Category Archives: Europe / International

Anything to do with European / international issues

The totally unofficial Federal International Relations Committee report – May 2018

There is a certain irony in that, having written the Committee’s communication plan before I resigned as its Secretary, that the Committee leadership has evidently forgotten that it exists. Thus, this report is wholly my own work. You’ll remember that if I run for re-election next year, right?

The key areas for discussion this time were the workplan and our response to the Alderdice Report on BAME participation within the Party.

The workplan is, I sense, a work of obligation rather than commitment, in that it looks to have been put together because one is required, rather than desired. Federal Board not …

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@ALDEParty Council Report: and now, the end is near?…

The sun was beating down in Sofia, the sky was blue, there wasn’t a cloud to spoil the view. But there was Brexit in our hearts…

Yes, it was time for the Spring Council meeting of the ALDE Party, hosted by our Bulgarian sister party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. The key items of business were the continuing work towards the 2019 European Parliamentary election manifesto and the adoption of the 2017 audit. In truth, the latter was never going to be an issue – finances are healthy, and likely to become …

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Brexit from afar: a Caribbean perspective…

I thought that it might be interesting to find out how Brexit looks from beyond the European Union, and this week’s commentary comes courtesy of the Barbados Advocate, and its columnist, David Jessop.

He starts by summarising what he sees as the current imponderables – the Irish border, the role of the UK Parliament in terms of the final position and, interestingly, the fault lines in both the Conservative and Labour Parties. And then, he turns to the likely impact on the Caribbean Commonwealth;

None of this helps remove the continuing uncertainty for the Caribbean about the possible shape of its future

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Moldova: on the edge of the Union, looking in…

The expansion of the European Union over the past two decades seems to have come to an end, at least for the time being, leaving the countries of the Western Balkans and the Black Sea region in a position of being accession candidates without much prospect of actual accession any time soon. It was with this in mind that I set off to find out about the situation in Moldova last week.

Moldova is a country with a unique set of challenges. First of these is its frozen conflict on the River Dnieper, where the predominantly Russian population fought, and won, …

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Brexit: concessions to the left of us, concessions to the right of us…

So, a big announcement, with the outline of a transitional deal. The highlights;

  • The transition period will end on 31 December 2020, three months earlier than sought
  • EU citizens arriving during the transition period will have the same rights as those already in the U.K. at 29 March 2019
  • No veto on new EU legislation during the transition period – the “vassal state” clause
  • Gibraltar excluded unless Spain can be persuaded to reach an agreement
  • No repatriation of control over fishing quotas

So, what does this mean for the Conservatives or for the United Kingdom? Good deal, bad …

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Viva Verdi, Viva Italia!

As Italy has voted, I am, as the son of an Italian, and a practitioner in the arts, thinking of Giuseppe Verdi and of the country he helped to create. Verdi is mainly known as one of the greatest composers of opera, but though that was his main and great talent, he had one for politics too. At a time when Italy was a collection of small and to some extent, rival principalities and states, the Risorgimento movement he supported, was fighting, for a nation of Italy, a unified State, the country we now know. Some interpret this as …

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Yemen – obstacles and pathways to peace

Liberal International British Group, amongst other things, organise discussion events on international issues. On 19 March, they’ll be discussing the situation in Yemen.

The war in Yemen started in 2015, in the Middle East’s poorest country. Since then there have been more than ten thousand fatalities. As of now, there have been more than one million cases of cholera and more than two and a half thousands related deaths. The already-weakened economy has all but collapsed and the UN reports than two million children are suffering from acute malnutrition, with thousands reportedly dying of starvation.

It has variously been described as:

  • a civil

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Prospects for an early General Election and a referendum on the terms of Brexit  

In the previous three posts in this series, I examined the Brexit legislative process, prospects for the EU negotiations, and the state of public opinion and Labour on Brexit. Lastly, what are the prospects for a referendum on the terms of any deal and an early General Election stemming from the ongoing Brexit crisis?

Nigel Farage recently toyed with the possibility of a ‘second’ referendum. Whilst ostensibly suggesting it might settle the Brexit debate for a generation, his real motivation is to have a referendum before the poor withdrawal deal being negotiated becomes obvious to a substantial majority of voters, and while the two largest parties maintain their ‘have your cake and eat it too’ support for Brexit. Some argue, perhaps even more importantly, that a referendum allows Farage another chance to be in the national spotlight, perhaps again as UKIP leader.

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Fighting Brexit: public opinion and cross-party co-operation

In the previous two posts in this series, I examined the legislative process and prospects for the EU negotiations. Our challenge is how to shape public opinion and move parliamentarians from other political parties to build an overwhelming national will to stop this Brexit madness, and in so doing attract more support for ourselves.

We can still stop Brexit. We can withdraw unilaterally our intention to leave the EU before 29 March 2019. Lord John Kerr, former head of the Diplomatic Service, has said as much, whilst Professor Sir Alan Ashwood has argued it “takes two to tango.”. UKlegalfuture

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Iran Protests – Ayatolld me not to come…that ain’t the way to have fun



So Iran is back in the news again; there’s always something fun going on there! The country seems to have exploded in protests, something many analysts had previously thought near impossible. These protests are complex and still evolving (having only started December 28th), appearing to be various forms of cathartic action with outpourings of anger over food price increases, strict religious rule and corruption. Somewhat negligently, analysts appear not to have predicted instability in Iran (despite the high/volatile food prices, young population and regional instability).

In 2009 the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ made headlines: a series of large protests in response to what people saw as a fixed election. Whilst Iran is not quite a dictatorship, it is not quite a democracy. People do vote for a President and parliament, however, the religious leadership and Ayatollah tightly vet which candidates are even allowed to run. Furthermore the actual authority of the political leadership is capped, as religious figures control the powerful Revolutionary Guard, therefore dictating nuclear and foreign policy. The main differences, however, between the protests we’re seeing now and those of the Green Revolution is that the former were primarily in Tehran and attended mainly by the middle and upper classes. These protests are largely being driven by lower socio-economic status rural and non-Tehranis. This group has long been seen as the Ayatollah’s base and was assumed to be subservient if not content, and their dissent indicates that we may be about to see something big.

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Brexit Resolution: statement from Catherine Bearder MEP

Yesterday the European Parliament voted in favour of a Resolution to allow Brexit talks to progress to the next stage.

Both the Commission and Parliament have now recommended to the European Council that progress has been made in the three key areas: on citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland and the financial settlement.

This Resolution is the last piece in the puzzle to allowing the Brexit talks to progress to the next stage.

It effectively moves the UK one step further away from a disastrous “no deal” situation which would risk thousands

Also posted in Europe Referendum | Tagged , and | 2 Comments

Bitter sweet: ALDE Congress in Amsterdam

I have mixed feelings as I come back from my third ALDE Congress (Alliance of Liberal and Democratic parties across Europe), this time in Amsterdam, one of the most liberal cities in the world. It’s energising to spend time with liberals from across Europe, and the largest Congress yet of 1500 people, knowing that we share values of openness, internationalism and environmentalism. Some countries are so liberal like the Netherlands and Finland, that they even have two liberal parties!

There was sad news that the UK representative on the ALDE party bureau, Baroness Ros Scott was not reelected to her position as Vice Chair. Colleagues from other parties like the FDP (Free Democratic Party) in Germany commiserated and said ALDE should look for ways to continue to collaborate with the UK. This is wise considering a sizeable proportion of the resolutions for voting and discussion by the congress were well-informed and well-drafted by the UK delegation on a range of issues from Iran and Myanmar to LGBT rights, and the Balfour Declaration.

The reoccurring theme in the conference debates focused on how we, as liberals, can combat populism and illiberal voices. Xavier Bettel, PM of Luxembourg (one of 5 liberal PMs in the EU and my favourite) said that we need to fight for our values every day. We should speak to the majority, engage with people who hold different views from us, talking about real issues that matter to people and think in dreams not fear.

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@ALDEParty Congress: Days 2 and 3 – the end, in more ways than one…

The count had taken place, the results were known. All that was left was to announce them, and that was the point where Congress went wrong for the Liberal Democrats.

In a shock result, Ros Scott was unsuccessful in her quest to be re-elected. It was an outcome that nobody had expected, with the exception of the candidate herself, leaving the ALDE Party Bureau without a British member for the first time in living memory.

Jonathan Fryer, blogging after the event, suggested that;

…it looks as if Brexit was a factor, for which Theresa

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@ALDEParty Congress – Day 2: preparing for a manifesto you may never use…

It was a foggy morning in Amsterdam, dark and damp, the sort of day that makes you want to just pull the covers back over you and go back to sleep. But it was also election day, and with our own candidate in the field, sleep wasn’t an option.

The Congress agenda was dominated by a number of plenary sessions, on the future of European internet policy, on mobility, on the future of work and on agriculture policy, all of which might be seen as laying the groundwork for developing the manifesto.

In truth, …

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@ALDEParty Congress 2017 – day 1… a beauty contest in the city of tulips

It was dark, and cold… and far too early. But there was a delegation meeting at 8 a.m., and attendance was compulsory, so I dragged myself out of bed, and was in the right place, somewhere in the vast complex that is the RAI Congress Centre on the south side of Amsterdam. There was much to discuss.

Firstly, there was a delegation to organise, and jobs to assign. For someone has to be responsible for ensuring that our view on each of the resolutions was heard, that our decision on how to vote …

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ALDE Party Congress – the Brexit resolution…

At the end of the week, liberals from across Europe come to Amsterdam to meet, debate policies, attend fringe meetings and elect new members of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) Party’s Bureau. There’ll be approximately one hundred Liberal Democrats present, and Liberal Democrat Voice will be covering events as usual.

Our coverage this year starts with a review of the resolutions to be considered, and it will come as no surprise that one of the subjects for debate is Brexit, and that’s where we’ll start.

It might surprise readers to …

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Debating Europe from first principles – a new force in Romanian politics

Sometimes, opportunities come along unexpectedly, and when, two weeks ago, the opportunity to go to Timişoara came along, I grabbed at the chance, without really stopping to consider what I might find when I got there. And Eastern Europe does, beyond the classic cities such as Budapest and Prague, have a bit of an image problem given the effects of war and communism on the architectural heritage.

I was there because a new Românian political party, the Uniunea Salvați România (Save România Union), was hosting a conference entitled “The Future of Europe is …

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Now is the time for an ivory ban

Think of Africa, and you think of elephants. But sadly, these glorious and magnificent animals are under serious threat from poaching. It is estimated that one elephant is killed every fifteen minutes by poachers who are part of a chain of criminal activity that makes immense profits from selling ivory tusks onto the global market. This illegal ivory is distributed all around the world with routes mirroring those of drugs, guns and trafficked people. It is shocking to find that more raw and carved ivory is traded through the EU to …

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What a start of a new coalition! D66 both the biggest (Dutch) progressive and the biggest Liberal party

In my previous postings about the D66 contribution on entering the new Dutch coalition government (here and here), I noted that D66 surprised everybody in Dutch politics by being able to have some profiling, and indubitably progressive programmatic points in the coalition agreement. Also, D66 was the main provider of women (cabinet) ministers; and they are highly qualified women politicians!

A brief “tableau de la troupe” of the new Dutch government…

It consists of two Liberal parties: the progressive, pro-European D66 and the more eurosceptical, car-owner oriented VVD (with prime minister Mark Rutte); and two Christian Democrat …

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Protecting Nature After Brexit

Embed from Getty Images

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder has put pen to paper in a letter to MIchael Gove MP, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

This joint letter to Mr Gove was also signed by Seb Dance MEP, Keith Taylor MEP and Julie Girling MEP.  Together, these MEPs form a cross-party group of UK MEPs who sit on the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee.

The letter follows the successful vote on November 15th in Strasbourg on the EU Parliamentary …

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Ros Scott to run for re-election as Vice President of the ALDE Party

Two years ago, in Budapest, saw the election of six ALDE Party Vice Presidents and, after a tough nine-way contest, Baroness Ros Scott was safely elected. And, after a successful first term, she is seeking re-election.

Her manifesto spells out what she’s been up to;

  • chaired pre-Council meetings of liberal ministers at AGRIFISH, helping to form shared positions as part of our work to bring together liberals from across Europe
  • worked to get more women in politics, personally leading a fund raising campaign to support the ALDE Party’s European Women’s Academy
  • met with a potential new

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The EU Parliament Takes A Principled Liberal Stance

Despite the claims of British politicians, which in turn are echoed by their diplomats, the UK is not “within touching distance” of agreement on citizens’ rights.  Following a reiteration of this claim by UK ambassador John Marshall, at a public meeting on Wednesday in Luxembourg, MEP Charles Goerens outlined the European Parliament’s position:

  • Any application for ‘settled status’ should be a simple, cost-free and automatic process, that can be made by families as a joint declaration.
  • Applications should not depend on complex conditionality and

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News from the Liberal Democrats International Office

The Liberal Democrats took an active part in the 199th Liberal International Executive Committee meeting in Johannesburg in October. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Better Governance: Liberal Answers to Twenty-first Century Challenges”.

Delegates adopted resolutions on freedom of belief, tackling the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya, and the rise of authoritarianism in Cambodia. The delegates elected a new Secretary General of LI, Gordon Mackay. He is a Member of the South African Assembly for Democratic Alliance.

Liberal Democrat Party President Sal Brinton held a number of meetings with key individuals at Liberal International, ALDE and …

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The Calais ‘Jungle’ One Year On

Today marks one year since the makeshift refugee camp in Calais known as the ‘Jungle’ was demolished.

Three weeks after becoming leader I got to visit the Jungle for myself, and the experience was both eye-opening and heart-breaking. The word ‘jungle’ is actually not an appropriate or accurate description of what these desperate people had built for themselves. It was more like a city. It sprawled for miles. Conditions were grim, but it was amazing to see the strength and grit of the people living there, despite the unimaginable situation they had …

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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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