Category Archives: Europe / International

Anything to do with European / international issues

What would you do if you were the Mayor of Calais?

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Inside the Jungle in Calais

I was part of a Local Government Association delegation last week to the ‘jungle’ in Calais.

The ‘camp’ is essentially a shanty town with tents and shacks (including ‘restaurants’) built from scrap materials. It is set in sand dunes next to an industrial estate and alongside one of the key roads heading towards the Channel Tunnel. Its occupants are mainly male and there are over 800 residents classed as children – including many teenagers. The bulk are Afghan, fleeing Taliban conscription and in places combat zones. There are some Syrians as well as Eritreans and Somalis.

The authorities are clearly hostile to the camp: residents feel that the inhabitants are responsible for nuisance and crime. The response to this in March was partial demolition –which meant that 127 children simply disappeared. Meanwhile the CRS (the riot police in other circumstances) harass the inhabitants – confiscating phones, destroying SIM cards – and using plastic bullets, which can cause life-changing injuries.

The camp does not officially exist. Nevertheless, provision has been made for some inhabitants to go into adjacent freight containers – adapted to provide a form of accommodation, aimed at women with younger children, because of the dangers posed by people traffickers in the main camp.

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Tom Brake calls for Turkey to be suspended from NATO

As the human rights situation in Turkey worsens, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Tom Brake has called for Turkey to be suspended from NATO and for the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU to be scrapped.

He said:

Erdogan’s ongoing purge of newspapers, academics, teachers and judges has nothing to do with Turkey’s security and everything to do with blocking any opposition to his increasingly authoritarian rule. Today’s news that dozens more media outlets have been shut should send shivers down the spine of any person who believes in a free and open society.

The preamble to NATO’s founding treaty refers to it being “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”, all of which are under threat in Turkey currently.

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Tom Brake fights for the rights of EU citizens in the UK

The 3 million EU citizens currently resident in the UK must not be bartered over in this country’s exit negotiations with the EU. They must not be treated as political pawns, or like children caught up in their parents’ divorce. So said Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake as he introduced his “EU Citizens in the UK (Right to stay) Bill to the Commons this week. The Bill has support from MPs from Labour, SDLP, SNP and Greens.

I’m glad to see Lib Dems calling the Brexit vote for what it is – a disaster. Someone needs to point out that we are on the edge of a massive precipice and the tanking of the pound is just the start. Already business is starting to feel the pinch as investors delay investing in the UK. The collapse of the travel firm Lowcostravel is just one example of jobs being lost as a result of the Brexit vote. People haven’t yet even begun to experience the effects of Brexit and when they do, they need to see who was speaking out from the start.

I’m very proud that it is our lot who are working to preserve the rights of people who are already worrying about their future. It is only fair that those who have made their lives here are allowed to stay and not have the goalposts moved. Imagine if you have moved here, fallen in love, established a social network, a family, a career, in this country. Would you like to be treated that way?

Here is Tom’s speech in full:

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Season 2: The state of play in Spain ahead of the election on 26 June

It’s often said that we no longer have The Thick of It because politics can no longer be effectively satirised in Britain. You could say the same about Spain (although there is a Catalan programme that makes a valiant effort.)

After the last round of post-election negotiations failed, it sometimes seems like you’re watching a particularly dramatic TV show. The polls have remained fairly static, and where there are variations in the number of seats in the new election on  26th June they will be reasonably small.

However, there has been one large development – Podemos and Izquierda Unida (IU) have formed an electoral pact (the Pact of the Beer Bottles) for this round. Iglesias has made no secret of the fact that his goal is to overtake the PSOE (Socialists) in seats, but his party was starting to drop in the polls. Alberto Garzón’s IU was benefiting from that, so those two will likely make some form of gain there.

In Britain, we know all too well that when the election results are uncertain and the system very polarised, more moderate parties lose out. In the same way that the Tories and the SNP fed off each other, the PP and this new Unidos Podemos (Together We Can) formation happily do the same. The PP paint themselves as the sole force that can stop the Unidos Podemos (UP) threat, which plays into UP’s hands in the same way that Cameron’s fearmongering played into Sturgeon’s.

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‘Strategic patience’ in Tbilisi

For the first time ever, Liberal International has held its Executive Committee in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, at the invitation of the Republican Party of Georgia. Regional and global security were at the top of the agenda, with a strong presentation by Georgia’s Defence Minister, Tinatin ‘Tina’ Khidasheli on the challenges facing former Soviet republics now finding themselves on the periphery of an expansionist Russia.

To drive the point home, we participants were all bussed out of the city to the ‘occupation line’, which marks the current limit of Russian encroachment into Georgian territory just south of South Ossetia (which the Russians have already effectively annexed, as they did with Ukraine’s Crimea). Just days before, the Russians had rolled a giant barbed wire fence further into Georgian territory, leaving some Georgian farmers cut off from their land and families divided. Tens of thousands of Georgians have already fled South Ossetia and have been resettled or temporarily rehoused.

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The ALDE Party Celebrates 40th Birthday

The Easter weekend marked the 40th Anniversary of formation of the Alliance of Liberal Democrats in Europe (ALDE). ALDE is a political party is formed of an alliance many of the liberal and democrat parties in Europe.

BBG ALDE

The ALDE party was founded on 26 March 1976 in Stuttgart in Germany. It was the first cross border political family. More can be read on the Stuttgart declaration at the ALDE party site but suffice to say it is based on the Oxford Manifesto of 1947 and was was formed from fourteen parties from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom as well as the International Liberal Youth Organisation and the Liberal Group in the European Parliament.

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Keeping Britain in the EU: How reassuring the sceptics should mean more than talk of “sovereignty”

Over the last few months the political media has been transfixed by David Cameron’s efforts to “renegotiate” Britain’s relationship with the European Union. Whilst Tim Farron quite rightly describes Cameron’s demands as having much more to do with keeping the Conservative Party together than fixing anything more fundamental about the EU, the reasons for making this effort are obvious: reassuring nervous eurosceptics that Britain still has influence in Europe and neutralising fears (however unjustified) that the British voice will be somehow overpowered.

Nigel Farage responded by calling Cameron’s deal “a slap in the face for Britain”. So far, so predictable.  Yet right at the core of eurosceptic complaints is so often the insidious, sometimes devious suggestion that nothing we hear from Brussels can be trusted. When Blair got an opt-out from the Euro, the sceptics said we’d be forced in anyway. When Brown got an opt-out from the Fundamental Charter of Fundamental Rights, the sceptics claimed the European Court of Justice would simply ignore it. Cameron says we have protection from being overrun by the Eurozone? The sceptics claim it isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

In their deluded yet strangely persuasive form of paranoia, the Kippers argue that, even if it all seems reasonable on the surface, we can never trust the EU to keep their word and that our courts and our Parliament will be (supposedly) powerless to stop them.

Also posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 41 Comments
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