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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Sep 28,2009

I went to an entertaining (if small) fringe meeting organised by the Foreign Policy Centre addressed by Baroness Cathy Ashton, former Leader of the House of Lords who was parachuted into the European Commission as the new EU Trade Commissioner when Peter Mandelson returned to the Government last year.

She gave a genuinely fascinating account of the negotiations at Doha (about which I readily admit I had known not a lot), but she also described how Britain is viewed in Europe and across the world.  Gordon Brown is “hugely revered around the planet” (sic) for his achievements in shaping a global response to the international financial crisis and for what he is doing through the G20 process.  She painted a vivid picture of reactions in mainstream Europe to the UK MEPs from the BNP and UKIP and to the strange positioning of the Conservative MEPs now that they have left the EPP grouping.

She also talked about the implications of the delays in ratifying the new EU Treaty.  Ireland’s second referendum is, of course, imminent, but assuming that they do vote “Yes” there remains the issue of what the Czech Republic will do.  The Czech Parliament has approved ratification, but since then the Czech Government has fallen.  There were going to be early elections in November, but the Czech Constitutional Court has ruled that the elections cannot be brought forward from next June and the Czech President has said that he will not conclude the ratification process until after the elections and there is a new Government in place.

Apparently, David Cameron is urging the Czech President to stand firm in his intention to delay ratification.  This, of course, is something of a two-edged sword for Cameron.  His pledge is to have a referendum on the Treaty, which he could presumably drop on the basis of cost, if by some chance he were to find himself as Prime Minister with the Treaty ratification safely concluded.  His hotheads are pressing him to have the referendum anyway, which they want to turn into a referendum on the whole principle of EU membership.  The Czech delay is emboldening this faction and there are moves to harden the Tory position on Europe at their Party Conference next week.

Europe is a far more divisive and corrosive issue for the Conservatives than it is for Labour (the Labour Party went through its own patch of divisiveness and corrosiveness on this thirty years ago – the Tories have still not got past that stage).  It’s all potentially a toxic Achilles Heel for Team Cameron.

Sep 20,2009

I have just returned from the celebrations marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Haringey Cypriot Community Centre with which I have been closely associated throughout its history.

The Centre was conceived by a dozen local Cypriot groups in 1977 in the aftermath of the 1974 invasion which had seen the existing Cypriot communities in Haringey (already numbering between 40,000 and 50,000) augmented by some 11,000 refugees.  The concept was a Centre that would bridge the communal divide (there were both substantial Greek speaking and Turkish speaking communities in the Borough) and provide support structures within the communities themselves.

Thirty years on, the Centre still flourishes, continues to act as a bridge between the different sections of the Cypriot community, and provides a range of valued services (including a luncheon club for elders and a meals-on-wheels service, classes and training, advice services etc).

Guest of honour today was the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias – quite something for a local centre to be singled out in this way by a Head of State (although he and his wife have visited the Centre in the past before he was President).

The significance, of course, is that President Christofias is now engaged in face-to-face talks with Mr Talat, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community on the island – talks which may lead to a settlement of the divisions on Cyprus.

The Haringey Cypriot Centre, where the leadership of the Centre (both Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking) cooperate together to deliver services that meet the needs of all sections of the community, is a living model of what a future united Cyprus might be.

In his speech, however, the President did not minimise the difficulties that remain.  Although it is ground-breaking that 35 years after the invasion direct face-to-face talks are happening, there remain substantial issues: not least over the objective of a unified Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation with a single citizenship and undivided sovereignty (as specified in successive UN resolutions) versus the concept of a confederation of two equal states tacitly favoured by the Turkish government.

The people of Cyprus – of all communities – deserve a successful outcome to the talks.  The Community Centre in Haringey demonstrates that collaboration and cooperation between the communities can work.  And in that vein, I wished the President well in his negotiations.

Sep 15,2009

It appears that nine Wiltshire Councillors (six Conservatives, two Independents and one Liberal Democrat) are living on the Planet Zog and are trying to persuade the rest of the Council to join them there.

They have put down a motion calling on the Council to withdraw its support for the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change – a declaration supported by the vast majority of English local councils.

They are not doing this because they believe that such declarations are not worth the paper they are written on unless they are backed up by real actions.  Nor are they doing it because they feel that Wiltshire is failing to do enough to merit being a signatory.

Their reasons are apparently that they believe that the Declaration itself is “contentious, unreasonable and ultimately damaging” and that the idea that climate change is man-made is “founded on the sand of uncertainty” and relies on “the unproven significance” of man-made greenhouse gas emissions in determining climate.

It remains to be seen what their colleagues on the Council will make of this, but I suspect – despite the eco-friendly noises made by the Party Leadership – this is a fair reflection of what the Conservative Party (or at least its grassroots element) really believes.

The Conservative Party in Europe has already linked itself to the Planet Zog fraternity by leaving the EPP Grouping (already a pretty broad Church).  Here is more evidence of a Party occupied by Zog dwellers.