Category Archives: Europe / International

Anything to do with European / international issues

Ukraine; are we absolutely sure we want a wider war?

In war it is good to remember two bits of age-old wisdom, if unnecessary deaths are to be avoided; ‘know your enemy’ and ‘don’t believe your own propaganda’.

Ignoring these two adages led to the West’s humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, and Western-led conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Saharan Africa and Yemen, which have all been catastrophic for Western interests.

We now have a parallel in Ukraine.

As I wrote in LDV on 11th Feb 2023:

In April Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said ‘We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine’ and ‘Ukraine clearly believes that it can win, and so does everyone here’. At the end of the previous month the US President called for the removal of President Putin from power.

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Tonight! Join online for the kick-off of the “Renew Europe Now” Platform campaign!

This evening, at 6 p.m., the ALDE Party and other members of the “Renew Europe Now” platform kick-off their European Campaign, and you can watch from the comfort of your own home…

  • Hear from inspiring Liberal leaders from around the EU like Prime Ministers Alexander De Croo, Kaja Kallas, European Commisioners Margrethe Vestager, Věra Jourová, Thierry Breton, Didier Reynders and Kadri Simson and other speakers.
  • Meet the Renew Europe Platform lead candidates from ALDE Party, Renaissance and EDP, and find out their plan for Europe.
  • Discover the next wave of Liberal leaders who will fight against the artisans of European

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We should allow Ukrainian refugees to stay

It has now sadly been over two years since the latest phase of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

I was living in Kyiv back in early 2014 when the conflict began after Russia invaded Crimea and East Ukraine. Since then, the UK has rightly been one of Ukraine’s strongest allies, providing economic, military, political and diplomatic support. This has also very much been a cross-party endeavour, which I strongly welcome.

There is though more that the UK and our allies – particularly the USA – need to do to now ensure that Kyiv has the military means to defeat Moscow.

Refugees

Likewise, there is more …

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US Presidential Election 2024: seconds out, round one…

The long-awaited (albeit nervously) US Presidential campaign gets underway in earnest today, with the Iowa caucuses, the first step in a winnowing process that formally ends in the US Virgin Islands on 8 June. It’s only the Republicans who are taking part this week, as the Iowa Democratic primary takes place on “Super Tuesday”, 5 March. There are 40 delegates up for grabs (out of 2,467 available overall) but it isn’t winner takes all – delegates are allocated according to the share of the vote achieved. So, what are we watching out for?

The opinion polling that has taken place in Iowa has shown Donald Trump polling steadily well ahead, with a strengthening of his position in recent months. FiveThirtyEight suggests that his average poll score is over 50%, with many individual polls showing him doing even better. But Iowa is a socially conservative state with a strong evangelical influence, where Trump lost to Ted Cruz in 2016 – will Iowa Republicans waver in the face of his legal problems? And, if they do, at what percentage does he begin to look vulnerable?

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What’s the future for Israel and Palestine?

It is now more than two months since the Hamas attack in southern Israel, and the bombing and shelling of Palestinians in Gaza continues.  Many of us have marched in support of a cease-fire, but the marches have achieved nothing, so it must be time for a rethink.

The horrific, murderous the attack on October 7 had its roots in Palestinian resentment, and arguably the seeds were planted by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s decision during the First World War to donate part of a foreign country we didn’t own to a people who’d suffered abuse and discrimination in Europe for hundreds of years and wanted somewhere to go that wasn’t Europe.  

Others say the current conflict in Gaza is simply the consequence of Hamas behaving “like animals” on October 7.  There are proximal causes and more deep-seated ones, some of which go back a very long way – for some Jewish fundamentalists the claim to ownership of Judea and Samaria goes back thousands of years.   Many other more recent factors are involved, like the funding of Hamas by Qatar (among other countries) and the funding of Israel by the US, which have made the Palestinians pawns in a game driven by the geopolitical ambitions of others.     

What is being lost in the debate over which part of history is most important is the fate of the Palestinian people in Gaza, and increasingly in the West Bank, with bombs falling, bullets flying, and starvation and disease now gaining hold.  Since October 7, more than 20,000 people have been killed, upward of 50,000 injured, and hostages are being held.  Around two million people in Gaza are living in a devastated waste land, short of water, food, electricity, shelter, medical aid, and hope that the world will do anything to alleviate their suffering. 

If the world community is going to move on from simply grandstanding, the obvious first requirement is an end to the fighting.  Calling for Israel to stop hasn’t worked, but if we think that only Israel has the power to end the war we are missing an important point.  Israel has said it won’t stop until Hamas is defeated or surrenders, so the sooner Hamas lays down its arms the better.

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Israel-Gaza conflict: Liberal Democrats call for immediate bilateral ceasefire

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey and Lib Dem Foreign Affairs spokesperson Layla Moran MP have today called for an immediate bilateral ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The purpose of such a ceasefire, which must apply to both Israel and Hamas, would be to get aid in, get the hostages out, and provide space to realise a political solution, ultimately with two states and a lasting peace.

Ed Davey has set out this proposal in full here.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Layla Moran MP commented:

A lasting peace and a two-state solution is the only way to guarantee

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The Gaza War – what should or could happen next

Layla Moran in her webinar to over 1,000 Party members last Thursday gave us much to think about. Layla reminded us that what often distinguishes us as Liberal Democrats is our strong sense of empathy and humanity, which naturally leads to a respect for human rights and international law. It is difficult not to be traumatised by the horrors we are witnessing on our screens day after day and feel heartfelt sympathy for the victims themselves, their surviving friends and family, and especially those who are here in the UK, worrying about their family members being held hostage by Hamas, …

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ALDE Party Council – give ‘em the old razzle dazzle…

Escaping Storm Babet, albeit not by much, Thursday saw me heading to the Paris of the East, and capital of Romania, Bucharest. After the various travelling calamities that befell the delegation to Stockholm in June, I wasn’t taking any chances on arriving on the day of the meeting, and reached my destination to find the sun shining and the temperature pleasantly warm. Perhaps it was a good omen…

In truth, the most controversial item on the agenda was always going to be the urgency resolution on the situation in Israel and Palestine, given that European liberals have quite divergent views on who is to blame and what should be done. However, our delegation leader, and Chair of Federal International Relations Committee, David Chalmers, had decided that the best way forward was to draft something which might attract majority support in advance and, after some discussion amongst our delegation, with valued input from our Parliamentary Foreign Affairs team, we had been able to circulate something to our sister parties that, I thought, had a real chance of success.

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Sushi protests show Hong Kong’s spirit is unabated – but it’s not enough!

Recently, there has been a sudden surge in the popularity of sushi and sashimi in Hong Kong. Long queues can be seen outside sushi restaurants, and the sashimi and sushi in supermarkets are quickly sold out every day. This is happening after the Hong Kong government announced a ban on imports of Japanese seafood. The Japanese Consulate in Hong Kong has expressed its gratitude on social media to the Hong Kong people for their “rational consumption.” In present-day Hong Kong, under the implementation of the national security law, citizens have found a way to express their lack of trust in the government through collective consumer action.

At the beginning of this year, the Hong Kong government lifted all the restrictions that were imposed due to the pandemic. As a result, some groups applied to the police for permission to hold protests. On International Women’s Day and Labor Day, they planned to organize events with only a few hundred participants. However, the police put pressure on the organizing groups, claiming that there were many threatening comments on their social media platforms, suggesting the intention to use violence against the police during the events. This eventually forced the groups to cancel their planned activities. Subsequently, media outlets published investigative reports revealing that all those threatening comments originated from pro-government internet users or fake accounts.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Mutineer Yevgeny Prigozhin – and the nine other passengers on his private plane — this week joined a long and growing list of “Putin’s Bodies.” Those on the grisly register share one common fatal flaw: They dared to cross the Russian president.

The tally starts with 1,300 innocent victims. It was 1999. Putin was yet to become president. But as prime minister and head of the FSB he needed a false flag operation to win support for his war in Chechnya. It is alleged, therefore, that he bombed a Moscow apartment building and blamed it on Chechen terrorists. Three hundred died and 1,000 were injured. Putin got his war.

Politician Sergei Yashenkov made the mistake of uncovering evidence linking Putin to the bombing. He was shot in the chest in 2003. Former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko also accused Putin of the apartment block bombing. He was poisoned in London in 2006 with polonium-laced tea.

Journalists are a favourite target of the Russian president. Paul Klebnikov, chief editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, was busy writing a series on Kremlin corruption when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2004. Anna Polikovskaya accused Putin of turning Russia into a police state. She was shot in the lift of her apartment building in 2006. Natalia Estemirova specialised in exposing human rights abuses. She was abducted outside her home and later found in a wood with a bullet in the head.

Human rights lawyer Stanislaw Markelov was walking down the street with his friend Anastasia Buburova when they were both gunned down in 2009.

Russian media mogul Mikhail Lesin was in Washington and on the verge of cutting a deal with the FBI on corruption charges. He was found beaten to death in his hotel room in 2015.

Boris Berezovsky fled Russia for exile in Britain after daring to challenge Putin. He was found dead in his Berkshire home. The inquest returned an open verdict. Boris Nemtsov accused Putin of being in the pay of corrupt oligarchs. He was shot in the back on a Moscow street in 2015.

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Observations of an Expat: The Almighty Dollar

The Almighty Dollar is a bit too mighty for a growing number of countries. They want to curb it.

That was one of the driving forces behind this week’s 5-nation BRICS meeting in Johannesburg and the reason why another 40 want to join the latest political/economic organisation. Six of the applicants were admitted to the club this week.

BRICS is the acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—the current membership of the 14-year-old organisation. It controls 26 percent of the world’s GDP as opposed to the G7’s 30.7 percent, although the G7 is dropping and will drop further faster with BRICS expansion.

For BRICS you could easily substitute China which dominates the BRICS economies. And for G7 just say America. Which means the two economic groupings have become political/economic weapons in the Sino-American clash.

BRICS has thus become a diplomatic vehicle for the Chinese attempt to constrain the dollar as the world’s reserve currency or replace it altogether.

It has its work cut out for it. The dollar is indeed almighty. Eighty-seven percent of the world’s trade is conducted in dollars. The currencies of 65 countries are pegged to the value of the dollar and the American greenback is the official currency of five US territories and 11 foreign countries.

Being the world’s reserve currency bestows advantages on the US economy and the government that controls it. Chief among them is lower borrowing costs on the international market, which allows America to carry a bigger public spending debt then other countries.

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ALDE Party Congress 2023 – the local government cut

In addition to all the MEPs, Prime Ministers and Grandees there were also quite a few local Councillors like me in attendance.

The Committee of Regions continued to focus on Local Government issues by mounting a couple of specific interest Fringe sessions.

One regular event is entitled the Liberal Mayors Summit, and despite the poor attendance of Mayors and Group Leaders from the UK ,even when we were in the EU, I’ve fortunately managed to sneak in on a couple of occasions. There were about 20 attending this year, from metropolitan areas across the EU, with representation from well-known cities like Warsaw, Stockholm, St Omer, Bucharest, Split, Budapest, Vienna and smaller less well-known ones from across the EU states. It was good to realise that the Liberal influence is present in so many local authority areas.

The main guest was the very popular Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission who had delivered a speech about plans to regulate IA.

The agenda included issues about SMEs, and combatting gender-based violence but the item which generated most contributions and took up the majority of time was about The European Year of Skills. Every attendee around the table had prepared a contribution on this subject and I found there was such resonance with issues our own towns and cities are experiencing, I thought it would be of interest to our colleagues here in the UK.

As the discussion went round the table, we heard from every representative about problems that their authority faced in planning for the future. These were an ageing population, a lack of well qualified staff and skilled personnel to fill vacancies, while experiencing an incoming surfeit of unskilled migrants. An interesting example was given of an authority above the Arctic Circle in the North of Finland, which had recognised that it needed to bring in new people if its business and activities were to thrive.

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Reporting back on the ALDE conference in Stockholm

The ALDE Party Congress in Stockholm 26-28 May 2023

Merlene Emerson, one of the 10 LibDem Council delegates to ALDE Party reporting back

Who?
ALDE Party (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) is an umbrella membership party of liberal leaning and social democratic parties in Europe. There are currently 77 members across 44 countries in Europe, both in EU as well as non-EU countries. Sadly, the LibDems have now fallen into the 2nd category but it remains a lifeline that keeps us connected with others in the liberal and democratic family in Europe.

What?
So what was the recent Congress all about and how do I encapsulate in a short blog the spirit and substance of the annual gathering? There were Policy resolutions passed (ranging from Restoration of a pro-active Trade Policy, to supporting Introduction of Civil Partnerships in Ukraine), election of new Bureau members and important amendments to internal regulations, but it was the first session, a fireside chat with Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and Commissioner Vera Jourova that I found hugely inspiring.

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ALDE Party Congress 2023: the expectations of your newest Council delegate

There are many ways I could support the Liberal Democrats and liberal values. As a Londoner, I could support our GLA team: one of the reasons I joined the Party was to oppose the Silvertown Tunnel. As a Young Liberal, I could join a group that gained councillors in 25 councils (and counting) – with 2 of those wins defeating incumbent Conservative Council leaders – in the local elections (which as Liberal Democrats, we should be mentioning at every possible opportunity…) and that created the app at Spring Conference in York. As an economist (or at least, an economist in-training), I could support the party’s policy team in designing an economic manifesto that deals with the manifold crises we face at the moment. So why, with all these options, have I looked to working on the international front as a place I can bring value to the Party.

Well to work this out, it’s important to look at how we work with our overseas partners. In Europe, we work under the umbrella of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (or ALDE Party), a group that brings together Liberals in Europe and includes 73 Member parties with representation in the EU institutions and beyond. Together, we build bridges, pass policy and try not to spiral into a discussion on electoral reform. One success story that came from our cooperation was announced last month by our FIRC Chair David Chalmers (and leader of the ALDE delegation) announcing the Lib Dem EU Liaison Councillor Scheme. In the upcoming Congress at Stockholm, I hope to do more and make sure the Liberal democrats are in a strong position to continue this cooperation.

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In conversation with the founder of LibDem Friends of Taiwan, Jonathan Philip Bird

Jonathan (JPB) talks with Merlene Emerson of the Chinese Liberal Democrats (CLD)

CLD: Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you developed your interest in Taiwan?

JPB: I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2004. I would have been a member of an Alliance party from 1983/84 but I was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness, and the group forbids political involvement. I have been an active member of my branch since then, running as a ward candidate a number of times.

As well as Taiwan I am passionate about Europe being a core member of the cross-party campaign Cardiff for Europe since 2016.

I lived in Taiwan in 2009 and 2010. I found the political situation of the island fascinating. I discovered the Liberal English language newspaper Taipei Times, in a newsagent. Since my time there I have been a daily reader of the Taiwanese press, and kept up with developments, there.

The year of 2015 saw both ends of my political interest overlap. The historic victory of our Liberal International sister the Democratic Progress Party victory in Legislative assembly and Presidential elections. That contrasted so strongly with the trauma of May 2015 here. I contacted Tim Farron as Liberal Democrat leader and suggested he send a letter to Tsi Win as a fellow liberal. He did so and
I believe it is important that those who champion democracy should support each other.

CLD: What are your observations of the political future of Taiwan?

JPB: Unfortunately, the status quo is not an alternative allowed by the CCP. In 2008 the People’s Assembly passed the “Anti Succession act” it caused consternation in Taiwan and extended the post TianAnMen Square European Union ban on arms exports. Not only did it threaten war on Taiwan should it declare independence or redefine its constitution as the Republic of Taiwan etc.. but also, commands the Bejing regime to continually assess the rate of progress to unite with China. If that progress is considered to have stalled, then to use force to “reunify” China.

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A Way Out of the Chaos in Israel

Joe Biden has lost patience with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Previous US Presidents must have been exasperated by the succession of Israeli Prime Ministers who paid lip service to international law, UN resolutions and human rights, and then ignored them in practice, but this time the frustration is public. Netanyahu is no longer welcome in the White House, and Biden has told him he must end his attempt to destroy democracy in Israel. Jewish organisations like Yachad in the UK have demonstrated around the world that Israel’s leader must not be allowed to join the autocrats’ club, along with Putin, Erdogan and Orban. In stark contrast to Biden, the UK government kowtowed to Netanyahu only days before the US condemnation of his latest moves, and has published what must now be a deeply embarrassing ‘roadmap’; it ticks off virtually everything on Netanyahu’s wish-list.

Netanyahu’s initial response to Biden’s announcement was to say Israel could manage without US help, and to call on his supporters to stage counter-demonstrations opposing those seen over the last few recent weeks. Tens of thousands have shown their disapproval of the planned legal reforms, both in Israel and in cities around the world. The truth is that Israel needs its friends more than ever, and dismissing Biden’s call to end his attack on the Israeli judiciary was a mistake.

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Volunteering Opportunity: Delegate to Liberal International Executive Committee

Location: Ottawa, Canada
Date: 2-6 May 2023

Liberal International will convene its 206th Executive Committee in Ottawa between 2-6 May 2023. For five days the global liberal family will come together at the seat of political decision-making in Canada – the federal capital – as LI returns to North America for its first statutory event in the region for 14 years.

Together with LI full member, the Canadian Group of Liberal International (CGLI), delegates will not only contribute to developing liberal policy and engaging throughout the ExCom between 2-4 May with new applicant parties but are cordially invited to fully participate in the Liberal Party of Canada (LI full member) convention which takes place (4-6 May) at the same venue directly following the conclusion of the 206th executive committee meeting.

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Observations of an Expat – Quake Problems

The death toll of Turkey’s earthquake has passed the 20,000 mark. It will soar further as freezing weather and disease sweep through the refugee camps and devastated towns and villages to replace falling rubble as the primary cause of death.

But the earthquake has also created and exacerbated political problems and opportunities whose rippling aftershocks have the potential effect of toppling political as well as physical structures.

The first possible victim is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is coming under attack for his failure to build sounder structures in the middle of the one of the world’s most dangerous earthquake zones. It should be noted that Erdogan rose to power on the back of Bulent Ecevit’s failures after a 1999 earthquake.

The destruction in southern Turkey came at both the best and worst of times for President Erdogan. His popularity is plummeting amidst economic problems and increasing dissatisfaction with his autocratic rule. There is a real possibility that he could lose the parliamentary and presidential ballot set for 14 May.

But at the same time, the natural disaster has created opportunities for Erdogan. He has declared a three-month state of emergency which will take him right up to Election Day. This will enable him to deploy troops and tighten his stranglehold on the media. Already social media users have been arrested for criticising the government’s earthquake policies.

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War in Europe and the role of the UK

The Big Lie of the Russian position regarding the war in Ukraine is that they had no choice than to invade. They did have choices, and furthermore they should see the events of 2014 onwards in Ukraine as a Russian policy failure, rather pleading mere victimhood. The harsh reality is that all deaths in the war were and are avoidable.

This is Step One in the doctrine of ‘know your enemy’. But to go beyond Step One it is necessary to reject the Western Big Lie; that the war was unprovoked. The ‘retail’ position of the UK is that Russia invaded because Putin, and the Russian government, are irrational and mad. This is quite the opposite of ‘know your enemy’, and an attempt to mask the role of US neo-conservatives in Ukraine, especially since 2014. This is the same group of individuals behind the 2003 Iraq war, the extended war in Afghanistan, Western involvement in the Syria, Somalia and Libya conflicts, and other adventures. They all resulted in relatively negative net outcomes for the US, UK and Western Allies.

The UK position for the public domain is however understandable in times of war; to show resolve and maintain public support. The point made is that Russia must be removed from all de-jure Ukrainian territory, President Putin must step down, and all efforts covert and overt, kinetic and cyber must be made to bring this about. Weapon supplies must be stepped up to support the ‘regime change’ doctrine that Russia will eventually be comprehensively defeated. Few might fully realise that this is likely unachievable without nuclear war.

For UK parliamentarians and political parties, the future path of the war may require ‘heads above the parapet’, the absence of which resulted in the Afghan war dragging on for at least 15 years longer than necessary. At least the UK Liberal Democrats objected to the Iraq war project.

However, there are two reasons why the UK position on Ukraine is very difficult for UK parliamentarians.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

While a Chinese balloon floated through American skies President Joe Biden stepped up to the podium to deliver his annual State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress.

The events were notable for two reasons: They exposed an irrational Yellow Peril fear that more than matches the Red Scare of Cold War years and pointed to a possible new era of American isolationism.

Conspicuous by its absence from Biden’s address to the Joint Session of Congress was any mention of foreign policy. With war raging in Ukraine, Turkey and Syria devastated by earthquakes, South America in political turmoil and China expanding, spying and rattling sabres over Taiwan. one would have thought Biden would have focused more on the world situation.

Instead he spoke about domestic concerns. Biden’s success in creating jobs; protecting American industry and controlling inflation. With at least one eye focused on next year’s elections, he is stealing Republican clothes by shifting to a more isolationist stand.

In this respect, the president appears to be following rather than leading US public opinion. The latest polls show a significant drop in American support for the war in Ukraine. China, however, is a different matter. The Chinese spy/weather balloon (probably a bit of both) did secure a passing reference in the president’s speech; probably because of the hysteria it generated among the American public. The fact is that countries spy on each other. The US spies on China. China spies on the US. Russia spies on….

Most of the spying is unseen. Intelligence operatives skulking in the corridors of power or satellites in space. The balloon, however, could be seen as it floated from Alaska, over missile silos in Montana and North Dakota and then finally to the Atlantic where it was shot down by US fighter planes.

The much discussed Asian Pivot was this week back in the news. For a start, American troops are returning in big numbers to the Philippines. The reason? The threat of China and the need to maintain international access to the South China Sea and protect Taiwan.

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Under new management – Federal International Relations Committee report

On Monday 6th of February, the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC) met for its first formal session of the new year, and of the newly elected committee.

In a two hour meeting which was kept very nearly to time (an almost unheard of state of affairs in Liberal Democrat committees, in my experience), we dealt with a stack of both policy and procedural issues.

We formally approved the continuance of, and received reports from, our sub-committees on China and Ukraine; we also received reports from several other bodies where FIRC has either oversight or coordinating responsibilities, and from the Federal Party’s International …

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Tanks to Ukraine

Like many living in Germany, the Federal Government’s hesitancy in supplying weapons to Ukraine is not only puzzling to me, but frankly massively embarrassing. German profited massively from the Peace Dividend at the end of the cold war – and so reduced its spending on defence that the Bundeswehr is a shadow of its former self. Despite the clear threats to European stability, particularly after the Crimean annexation, previous governments, led by the Christian Democrats, had given little attention to active threats.

The “traffic light” coalition government is itself divided on the provision of tanks to Ukraine. Ministers from the …

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Britain can never rejoin the EU, it might join it.

I have passionately supported European integration since I first became aware of the European Economic Community around 1962. I am as die-hard a Remainer as you can find. Despite that, I consider calls within our Party asking our leaders to campaign for re-join to be naïve.

To re-join something means basically to restore what existed before. If I fail to pay my subscription to the Chartered Institute of Taxation, I will be expelled. If I pay the missing subscription in a reasonable timescale, I can re-join and do not need to take any membership examinations; examinations that must be taken by new members seeking to join.

To put it very simply, the UK has left the EU. If it wishes to become a member, it needs to apply for membership. The EU has a detailed process for dealing with membership applications, and of course every single EU member state has a veto.

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A blue print for a modern, post-Putin Russia

Fears are growing for the jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny whose health is deteriorating with chills, fever and severe cough. In a brave show of force, some five hundred Russian doctors have signed an open letter to Vladimir Putin demanding an end to the ‘abuse of Alexei Navalny’.

Alexi Navalny, 46, has long been the most prominent face of Russian opposition.  Even from prison, he and his team had been mapping out a road map for the emergence of a democratic, modern Russia after Putin goes.

On Thursday evening, in a Liberal Democrat European Group webinar debate, I will be in an hour-long conversation with Navalny’s close friend and former campaign chief-of-staff, Leonid Volkov, currently in exile in Lithuania. Navalny and Volkov came to prominence through the freshness of their vision, their anti-corruption campaigns and their skills at deploying the Internet and live streaming to get their message across to millions.

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Making a difference for LGBTI+ communities across Europe

On 12 October two young members of the LGBTI+ community, university student and bartender Matus Horvath and visual merchandiser Juras Vankulic – were shot dead outside ‘Teplaren’, one of Bratislava’s two LGBTI+ bars. The killer, the son of a local far-right politician, who later shot himself, had before the shootings published online a white suprematist manifesto, expressing his wish to carry out further attacks on different groups.

The killings took place in Slovakia, a country which for months had witnessed increasing lies and insults from Slovakian politicians and the Catholic Church aimed at the LGBTI+ community, whipping up the atmosphere of hatred against them – an atmosphere that had been nurtured for years by politicians in power and in Parliament. Slovakia is one of the few countries in the Europe that still does not give any legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

Last Friday evening, during the ALDE Council meeting in Bratislava, delegates from liberal and democrat parties from across Europe gathered outside Teplaren bar to remember the terrible events of that night – we laid white roses, lit candles and filed past in silence – this was not the time for big speeches, rather quiet reflection. The photos of the two young victims stared out from the darkened windows of the bar, which to them like many other young people had come to be seen as a refuge – a home and a haven – in a country which systematically rages against them.

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ALDE Party Council – so many thoughts, so little time…

It was grey and dank as I strode briskly through the quiet morning streets of Bratislava en route to one of those modern, efficient hotels that are so much a feature of European city centres these days. I was a man on a mission, eager to contribute my knowledge and wisdom to the cause of European liberalism. And then I arrived at the ALDE Party Council meeting…

In fairness, the meeting started with a tribute to our fallen colleague, Robert Woodthorpe Browne, with contributions from the co-Presidents, Ilhan Kyuchyuk and Timmy Dooley, Phil Bennion (Chair of our Federal International Relations Committee) and Manfred Eisenbach, who likened his friendship with Robert to that of Stadler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show.

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@ALDEParty Council to meet in Bratislava – the preview

And so, once again this year, I find myself heading for Bratislava, this time as a member of the Party’s delegation to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party Council meeting which takes place on Saturday morning. Here’s what’s on the agenda…

Preparations for the 2024 European Elections

A tricky, and somewhat painful, agenda item for us, given that we won’t be fighting them and don’t have a vote on the manifesto, but work is underway on designing the campaign, drafting a Europe-wide message and building stronger links with non-ALDE members of the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament. Our position as a European nation which doesn’t have any formal arrangement with the European Union, nor ambitions to join, does leave us a bit like a small boy with his nose against the outside of the shop window.

Finance

The Commission is being difficult about receipts from third countries (for example, us), and there are suggestions that our rights within the ALDE Party are in jeopardy. Indeed, the key European Regulation 1141/2014 does offer challenges in terms of having non-EU member parties. But it does seem strange that the Commission would discourage participation from EEA states (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), Schengen micro-states such as Andorra, or even candidate nations such as Bosnia-Hercegovina or Moldova.

I would expect quite a lot of horse trading before this resolves itself, but we will continue to make the case for wider inclusivity within all European political families.

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A job and a half for the new Federal International Relations Committee

I was very pleased to have been part of the successful Federal International Relations Committee’s (FIRC) 2-hour international marathon at the West Midlands conference last weekend. Full marks to current FIRC Chair Phil Bennion. A FIRC First!

Having just been elected to the new Federal International Relations Committee, I will be encouraging it to focus on four big areas:
• Get our party leadership back on track concerning Europe.
• Mobilise newly enfranchised overseas voters to vote Lib Dem at the next UK General Election, especially in our target seats.
• Keep Lib Dems’ profile up internationally so the party continues to have global and European influence.
• Continue …

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US Midterms: Democrats defy the odds in the House contests

Going into yesterday’s elections, the expectation was that the Democrats would be hard pressed to repel the five seat swing required by the Republicans to win control of the House. But, as it turned out, the task is made easier if you have extremist candidates carrying the red banner, and you threaten abortion rights in a country where the majority favour abortion rights with some, usually mainstream, restrictions.

And so far, that’s how it seems to be playing. Of the sixty-four seats judged to be in play by the Cook Political Report, forty-five Democrat-held to just nineteen Republican-held, as I write …

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US Midterms – we’re probably not going to know the Senate result for a while yet…

Good morning, and welcome to our further coverage of the critical US midterm elections. Many thanks to Paul Walter, who set the scene yesterday.

On the plus side, it looks as though the ‘red tsunami’ only just made it to the shoreline, but the prospects still look on the gloomy side. We’ll start with the knife edge that is the Senate, where just one flipped seat (net) would hand control to the Republicans. Starting with Paul’s ‘five to watch’:

New Hampshire was, traditionally, a Republican bastion in New England but, as the southern part of the state has seen a population shift from Massachusetts in search of lower housing costs and lower taxes, voting patterns have shifted. The preferred Republican candidate was Governor Chris Sununu, the son of John Sununu, a former Governor and George Bush’s Chief of Staff, but he chose to seek re-election. That left the Republicans with Don Bolduc, a retired US Army Brigadier-General, whose primary victory was founded on a strong anti-abortion stance and a belief that the 2020 Presidential election was “stolen”. The fact that, having won the primary, he then almost immediately started rowing away from both positions probably explained his subsequent lack of success, as incumbent Maggie Hassan is currently 50,000 votes ahead with about 120,000 left to be counted.

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