Category Archives: Europe / International

Anything to do with European / international issues

A Belgian, liberal perspective on handling the pandemic

Leading Belgium’s #COVID19 task force, Federal Minister Philippe De Backer from our sister party, Open VLD, has shown leadership and resilience in the face of crisis. I thought that our readers might be interested to see a liberal response to this crisis.

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Crisis in Belarus and possible EU and UK policy response

#Живёт Беларусь – two words that are the rallying cry for what appears to be a tipping point for the Lukashenko regime with mass strikes at factories, schools, TV anchors resigning and signs that security forces are refusing to follow orders or resigning. Despite the repeat of the Lukashenko play book of arresting or brute elimination of opposition figures, the country coalesced around an unlikely figure in the form of a quiet housewife who has fired up the imagination and bamboozled the regime. It is also a test of how the West, the EU and most notably the UK in …

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From Russia with Loathing

I got my first taste of Russia and the other side of the Iron Curtain on a schoolboy visit to Moscow and Odessa in 1976. Brezhnev was the Soviet Leader and the Soviet Union was in the middle of a hot Cold War with the West.

The contrast between East and West could not have been greater.

In Russia, apart from in the hard currency shops, consumer goods were in noticeably short supply, as was anything edible except for seasonal produce. The efforts of shadowy black marketeers, who descended on our group at every touristic stopover, whispering ‘buy jeans, dollars, chewing gum’ would have done little to plug the supply shortages.

In hotels, we were under constant surveillance, with a babushka sitting at a desk, at the end of every corridor. The promised day with a Russian family, the much-anticipated highlight of our trip, was cancelled without explanation.

It was only on a visit to a secondary school that we detected some common experiences shared with our Russian peers – an interest in heavy metal bands Led Zeppelin, Motorhead and Van Halen, and scruffy torn denims.

Returning to Moscow last year, over forty years later, jeans were available in all sizes and price ranges, chewing gum could be purchased in every flavour imaginable and the supermarkets were bulging with produce flown in from around the world.

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The geopolitics of Covid19 – international webinar

On Sunday 28 June at 1400 BST, a time chosen to suit a global audience, LibDems Overseas (LDO), a g(local) party, co-hosted our first webinar with the Paddy Ashdown Forum, the centrist think tank supported by the European Liberal Forum. Participants who joined via Zoom were largely drawn from LDO’s 1000 members and supporters living in over 40 countries outside Europe. The event was moderated by LDO Chair, George Cunningham.

Covid19 has been called a “game changer”, knocking all countries sideways economically and in the sphere of public health. It has also awoken the world to the rise of China, where the outbreak started, and which may be perceived as the nation to come out “on top” after the pandemic.

Our first speaker Dr Christine Cheng, (lecturer in War Studies at Kings College London and key member of the Federal Policy Committee) focused on the impact of Covid19 on UK-China relations. Based on a 2019 Delta poll, Brits over-estimated UK’s influence in the world as #2 after the US and ahead of China at #3. Cheng recommended that the UK should stay aligned with the EU for greater clout. The diplomatic row between China and Canada, sparked by the detention of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, was followed by China’s arrests of two Canadians on suspicion of espionage. More recently, Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the Coronavirus resulted in tariffs being imposed on Australian goods. These instances point to a more confident China, ready to defend its ground.

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Ireland at the UN table – An authority in soft power

In the world of international diplomacy, something remarkable happened this week to boost the morale of the UK’s closest neighbour, Ireland. She was elected on the first count to the table of the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, beating the far bigger power of Canada in the process.

You might wonder why Ireland would even want to be there, or why in fact, others would want her to be there. In the short history of the recent state that is Ireland, it will be the fourth time that Ireland has taken its place at that table. An impressive statistic given it’s just a small island in the North Atlantic. To answer this question, you need to get right into the soul of the Irish people to understand why being at the centre of shaping global decision-making and politics is important.

There’s a sense of national pride attached to it – Ireland, the underdog, holding its own amongst the big guns of global politics. More importantly, the island of Ireland has known its own troubles and has overcome them. We understand what feeling oppressed is like. We understand how hard peace is to come by. We understand the importance of language and identity. We understand conflict resolution. We lived it, and if we can come out of it the other side, so can others. 

Let’s look at the result of the count this week. The quota was 128 out of 192 votes. There were three countries up for election – Canada, Norway and Ireland. One the first count, both Norway and Ireland were elected leaving Canada bruised again failing for the second time in recent times to get elected. Two features appeared in the vote – small nations voted for Ireland as well as all the Middle East Arab countries. A vote for Ireland was a vote for the small nations in the UN. Equally, Ireland doesn’t bring baggage to the UN Security Council as it does not have a colonial past and is deemed an honest broker.

The agenda Dublin will be focused on includes supporting a rules-based order that helps to enable small nations to survive. Plus, it intends to lobby for action to be taken against Israel if the planned annexation of the West Bank goes ahead. Ireland regards annexation as a blatant breach of international law. As an honest broker, Ireland is much respected in this regard and has been an active participant in the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) since 1958. UNTSO, established in 1948, is the oldest ongoing United Nations peacekeeping operation. It operates in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel – the parties to the Truce Agreements that followed the fighting in Palestine in 1948. To date, Ireland still maintains troops in the Golan Heights and Lebanon. 

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What’s happening in Israel and Palestine?

While international focus has been on Covid-19, one could be excused for thinking all was quiet in Israel and Palestine. Benny Gantz, who got one more seat for his coalition than Netanyahu in the January elections, tried to form a government initially which included Arab and Centre Left support. He failed, as did Netanyahu with the far right. The two of them have now agreed terms for a centre-right coalition, in which Netanyahu becomes PM for the first 18 months and then Gantz follows.
The Netanyahu/Gantz agreement specifies a timetable formally to annex East Jerusalem and the West …

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Preaching to confine Hong Kong to the Basic Law is wishful thinking

Thus we left Hong Kong to her fate and hope that Martin Lee, the Leader of the Democrats, would not be arrested

wrote HRH Prince Charles in his diaries as Britannia left Hong Kong on 1 July 1997. Prince Charles’s scepticism harks back to years of brain drain as young professionals lined up to migrate in the 1990s. The Hong Kong people will never give up in fulfilling their destiny to protect their way of life. For those who remained in Hong Kong, they tread carefully. Their only firewall now between Red China and the Island was the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the 18 April Hong Kong’s Night of the Long Knives is evident that solely entrusting Hong Kong’s future and rule of law to the Basic Law is futile.

Martin Lee is amongst the handful (literally) of liberal politicians invited to draft the Basic Law. Following the TianAnMen Massacre and years of neglect, he found his position in the Drafting Committee untenable. Indeed, in her book Underground Front, Christine Loh noted that Peking have always only wanted legal advisors who are patriotic to the Communist regime. Hong Kong was never given the opportunity of a referendum on the constitution. Crucially, a constitution should be the guiding legal principles to bind the Administration(s) to the rule of law, and based on the framework citizens can bring the Executive to justice. On the contrary, Peking and its interference on subsequent HK Chief Executives, demonstrates its view that it is the citizen’s responsibility to respect and obey the Basic Law’s power wholeheartedly based on interpretations Peking sees fit.

More importantly, the Basic Law is flawed because Peking, holding on to Reserved Powers, is a regime with no respect to the rules-based international order. FCO archives writes “NPC Standing Committee thus retains a power of interpretation of provisions of the BL which are within the SAR’s autonomy, and such interpretations will be binding on the SAR courts … would compromise the autonomy of the SAR judicial system.” Furthermore, Deng XiaoPing has been referenced to say ‘HK affairs should not all be handled by HK people.’ It is conspicuous Peking was never ready to give Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. Verily, the Chinese Communist Party works on the utilitarianism of Party survival no matter the sacrifices of its image, social culture and people. In a power stability, Mao was ready to inflict the Cultural Revolution; Deng to roll the tanks; and Xi to cover-up on Covid-19. Besides, this is further multiplied by the ingrained Chinese belief of 山高皇帝遠 ‘the lands are vast, but the emperor is far away’. Hunger and fear and without representations are not the recipe to engage all reserved powers at the slightest dissent.

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Everything we do now as a party must have an international dimension

As if Brexit was not enough of an economic self-inflicted wound, the pandemic has struck at our very soul.

It is predicted that the world will have changed after the pandemic with the irony that China, where the virus originated, strengthened economically (although not in perfect shape because of “Belt and Road Initiative” debts owed by others and global supply chains broken), the USA weakened and Britain and the European Union, divided from each other, struggling not to become a plaything of those two superpowers.

However, this is not to say Tom Arms’ recent LDV articles on the crisis should be panda-ring …

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Who’s going to be the Democratic nominee to take on Donald Trump?

So, as already noted, today sees the first stage in the race to be the Democratic nominee in November’s US Presidential election.

And, because we know how many of our readers take an interest in these things, two questions for our readers to answer in the comments below;

  • Who do you think will win the Democratic nomination, and why?, and, because the answer isn’t necessarily the same;
  • Who do you think is most likely to beat Donald Trump, and why?
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The 2020 US Presidential Election – a short statistical preview…

Today sees the beginning of the formal process to select the Presidential nominees for the Democratic and Republican Parties, and here at Liberal Democrat Voice, I thought that I might start with a little context setting and a look back at what happened last time. So, strap yourselves in, and let’s look at some of the numbers from 2016.

We know that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million votes, and you might wonder how you can lose under those circumstances, but she did. However, whilst the result was a 304 votes to 227 win for Donald Trump …

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And, as we say au revoir to the European Union…

It’s an emotional moment for those of us who campaigned to remain in the European Union, the last moments during which we are part of something more than the sum of its constituent parts, a pooling of some national sovereignty in return for freedoms to live, love and work across twenty-eight nations. It is not a time to celebrate.

It isn’t a time to mourn either. If the United Kingdom is to go its own way, we need to be there, campaigning for a more liberal society, because if we don’t, nobody else is going to do it for us.

So, to …

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We need a new international narrative

For the last four years the Liberal Democrats have been intensely focused on stopping Brexit, but we cannot ignore the fact that we failed to win that argument and Brexit is going to happen next Friday. Many of us hope that at some stage in the future Britain will rejoin the European Union. However, we need to adjust to the new reality. There is a strong case for crafting a clear political narrative that addresses major domestic problems such as the strain on public services (including the NHS), homelessness and the growing gap between rich and poor. But it would …

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Iowa field notes: 29 candidates, 2100 plus events, but who will win the first contest to be the next President of the United States?

The Liberty and Justice Celebration, Des Moines, Iowa, USA, November 1st, 2019.
This and all photos below are by Alex Paul Shantz


It’s the first Friday in November, and inside an arena in downtown Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, guests in smart clothes eat dinner around an elevated stage. Suddenly, the lights dim, artificial smoke envelopes a walkway, and the pop song ‘High Hopes’ blares out. Around one end of the arena, across three levels of tiered seating, thousands of people jump to their feet, dancing and waving three feet high letters that say “Boot Edge Edge”. Striding along a walkway towards the stage is… Pete Buttigieg, the 37 year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana?

At this point, I realise I’m at one of the most unique political events I’ve ever attended. Part fundraising gala and part political rally, but with production values that more closely resemble a pro wrestling event. It is in fact the Liberty and Justice Celebration, the final and most important multi-candidate ‘cattle call’ in the year-long campaign preceding the Iowa Democratic caucuses.

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UK complicit in biggest US cover-up since Vietnam

It took a three-year legal battle for the Washington Post to force the US government to release the ‘Afghanistan papers’, a set of lessons-learned reports on the war so far.

The Afghanistan Papers not only reveal systematic lying by the US and UK governments to the general public about the aims and progress of the war, they reveal gratuitous mass killing of civilians in the policy fog.

As if that wasn’t enough to cast opprobrium on the military effort and the capability of the forces involved, the Afghanistan Papers reveal extraordinary confusion amongst senior military personnel, and a war without …

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Liberal International, Moroccan-style

Jonathan Fryer (right) with Hakima El Haité, President of Liberal InternationalFour of us UK Liberal Democrats were given a brief break from general election campaigning these past few days with a meeting of the Executive Committee of Liberal International (LI) in the Moroccan city of Fez. LI now has a Moroccan President, a former Minister of the Environment, Hakima El Haité, and its Secretary General, Gordon Mackay, was previously a South African MP. So although the organisation’s HQ is still located in the bowels of the National Liberal Club in London, the …

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ALDE Party Congress – a first time delegate’s thoughts

In the shadow of the ancient Athenian acropolis where Aristotle and Socrates once lectured on ideas that would go on to change the world, Hans van Baalen, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE) launched the organisations 40th congress under the banners “mission is possible” and “liberal renaissance”. His audience included delegations from 67 full and associate member parties, as well as individual members who had assembled from across the European continent.

I had applied to the International Office upon learning of the exciting opportunity to attend the ALDE party congress as a Lib Dem …

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ALDE Party Congress – the Bureau election results

The election results were announced as the final item of business for the Congress, and were as follows;

President

  • Hans van Baalen

Vice-Presidents

  • Ilhan Kyuchyuk (Bulgaria)
  • Annelou van Egmond (D’66, Netherlands)
  • Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (FDP, Germany)
  • Daniel Berg (Momentum, Hungary)
  • Sal Brinton (Liberal Democrats, UK)
  • Timmy Dooley (Fianna Fáil, Ireland)

Congratulations to them all.

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ALDE Party Congress – Margrethe Vestager on the opportunities and threats of the Digital Age

There was serious talk in some quarters of Margrethe Vestager as a credible compromise candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission, and whilst that didn’t come to pass, the former Commissioner for Competition, and scourge of monopolists everywhere, gained a key role in the new, incoming Commission, that of coordinating the whole agenda on a Europe fit for the digital age, whilst retaining her former responsibilities for competition.

Her speech here in Athens was an interesting one, and offers a flavour of how she sees her new portfolio…

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ALDE Party Congress – Boris Johnson’s best friend speaks…

Even for those whose interest in, and knowledge of, European politics is limited, the identity of the Prime Minister of Luxembourg recently became rather better known after a recent intervention in the Brexit debate.

Xavier Bettel is here in Athens, and was one of the speakers at the opening of the Congress. Here’s what he had to say…

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ALDE Party Congress – the battle for the Bureau

I noted, in passing, yesterday that there was a decent sized and quite varied field for the six vacancies as Vice Presidents of the ALDE Party.

And perhaps I need to go into more detail… so here is your guide to the “runners and riders”.

First, there is a notional election for the position of President, and I say notional because Hans van Baalen, from VVD (Netherlands), is unopposed in his quest for a third and final term in the role. He could lose, theoretically, but won’t.

Let’s start from the top of the picture, …

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ALDE Party Congress – it’s a Marathon, not a sprint…

Welcome to, as you might have suspected from the pun in the title, Athens, where liberals, friends and allies are gathering for the 40th Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) Party. I’m here in a myriad of capacities, and I’ll be covering the event for Liberal Democrat Voice.

It’s an interesting time to be a European Liberal. Good results in the European Parliamentary election earlier this year led to a rather larger centrist group in the Parliament – I use the c-word advisedly, as ALDE MEPs have been subsumed into a larger Renew Europe group, including …

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Kurds, Turks, Syria and hypocrisy

I’ll begin by making two things clear. The first is that Trump’s sudden decision to pull US troops out of eastern Syria is self-evidently irresponsible and very foolish. The other is that Turkey’s invasion will cause yet further civilian suffering and I suspect it will ultimately solve nothing. But now I’ve made these two admissions, I want to share some uncomfortable thoughts about the way this new conflict taking place within the borders of Syria is being perceived.

While Turkey’s invasion has hit the headlines, the regime bombing of Idlib and attacks on the ground receive almost no attention by comparison, …

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Renew Europe sets criteria for Commissioner hearings

Ahead of the hearings of the Commissioner Designates, the Renew Europe Group, of which Liberal Democrat MEPs are a part, has outlined a common approach to be followed in order to guarantee a fair, transparent and objective evaluation process.

The hearings are a vital process to ensure that the future College will be in the position to deliver on the commitment made by President-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, before the Parliament and reflected in the mission letters given to each Commissioner.

Dacian Cioloș, President of Renew Europe Group, speaking in Strasbourg said:

We will analyse the future Commissioners on

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Liberal Democrats should vigorously oppose a UK war with Iran

The UK representative in the Iranian Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear weapons negotiations, Sir Simon Gaas, now Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) Chair, has often talked about US political perceptions. Sir Simon Gaas explained how shocked he was when it seemed some US politicians thought Iran was a desert country consisting entirely of mad Mullahs running around with Kalashnikovs.

There is such a vast and sophisticated pro-war propaganda machine against Iran that the bare facts of Iran’s alleged drive towards nuclear weapons can be lost beneath the layers.

Brutal to its people though the regime might be, if domestic brutality be …

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Guy Verhofstadt talks Brexit some more…

This speech was given by Guy Verhofstadt MEP was delivered on Wednesday at the European Parliament in Strasbourg:

The British Parliament may be shut down, we are clearly showing today the European Parliament is not.

Eurosceptics like bashing Europe by saying that the European union is undemocratic. And they repeated that today. Well, Juncker or Tusk can do a lot but at least they cannot close the doors of this House. So, if the Eurosceptics here want to look again for a ridiculous comparison with the Soviet Union (as they often do), from now on they can point their finger to Westminster

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Closing the Citizenship gaps

Britons everywhere should share the same rights.

The government treats British citizens differently depending on where they live. It does so for convenience and cost management and that isn’t fair.

For example, most of our working lives we contribute to the state pension via National Insurance. If you live in the UK when you retire or one of the 48 countries that currently have an agreement in place you’ll receive your state pension in full along with an annual uplift to help it keep pace with inflation. If you live in one of the other countries during retirement – including Australia, New …

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Liberalism Down Under

Australians recently went to the polls and elected a Liberal government. Unfortunately, Down Under the Liberal Party is a conservative body firmly fixed on the centre right of Aussie politics who with their allies the Nationals (previously known as the Country Party) have been in power for the majority of the country’s history. If it isn’t them in office, it’s Labor.

So what is the current state of our particular brand of liberalism in this part of the Commonwealth? Australia uses AV for the lower houses of its Federal and State parliaments while Upper Houses or Senates use STV, and the …

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July meeting of Liberal International in London

You might have been so be-dazzled by the London Pride parade back in July that you missed the 202nd Liberal International Executive Committee meeting which took place on the same day at the National Liberal Club (and which incidentally gave perfect grandstand viewing of the parade in the streets below) .

I’ve only recently started going to these international political meetings (since I retired and now have the time!) but the dynamic is quite different from UK political meetings and very energising. There are many younger participants and many, many more women to offset the usual pale, older males, and where else could I sit next to the Foreign Minister of Somalia? -and very interesting he was too.

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The Truth about Europe

I had the opportunity to visit the EU Parliament in Brussels last week with a group of PPCs. We were hosted by Sir Graham Watson, former Lib Dem MEP (1994-2014), and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Our group heard informative talks by the EU Commission’s Director General of Trade, by the Senior Advisor to Renew Europe (former ALDE) and by the Research Director from the European Policy Centre, amongst others.

Representing a constituency which voted Leave in the EU Referendum, I thought it would be useful to post some of the information sources on the workings of the EU. So much of the 2016 Referendum was shrouded in hearsay and untruths, here are the facts.

There is a great resource online, “What the EU does for me” which has information on EU projects in your area, briefings on EU policies, and a large section on how the EU affects various aspects of daily life. This website is a great place to start.

An issue which came up several times in our discussions was how to combat fake news. There are several websites which tackle the myriad untruths:

And here is a download of the June 2019 report on the EU’s action to fight fake news.

The ‘EU Citizenship Portal’ contains information about people’s rights and how to get involved in EU policy making. The ‘Have Your Say’ portal on the Europa website is for citizens and stakeholders to send their concerns and interests directly to policy-makers and decision makers.

European Citizens’ Initiatives (petitions) allow citizens to initiate legislation themselves, such as was the case with the Right2Water citizens’ initiative. The European Commission responds to all citizen correspondence it receives, in the language of the citizen contacting them.

We all know that in campaigning, emotional appeal works better than facts and figures. So for stories on how the EU makes a difference in people’s lives, check out the #EUandME campaign which includes short films highlighting European values and experiences.

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Freedom Across Borders

Since April this year, Russian and Syrian aircraft have bombed over twenty-five hospitals inside the Idlib ‘Deconfliction’ Zone in northwest Syria, prompting hundreds of thousands of Syrians, many of whom have already been internally displaced, to flee once again. The UN watches helplessly as most of the rest of the world turns its back on the country, uncomfortably grateful that this ongoing horror story rarely makes headlines any more.

Even now, Syrian civil society activists struggle on, attempting to provide basic health and rescue services and to resist the brutality of both the regime and its allies and the …

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