Category Archives: Europe / International

Anything to do with European / international issues

Want to meet European liberals? Applications open for the ALDE Party Congress delegation

The 38th ALDE Party Congress will take place from 1 to 3 December 2017 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Preliminary information about the programme, political deadlines, venues and logistics will soon be available on the ALDE Party website, here.

The UK Liberal Democrats are currently one of the largest voting blocs in the ALDE Party, with strong representation on the Bureau, in the Council and at the Congress. The Congress is the largest event of the year for ALDE and it is a policy-making event, with policy motions submitted by member parties for debate and voted on during the Congress.

The ALDE Party …

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Venezuela – a failure wrought by paranoia and a cause without much principle

It is noticeable that Venezuela is prominent in the British media at the moment. To be honest, the chaos of a typical Latin American banana republic seldom causes such interest, but given the links between the Venezuelan Government and Jeremy Corbyn, its failure is a convenient stick to beat him with.

And let’s be honest, things are bad there. I had the opportunity to go to Caracas in December 2015, when things were already falling apart, inflation was spiralling and the bolivar was on its way to toilet paper status. At that point, the government had stopped publishing most economic data – it was pretty meaningless anyway – and had acknowledged its exchange rate difficulties by offering an alternative exchange rate for tourists.

The official rate was six bolivars to the dollar. As a tourist, you could legally get two hundred bolivars to the dollar. The black market, usually a fair judge of reality, was offering eight hundred bolivars to the dollar. And, as the largest bank note in circulation was a one hundred bolivar note, you can easily imagine what that meant in terms of carrying money.

So, why are things so bad in Venezuela? Firstly, the economy is almost entirely underpinned by oil exports (which represented 96% of total exports) and when the price of crude fell, GDP fell catastrophically. A market economy can adjust to that, albeit painfully. Sadly for the Venezuelan people, they have a government which not only doesn’t believe in markets, it doesn’t appear to understand them either.

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Defending the Human Rights of Parliamentarians at the Inter-Parliamentary Union

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is the global club of national parliaments, so one might ask why Liberal International (LI) has signed up to the organisation as an Observer Member. The clearest reason is to further the work of LI’s highly active Human Rights Committee, which already has recognition and speaking rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The IPU has its own human rights committee specifically defending the rights of parliamentarians across the world. Many of its cases involve liberal politicians in places where opposition politics is fraught with danger. A second reason is to develop stronger collective identity and action between liberal politicians from our member parties.

Dhaka was a controversial choice of venue, as Bangladesh has itself seen considerable political strife in recent years and the last election was boycotted by the opposition. Whilst I was there their student leader in Chittagong was picked up by police then found dead hours later. A high profile court case involving the suspension from office of the opposition mayor of Sylhet was dismissed by the High Court, only for new proceedings to be instigated before he had gained access to his office. I met the opposition leader off site to discuss democratic progress.

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Here, there and everywhere – a report back from Federal International Relations Committee…

So, (some of) you very kindly voted for me last year to serve for three years as a member of Federal International Relations Committee. And, as promised, I am reporting back on what I’ve done, as well as making a few comments on our recent meeting on 13 July.

I’ve spent much of the first half of 2017 bringing the Committee up to constitutional speed. I produced our first Standing Orders in January, and have since amended them to create some formal process for selecting our candidates for positions on the Bureaux of Liberal International and the ALDE Party, following …

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May’s hard Brexit is dead. Now let’s bury Brexit

Brexiters claim that 82% of voters supporting the Tories and Labour validated Brexit in last week’s General Election. This has a grain of truth in it. However subsequent polls found issues such as health, the economy, and security were more important to voters. Furthermore, the election marked a return to two party politics in which smaller parties, including ours, were squeezed. A vote for Labour was not necessarily a vote for its ambiguous Brexit stance, but arguably one for hope and an end to Tory austerity.

Shielded from many by her two former advisers and campaign managers, yet at the same time vulnerable to Tory ideological Europhobes, May’s closet premiership progressed an empty Hard Brexit. Instead of trying to unite a divided country after the 2016 referendum by reaching out to the 48% voting remain, May divided the country further by progressing a Hard Brexit which few voted for. Fully aware that half of voters wanted to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union as do most businesses, she seemed unbothered about harming the economy for the sake of meeting unrealistic immigration targets which were consistently missed when she was Home Secretary. Businesses could only engage with Government Ministers if they were enthusiastic about Brexit’s (unknown) opportunities. Her General Election bid for a personal blank cheque on Brexit (and seemingly everything else), possibly along the lines of the Canada-EU deal, left the electorate cold. So last week the people called time on her ‘bunker’ Brexit. So too it appears has business, her Cabinet, and parliamentarians.

A weakened May is now in discussion with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her minority Government. Meanwhile her Brexit secretary makes contradictory statements saying last Friday that the Government has lost its mandate for leaving the Single Market and Customs Union whilst implying the opposite on Radio 4’s Today. However, the DUP wants to avoid a hard Irish border, a demand which appears incompatible with the Tory manifesto pledge to leave the EU customs union. Similarly, the Scottish Conservatives want an ‘open’ Brexit, which appears to conflict with the Tory manifesto pledge to leave the EU Single Market. The two, with 10 and 13 seats respectively, effectively could each veto a Hard Brexit. But let us not forget the newly emboldened, but hitherto pusillanimous, pro-European Tories. Under the new parliamentary arithmetic, a handful of them could also frustrate Hard Brexit.

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ALDE Party Council review: meanwhile, in Europe…

On Saturday, the European liberal family gathered in the Slovene capital, Ljubljana, to compare notes and to start the process of preparation for the 2019 European Parliamentary elections. It offers your correspondent an opportunity for reflection and, if you’ll excuse me, more than a hint of regret.

But first, what will be happening? The ALDE Party Bureau have appointed Taavi Roivas, the former Prime Minister of Estonia, to chair a ten member Manifesto Committee, whose task it will be to gather evidence and ideas from across Europe and beyond the narrow confines of …

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Liberal International: meanwhile, in a small country far away…

Good morning, and welcome to Liberal Democrat Voice’s coverage of the 70th Anniversary Congress of Liberal International from sunny Andorra.

Liberals from around the world have gathered in the Co-Principality to talk about human rights, debate the big global issues of the day, elect a new Bureau and, most importantly, formally adopt a newly-updated “Liberal Manifesto” which aims to express how liberal values and ideas are relevant in a rapidly changing world. For, whilst policies are forever evolving in the face of events, values offer insight into the types of solutions on offer.

The …

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