That vote might have been won, but it was won in a fashion that did the victorious parties no good at all in Scotland.

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Opinion: Has the EU just come of age?

It sounds a daft question, given the number of articles critical of the solution to the Greece crisis which have been appearing in my Facebook and Twitter feeds, but things are not always what they seem. Looking at unconscious processes in organisations, the things that people act out without naming tend to be the really important ones

My sense is that we might just have tipped into the space where the EU functions like a truly federal entity — albeit with a deep faith in subsidiarity — and the griping is the griping one has when a government makes a difficult decision, not when it is seen as illigitimate.

What first sent my mind in this direction was the Greek referendum. Far from being an “in/out” referendum, this was one that assumed Greece was inevitably part of the EU, woven in so tightly that this bizarre stunt could not cause them to leave. The “no” vote was strong, but so was the desire to remain in the Eurozone and the EU. For Alexis Tsipras to have made such a fuss about democracy, and then ignore the referendum could seem bizarre, but it makes more sense if I compare it with the antics of a 1970s-style shop steward garnering the support of the workers as a negotiating tactic, or the rebellions of Liverpool City Council at the height of the Militant Tendency. In both cases, quite extreme behaviour is possible because people assume an underlying unity — the shop steward does not want their members to lose their jobs, and Liverpool was not going to cease to be part of the UK. As with Greece in the EU, the strong behaviour is possible because they feel they belong.

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Guy Verhofstadt tells it to Greece and the EU like it is

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, has set out a potential solution to the Greek crisis in an article for Politico. He makes it clear that there are faults on both sides and both sides need to take constructive action to resolve the crisis fairly for everyone.

We are in this mess because the Greeks never made a real reform package, or a clear break with their mistakes from the past. But also because Europe has followed wrong policies — policies of pure accountancy that slowly but steadily choked the Greek economy. Everybody can make the wrong policy choices, but we have been clinging on to them far too long.

He implores people to stop the scaremongering:

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Catherine Bearder MEP speaks… Britain after Brexit

Bearder Oxford UnionCatherine delivered the following speech to the Oxford Union, painting a picture of what life would be like after Brexit.

I want to take you to a land, not so far away. Close your eyes and think of Britain after Brexit.

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Paddy Ashdown: It is no longer the case that the nation state, acting alone, can determine its future

In the comments to an earlier post, Bill Le Breton mentioned a speech by Paddy Ashdown in the Lords yesterday. We had a look and thought it deserved to be reproduced in full. In it, he outlines the threats we face, the changes to the balance of power across the world and how we need to change our attitudes and foreign policy to meet these new realities. Enjoy.

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LibLink: Edward McMillan-Scott: Tories might pull their hair out but they’re not going to get a parliamentary veto in the EU

Former Lib Dem MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber Edward McMillan-Scott has been writing or about the Tories’ efforts to ensure that national parliaments can veto EU laws that they don’t like.

Edward clearly knows a fair bit about how the EU works, arguably significantly more than your average Eurosceptic Tory backbencher. He’s been in on the organisation within the EU that actually does represent the rights of national parliaments and it has asserted itself in recent years.

He explains how the process works:

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@ALDEParty Council – mourning our losses in the bosom of our family and friends

I was the first of our delegation to reach Oslo, having concluded that there was little I could practically do to help at home by then and, arriving at the venue for the Friday evening fringe meeting, I was braced for the questions. “What went wrong? What will happen now? Who will be the new leader?”. And yes, I expected some sympathy, although the offer of political asylum in Norway was unexpectedly kind.

Perhaps, just perhaps, opening the event with a debate on the future of Liberal Europe was just a little too raw given events at home, but I did take the opportunity to ask the panel the question, “My political party has just suffered a near-death experience. What single piece of advice would you give me?”. The answer, rebuild from the floor. Rebuild your branch structure, develop some clear, liberal messages, give your members and activists something to believe in and campaign for.

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ALDE Party Council preview: remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue…

Whilst most of you will either be at your count (and good luck to you all!) or sitting in front of a television set or a computer watching the results come in, your correspondent will be in a hotel room in Oslo. Yes, it’s time once again for liberals from across Europe to gather and tell the British how sorry they are for the result/share the love and tell us things will get better/express surprise at how well we did (delete as appropriate). And despite exhaustion and uncertainty, a small, depleted and wholly male delegation will be there to fly the Liberal Democrat flag.

So, what are we there for, apart from the joy of discovering that a second mortgage is required to buy a beer?

Council will be opened with a speech from the Prime Minister of Norway… who isn’t a member of our host party, Venstre, but is leader of the Conservative Party. That said, the ruling minority coalition of the Conservatives and the Progress Party has a confidence and supply arrangement with Venstre and the Christian Democrats in the Storting to ensure its survival (and you thought that British politics was complex?).

The agenda for Council itself is unlikely to generate much excitement, although the membership application from the Liberal Party of Gibraltar is a welcome one, especially given their performance in the European Parliamentary election last year (the Liberal Democrat list – Gibraltar is part of the South West England region – gained 66% of the vote). There will also be a rationalisation of the Slovenes, as three of the five member parties there are expected to disaffiliate (they have, effectively, ceased to exist).

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International Office supports the next generation of women leaders from Nasa Stranka, Bosnia’s ‘Women’s Party’

International officeSarajevo is not a city I ever expected to see, and Bosnia is not a country that I ever expected to be at the sharp end of encouraging women into political life. Yet here I was, travelling to Sarajevo with the International Office to encourage and train young women in the basics of being a councillor and a candidate!

Nick Thorne, Research Officer in the International Office, travelled with me and we were later joined by Sara Bashford, a Conservative Councillor, and Anna Birley, a Labour Councillor, who were to work with us on cross-party sessions later in the weekend.

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Nick Harvey MP writes… We mustn’t let eurosceptics spoil useful defence co-operation with our EU partners

Today in London the UK’s foreign and defence secretaries, Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon, will meet their French counterparts, Laurent Fabius and Jean-Yves Le Drian. Of course, there is nothing particularly out of the ordinary about this meeting: in reality, UK and French Ministers meet frequently at various EU and NATO summits.

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Opinion: A liberal postcard from Athens

Sunday morning in Kifissia, one of the leafy northern suburbs of Athens, and the view from my bedroom balcony is blue sky with dark clouds looming – a fitting scene for this very important Greek Election Day.

A product of the oil industry in Aberdeen, I am one of many Scottish expats supporting the oil and gas industry around the world (and lets not mention oil prices!). I have been working in Greece for a little over a year and after commuting between the Athens of the North and the real Athens for a year, I have been resident (and paying tax!) in Greece since November.

Greece has been going through a tough time in the last five years, unemployment is high and wages are low. Though there are few signs of austerity in the posh northern suburbs, my Greek colleagues (I am a lawyer) have lost faith in their politicians and their economy. Much though they love their country, pessimism is rife.

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Tim Farron writes… Never has the political market been so crowded in the UK. Never has there been more space for a Liberal Party.

I cannot start this article without expressing my deep shock and concern for the families affected by the attack on Charlie Hebdo. It is stark warning that we can no longer take for granted the liberal order which our predecessors fought for.

It is a great honour to be appointed Foreign Affairs spokesperson and I want to thank Nick for giving me this opportunity. I am very aware that it is rare for foreign affairs to be the defining issue for most voters. But this election, as in so many other ways, is not running the usual course.

UKIP has brought …

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Opinion: ALDE Party Council: Bouncing Czechs, “which Slovenes are the liberals?”*, and a prospective rise in the price of cod…

Whilst you might not have guessed it from those manifestos you read from candidates for places on the Party’s ALDE Council delegation, the policy debates were still in our future when Council made an early start on Friday morning.Our task was a straightforward one, debate changes to the constitution, including a revision of the membership structure, authorise the creation of a business club, consider six membership applications, receive and approve the 2015 budget and debate the report of the Bureau… in two hours (English Council, please note).

The constitutional changes were adopted, although there were concerns over the apparent absence of a code of conduct for fundraising. Luckily, a helpful British member of the Financial Advisory Committee was on hand to both reassure and clarify the position – there is one, it was available for circulation, and it could be applied to the proposed business club, a means for corporate sponsors to fund events without directly funding a political party’s campaigning activities.

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ALDE gather in Lisbon: setting sail for a new, more liberal world?

Sailing in Lisbon by Pedro Ribeiro SimõesOnce again, liberals from across the European Union and beyond gather this week for the Annual Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE). And whilst Portugal might not be the most obvious place, given the absence of a liberal party in Portuguese politics for some years now, the emergence of the Earth Party as a serious contender – it won two seats (out of twenty-one) in this year’s European Parliament election – makes Portugal an interesting place to be.

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LibLink: Edward McMillan-Scott: Major adds new ingredient to Europe debate

edward mcmillan-scottFormer Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber has written about John Major’s intervention on Europe last week.

But Sir John’s intervention shows how desperate David Cameron is to shore up his dwindling store of continental goodwill, to appease the 100-or-so Tory MPs who want out of Europe and are holding their tongues until after the Rochester and Strood By-election this coming Thursday.

Although the headlines have focused on Ed Miliband’s leadership crisis, both he and Mr Cameron are now on notice. And bang on cue Nigel Farage – on target to win the by-election handsomely – positions himself between them with a demand to be included in TV debates.

How often have foreign leaders heard a British Conservative say “I really need your help: my backbenchers want to see real change?” and usually they have delivered. It is not weakness on their part but a strategic calculation that Britain must be part of the process, whether it is the EU or, say, Nato.

John Major’s speech was often equivocal about Mr Cameron’s tactics towards the EU, but he introduced a new note, massively upping the ante, by saying “for the first time, there is a serious possibility that our electorate could vote to leave the EU. I put the chance of exit at just under 50 per cent”.

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Paddy Ashdown on Bosnia and Herzegovina: “These are dangerous times; they are very dangerous times indeed”

Paddy Ashdown talks on "The global power shift" in Brussels March 1st 2012 -  Some rights reserved by PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, former international High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006, led this week’s House of Lords debate on the situation in the country following its recent election. Here’s what he had to say…

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (LD): My Lords, a few months before the last election in the last months of 2009, my right honourable friend William Hague and I—well, at least he was not my right honourable friend then, but he is today; he was then the shadow Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—wrote a joint article for the British and foreign press on Bosnia and Herzegovina. We complained bitterly that Bosnia was stuck, that the progress that we had made during the previous 10 years had gone backwards, that the tone of nationalistic rhetoric had risen, that this was dangerous and that Bosnia remained stuck in a mire of dysfunctionality and corruption.

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Botswana elections: Liberal Democrats help sister party and its “calm revolutionary of our time”

Three chiefs and justice gaborone botswana by BoHeMIoYesterday was polling day in the General Election in Botswana. 57 parliamentary seats are up for grabs along with council seats across the country. The Botswana Democratic Party has been in power since the country gained independence in 1966. The Liberal Democrats have been helping our sister party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy, which has been fighting the election as part of a coalition of opposition parties, the Umbrella for Democratic Change. In early August, their campaign suffered a huge blow when BMD leader and Vice Presidential candidate Gomolemo Matswaledi was killed in a car accident on the way back from a visit to Johannesberg.

Top Liberal Democrat campaigns guru Victoria Marsom, who has the by-election victories in both Brent and Eastleigh under her belt, has been working closely with the BMD for the past year as part of a project funded by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. She’s travelled to Botswana twice, once in June and she’s there now for this last week of the campaign. I had a bit of a surprise the other night when I found this from her on my Facebook timeline:

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A setback for UKIP in the European Parliament, courtesy of one Latvian MEP…

After the European Parliament elections in May, there was a scramble amongst the political groupings in Brussels to gather enough MEPs (twenty-five) from enough countries (seven) to achieve recognition as a political group, with two groups in particular, the European Conservatives and Reformist Group – ECR (which includes the Conservative Party) and the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group – EFDD (which includes UKIP) competing to attract individual MEPS to reach the required number of countries. At one point, it looked as though the EFDD would fall just short, but the recruitment of the Latvian Farmers Union MEP, Iveta Grigule, was enough to satisfy the eligibility clause.

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LibLink: Paddy Ashdown: We must embrace Putin to beat Islamic State

Paddy Ashdown has been writing in the Times about the need to get Russia onside in the fight against Islamic State.

Russia has so far been excluded from our coalition that is fighting Islamic State (Isis). Why? It has a dog in this fight, too — arguably a much bigger one than we have. Sunni jihadism is roaring away in the Russian Islamic republics of Dagestan and Chechnya, almost as much as in Iraq and Syria. We in Europe may be concerned about jihadis returning from the battlefield. But Russia is one of the battlefields.

Washington friends tell me that the reason for this reluctance to draw in Russia is the personal animus between presidents Putin and Obama. If so, get over it. A wider coalition that includes the Russians, actively or passively, could open the way to a UN security council resolution, provide the best means of limiting the spread of the crisis and vastly enhance our horsepower in resolving it.

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Nick Clegg explains Liberal Democrat ministers’ decision to support air strikes on ISIL

RAF lightning II aircraft photo by defence imagesNick Clegg has sent an email to all party members this evening to explain why the parliamentary party will be supporting air strikes on ISIL in Iraq.

It contains the entire broadcast interview which he did this afternoon. He talks about what a”vile and murderous” outfit ISIL is, about how the action is legal and how this isn’t being done by “the west” to “the rest”. It comes as part of a coalition of countries acting on a formal request from the legitimate government of Iraq.

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Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder on Lord Hill’s EU appointment: “A victory for British influence in Europe”

Catherine Bearder - Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0When David Cameron appointed Lord (Jonathan) Hill, an influential but anonymous Tory peer more used to operating in the background, the fear was he’d be sidelined by new European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker – especially after David Cameron’s attempt to veto Juncker’s candidacy. The portfolio for paper-clips (or trombones as they’d be known in Brussels) or some such. But, as ITV News reports:

In fact he’s been given one of the big economic jobs, and perhaps the one best suited to a UK Commissioner: financial services. Given London’s dominance and the EU’s known desire to clamp-down on everything from bonuses to a Financial Transaction Tax, this could hardly be better. It has long been the UK’s view that financial services regulation is best, where possible, left to the domestic regulator, and we can expect Lord Hill to take policy very much in that direction.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid Raw 30th Nov - 2:35pm
    b) typo effective
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 30th Nov - 2:35pm
    A legalistic view is insufficient.. Two other tests are necessary a) would it be moral ? b) would it be feective ?
  • User AvatarMick Taylor 30th Nov - 2:33pm
    They may be legal but they are wholly immoral.
  • User AvatarJenny barnes 30th Nov - 2:15pm
    Glenn " a bunch of ak47s in a dessert" 4 and 20 assault rifles baked in a pie? I'll get my coat
  • User AvatarCllr Mark Wright 30th Nov - 1:59pm
    @Peter Hellyer - Completely agree that Condition 4 cannot be achieved in any reasonable time-frame, when the people there themselves don't know have the first...
  • User Avatarexpats 30th Nov - 1:55pm
    ..This quote from someone who could never be called a pacifist...."Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who...