Monday, November 24, 2014

@ALDEParty Council - a bureaucrat has a good day

"Vorsprung durch Verwaltung" has always been my motto. By creating systems which inspire confidence, you can allow those with a flair for ideas to take an organisation forward on a secure footing. And, in a personally satisfying manner, I felt that I was able to achieve that at the ALDE Party Council meeting on Friday morning.

Fundraising is key to expanding the capacity of any organisation, and the ALDE Party is no different. The catch, and it is a serious one, is that reputational damage is an ever present possibility - is a donor's other activities likely to bring you into disrepute by association? And it was for that very reason that my colleagues on the Financial Advisory Committee and I had drafted a code of conduct for consideration and adoption by the Bureau. Indeed, I had 'stolen' most of the text contained within it from a similar document used in another organisation I have been involved in.

So, when it became clear that there were widespread concerns over the creation of a business club, relating to questions of ethics and transparency, it was nice to be able to step up to the microphone and point out that the means of reassurance were at hand. I was also able to propose a route via which that reassurance could be transmitted, thus avoiding an unnecessary debate at the Congress subsequently.

Everyone won - the Bureau, who look like they are on top of things, the Secretariat, who were able to demonstrate their efficiency, and me, because I come across as reasonable and helpful. Whilst that tends to be my default position anyway, it never hurts to give people a demonstration.

I even found an opportunity to raise one of my favourite topics - how to support emerging liberal parties and those operating in difficult environments - when discussion turned to revising the membership structure. The new rules mean that such parties don't get travel reimbursements at all, which strikes me as making it less likely that they will attend meetings. If one of the aims is to build stronger liberal forces, this may be a retrograde step, so I asked the Bureau if they might consider ways to overcome this. Their response was a hopeful one, but it's something I will follow up as need be.

All in all, I feel that I made a useful contribution, which seems to me to be rather the point of the exercise...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A somewhat unexpected double triumph for the rural bureaucrat

When the text came from Ros that I had been successful in both Party elections I had stood in, I will confess to a degree of astonishment. After all, I am not a 'party celebrity', or a holder of high-profile positions, I am someone who happily works in backroom functions for the most part. But, to be elected to the International Relations Committee and re-elected to the Party's delegation to the ALDE Party Council is a tremendous honour and privilege.

I should therefore thank all of those who were generous enough to grant me their support, be it a first preference or otherwise, as well as Ros for instilling in me the confidence to run in the first place and for her lobbying on my behalf.

The next two years will be very interesting. There are moves to seek new arrangements for liberal and democratic forces across Europe which may come to fruition next year, there will be continued work to support liberal groups across the globe, there may even be greater clarity over the possibility of a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union. And, in a fast-moving world, geopolitics has more influence on our day to day lives than ever before.

My modest role will be to work with others to connect up various parts of the Party to our international activities, to encourage involvement and to support those people doing great work already - in short, to enable as best I can. In doing so, I have a lot to learn, and much to catch up on, and look forward to attending a meeting before Christmas as a means of getting up to speed.

So, once again, many thanks, and congratulations to Merlene Emmerson, Phil Bennion, Ed Fordham and Jonathan Fryer, who have also been elected to the International Relations Committee, and to Phil, Jonathan, David Grace, Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Antony Hook, Ruth Coleman-Taylor and Iain Smith who are the other directly elected members of our delegation to the ALDE Party Council.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The okapi and I, we have an arrangement...

Regular readers will be aware that I like zoos, so what better when you have most of a spare day than to visit one. And so, I made the short journey from my hotel to the Jardim Zoológico on what was turning out to be a rather damp, dreary sort of day.

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - European Defence

Never let it be said that there is no space for idealism in politics, and who better than LYMEC, the umbrella organisation for European young liberals, to supply some. There is, however, no shortage of people suspicious of anything that smacks of a 'European Army', and there are plenty of amendments either deleting the resolution in full or removing most of the content. I can't see this one surviving...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014;

Considering that
  • Europe is facing internal and external threats to its peace and security. These include regional conflict, terrorism, weak democratic structures, human rights violations and economic instability;
  • security is the foundation of economic stability and democratic structures within and around the European Union;
  • the developments of international relations over the past decades have caused a shift in focus away from state-against-state aggression and threats to digital and fundamentalist threats;
  • contributing to a peaceful and stable world cannot only be achieved by 'soft power’, but requires a strong military for diplomatic leverage;
  • the efficiency of defence spending within the European Union is seriously limited due to the fragmentation of units and materials between Member States;

Noting that
  • many nations in Europe have a certain specialty in their military force;
  • Europe has to divide its attention between European interests and the obligations of the Member States within the NATO structure, with the addition of non-EU NATO-members (Iceland, Norway and Turkey), and non-NATO EU-members (Sweden, Finland, Austria, Ireland), for whom a special status must be created;
  • Military cooperation between Member States is taking place already, without European coordination;

Affirms that a European Defence Force must be created, and that it
  • shall include all European Union Member States, either as full or associated members;
  • shall not lead to a situation, in which Member States feel isolated or threatened;
  • shall be overseen by the European Parliament, European Commission and the European Council;
  • shall have commanders issuing orders to multi-national European units, without the prior agreement of Member States’ Ministries of Defence;
  • shall have one single military planning capacity and one single operational headquarters;
  • shall include land, naval, air and special tactical units with rapid response capabilities;
  • shall focus on strengthening the international rule of law, fighting conflicts, maintaining peace and fighting terrorism, both internally and externally;

Believes that
  • external and security policies can only contribute to a peaceful and stable world if supported by a credible military;
  • both the assets and the burden of the European Defence Force shall be pooled and shared between Member States;
  • European cooperation shall be prioritised over NATO cooperation.

  • European liberals to advocate the formation of a European Defence Force that operates in line with the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union;
  • members and member organisations to advocate expanding military cooperation between member organisations;
  • the formation of a European Defence Force to coordinate military units and materials, with a single operational headquarters and overseen by the European institutions.

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - The relations of the EU with Russia: towards a new security architecture in Europe

Of course, it is the liberal curse to always want to appear reasonable, and here is a demonstration of that urge. There is, of course, a catch, in that the proposers make no mention of territorial integrity - can it be right that, without some sort of independently verified democratic process, countries in the shadow of Russia must tolerate the loss of territory through illegal state action? Personally, I think not...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Notes that
  • since the end of the Cold War, the reaction in Russia to its loss of influence in former Soviet Union Republics has become increasingly defiant, its deliberate fanning of ethnic conflict and its military actions resulting in a series of so called "frozen conflicts";
  • the enlargement of the EU and NATO towards the East has only strengthened frustration in Russia about the crumbling of its former sphere of influence;
  • the wish of a large part of the Ukrainian people to strengthen ties with the EU was met with an aggressive reaction in Moscow, resulting in the annexation of Crimea and in deliberate actions to destabilise the Eastern part of Ukraine. The ensuing armed conflict having already caused more than 2,500 people killed and more than 800,000 refugees;
  • on top of the strained diplomatic relations with Russia and the fear for a military escalation, a trade war looms between the EU and Russia, threatening to cause further damage to the already vulnerable economic situation;

Believes that
  • it is in the interest of all on the European continent to leave the path of confrontation and to search for a de-escalation of the diplomatic, military and economic conflicts currently raging;
  • a lasting stability on the continent cannot be achieved without the cooperation of Russia;

Calls on
  • the European Commission to manage the negative consequences of the trade conflict with Russia for the European economy, inter alia by encouraging the geographical diversification of energy supplies and by further trade liberalisation;
  • the European Union and its Member States to strive for a military de-escalation in Ukraine via negotiations with Russia;
  • the European Union and its Member States to favour broad negotiations with Russia on a new security architecture in Europe which must lead to a solution for the conflict in Ukraine and the so-called "frozen conflicts". This solution to be based on these principles: it should follow the model of the Helsinki Final Act comprising both security, economic development and human rights; it should respect the sovereignty of all countries concerned; it should settle the geographical limits of possible NATO and EU enlargement for the next 10 years.

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - We need a stronger Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the European Union - now more than ever

It would be fair to say that the role of Federica Mogherini, the European Union's nearest equivalent to a Foreign Minister for Europe, is not seen as being terribly credible. In fairness, I've always sensed that the big nations, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, are quite happy to have it that way, but if you really want Europe to have a voice that is listened to on the world stage, something is going to have to change. 

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Notes that
  • the Treaty of Lisbon created the post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, whose role is to conduct the foreign policy of the European Union;
  • the High Representative of the Union also has a duty of representation. He or she conducts political dialogue with third countries and is responsible for expressing the EU’s positions globally;
  • EU Member States have committed themselves to a Common Foreign Security Policy for the European Union and the European Security and Defence Policy aims to strengthen the EU's external ability to act through the development of civilian and military capabilities in conflict prevention and crisis management;
States that
  • to tackle the challenges a multipolar, complex and quickly changing world is facing, the EU needs to act as a common force on the world stage;
  • issues such as climate change, lack of social and economic opportunities, breaches of human rights, lack of democracy, rule of law and market economy all need leadership from the EU
  • since the Treaty of Lisbon was adopted, there has not yet been a common understanding of what position a Common Foreign and Security Policy would have for the Member States;
  • the absence of a strong and united European voice has been highlighted during the recent crisis caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine;

Calls on the EU Member States and the institutions of the European Union to strengthen the role of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy so that it will be clear to everyone that the High Representative represents the will and understanding of all member states;

Further calls on EU Member States and the institutions of the European Union to support the High Representative in order to
  • strengthen its common policy towards and dialogue with Russia in order to speak with a unified voice;
  • develop and pursue a clear strategy to act proactively in the Middle East, taking into consideration the threat caused by ISIS and the situation in Syria and the rest of the region affected.

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - Strengthening the Global Role of the European Union

Meanwhile, the Finns from Suomen Keskusta offer some proposals for who we should be talking to and why...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Notes that
  • the European Union is the leading global actor in the fields of trade, development and environmental policies and has a key role in ensuring the stability of the global financial system;
  • these policy areas are strongly linked into each other and they have growing strategic importance for the EU;
  • in these policy areas we can play a positive global role by promoting the common interests and the common values and ideals of mankind - the fight against poverty; environmental, economic and social sustainability all over the world; democracy, human rights and equality as the basis of social sustainability;
  • at a global level we can create transatlantic partnerships with the United States since our basic values and interests in these policy areas are close to each other. In development policy we already have close cooperation launched at the Washington Summit in November 2009. Similar partnerships can be created in the fields of trade and the environment;
  • the EU has traditionally close ties with the ACP countries and other developing countries, these must be further enhanced;
  • China and other emerging countries have growing influence on global development; our dialogue and cooperation with them must be strengthened;

Stresses that
  • the European Union can strengthen its global role by coordinating its action in different policy fields and by setting clear strategic goals;
  • the EU can counterbalance the role of other global players by creating partnerships with like-minded countries;
  • the EU can influence the policies of other countries and groups of countries through an open dialogue on the common challenges facing mankind;

Calls on
  • the ALDE Party to work for the strengthening of the global role of the EU. The EU should have a comprehensive global strategy as a central part of our external policies;
  • the ALDE Member Party representatives in the European Parliament, in the national parliaments and the European Council to work for the strengthening of the global role of the EU.

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - Improving European defence cooperation

This is the first of six foreign and security policy resolutions, which may end up being coalesced into one final document, brought to you by two governing parties, Democraten 66 (the Netherlands) and Open VLD (Belgium)...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Notes that
  • recent turmoil in the Ukraine and Russian expansionism have shown that the EU’s capacity to defend its territory still is, and will remain, crucial for its safety and well-being;
  • in light of recent events, member states are increasingly prepared to increase national defence budgets and no longer rely on peace dividend alone;
  • the European Union’s response to the different crises in its Southern and Eastern Neighbourhood and beyond was in many cases inadequate and did not allow the European Union to play a pivotal role in international affairs;
  • the efficiency of defence spending in the EU is seriously hampered by the fragmentation between the 28 Member States;

Referring to
  • the External Security and Defence Policy of the European Union, aiming to strengthen the EU's external ability to act through the development of civilian and military capabilities in Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management;
  • the European Parliament Report on the Annual Report from the Council to the European Parliament on the Common Foreign and Security Policy of October 2013 which stressed “that the EU needs to establish a new and credible foreign policy in response to the current challenges in the world”;
  • the declaration of European leaders in the wake of the recent NATO Summit in Wales in which they pledged to increase military spending to 2% of gross domestic product over the next 10 years;

Believes that
  • a window of opportunity has arisen in which European defence can be markedly strengthened due to financial commitment of Member States;
  • the EU can only fully contribute to a peaceful and stable world order if its foreign policy is strengthened by a credible military force;
  • a comprehensive European approach to promoting peace and security should be based on conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict institution building;
  • peace enforcement operations with a UN Security Council mandate are part of Europe’s External Security and Defence Policy;
  • due to the budgetary constraints and geopolitical threats, enhanced defence cooperation in Europe has become a necessity rather than a choice;
  • the pooling of military capabilities at the EU level would allow to both increase the efficiency of European defence and bring about savings to the national budgets by exploiting the effects of economy of scale;
  • more European coordination is needed to make sure that an increase in defence spending by a Member State has a maximal impact on the European defence capacity;

Calls on
  • the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to present in the first year of her mandate a comprehensive and ambitious agenda on advanced EU defence cooperation, with the aim to establish a credible European defence capacity within the next five years, including:
  • the establishment of one single military planning capacity and one single operational headquarters in the EU;
  • a much stronger coordination of the defence procurement policy of Member States;
  • enhanced cooperation in military education and training;
  • investment in force multipliers to quickly improve Europe’s deployment capacity at longer distances;
  • pooling and sharing of critical military assets based on the principle of burden and risk sharing between the Member States.

Frankly, I can't see the Liberal Democrats being wildly keen on this. A single military planning capacity seems like a step towards the coalescing of our armed forces into a European command, and given Europe's inability to take a firm, agreed stance on key aspects of foreign and security policy, I'm not sure that the time is ripe for such a move, if it ever will be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - Increasing equality - making paternity leave an option for all fathers in the EU

Just one resolution with a Liberal Democrat 'stamp of approval' on it this year, in a joint effort with Radikale Venstre (Denmark) and Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (Spain... sort of), on something that should not be controversial, a policy that we have championed at home...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Considering that
  • several EU member states, such as the Netherlands, Cyprus and Ireland only have a system allowing the father to take paternal leave for a few days or no leave at all;
  • there is still a gender pay gap, mostly rooted in women’s historically greater childcare responsibilities;
  • making it possible for parents to share the leave will give the individual family more freedom and make it easier for mothers to return to the labour market earlier if they wish to do so;

Noting that
  • the principle of equality of men and women is a common and central value of the European Union as stated and promoted in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union;
  • remedying all inequalities in all aspects is and has always been a top priority for European Liberals;

Calls for
  • ALDE Member Parties to ensure that both parents have a legal right to take leave with their child in their national legal system;
  • the ALDE Group in the European Parliament to push for new EU legislation requiring all Member States to give parents this option.

Tomorrow, I'll be looking at the foreign and security policy resolutions...

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - Azerbaijan – freedom under pressure

Whilst most attention is on the various moves, covert and overt of Vladimir Putin's Russia, in the furthest reaches of Europe, something unpleasant stirs as the dormant contest between Armenia and Azerbaijan heats up again. Whilst Armenia's democracy might not be perfect, opposition to the Azeri Government is becoming more and more difficult as it cracks down on dissent. Democraten '66 offer the following resolution...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Referring to
  • the worrying reports on the deteriorating political and security situation in Azerbaijan as documented by the European Stability Initiative(ESI)[1]; 

Notes that
  • the Azeri government, led by President Ilham Aliyev, has markedly stepped up the political repression of its own citizens since taking over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe (CoE) on 14 May 2014;
  • an increasing number of journalists and human rights activists have been jailed without fair trial by the Azeri authorities in recent months;

Believes that
  • the EU should take a firm stance with regard to Azerbaijan’s brutal crackdown on civil society;
  • membership of the CoE comes with duties with regard to respect for human rights, political and economic freedoms and the rule of law;
  • the European Union should review its current cooperation framework with Azerbaijan and ensure that joint activities in the societal, political and democracy and human rights sphere are conducted solely with organisations and individuals that are completely independent from the Azerbaijani government and associated entities;

Calls on
  • the European Union to come up with a unified and strong response to the ongoing assault on civil liberties in Azerbaijan, including: strong political and economic sanctions, directly targeting the Azeri political and business elites; enhanced cooperation in supporting Azerbaijan’s civil society.

[1] ESI-report ‘The Jails of Azerbaijan’– August 2014:

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - A strong focus on the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe

It astonishes me that I haven't heard more about this, given the emphasis that our own Government has taken on such issues, so I am grateful to our Swedish-speaking sister parties for bringing this particular resolution to Congress...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Notes that 
  • the level of violence against women is at totally unacceptable levels throughout the world, including, but not limited to, domestic violence, female mutilation, “honour” killings and stalking;
  • the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence entered into force on 1 August 2014;
  • to date, 14 Member States of the Council of Europe have ratified this new human rights treaty and another 22 states have signed it;
  • the convention creates a blueprint for a coordinated, victim-centered approach to combating all forms of violence against women and domestic violence;
  • governments that agree to be bound by the Convention will have to do the following: train professionals in close contact with victims; regularly run awareness-raising campaigns; take steps to include issues such as gender equality and non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships in teaching material; set up treatment programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and for sex offenders; work closely with NGOs; involve the media and the private sector in eradicating gender stereotypes and promoting mutual respect;

Calls on
  • the European Union to ratify the Istanbul Convention;
  • every nation to prioritise and take all necessary actions on the implementation of the Istanbul Convention on a national level, as combatting violence against women is fundamental for any civilised society.

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - COP 21 - a turning-point for the Climate

Swedish member parties have been, as usual, very active in the area of policy-making this year, and Centerpartiet have come up with a contribution here that would probably annoy most UKIP members if they took the time to read it...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Notes that
  • global greenhouse gas emissions over the period from 2000 to 2010 were the highest in human history and that without significant action to reduce emissions, global average temperature is likely to be as much as 5°C higher by the end of the century;
  • the EU has decreased its emissions by 19% in 2012 compared to 1990, while at the same time growing its GDP by more than 45%;
  • according to the World Bank, fighting climate change would add up to €1.9 trillion a year to global GDP growth in the coming decades.
  • the report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate released in September 2014 shows that a low-carbon path, although requiring marginally more investment upfront, would generate $5 trillion in savings from lower operating costs for renewable energy sources and increased energy efficiency, making this the far cheaper option in the long run;
  • applying climate-related innovations in the energy and industry sectors would be an advantage for Europe as an early mover in the growing global market for energy and energy efficiency related goods and services, creating jobs, stimulating economic growth and increasing energy independence;
  • the recent signals from the US and Chinese governments regarding climate action, and their willingness to play a more significant role in global efforts to address climate change;
  • fighting climate change is also a rights-issue, given that according to the UN, women in the developing world are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change such as droughts, floods, and extreme weather;

Believes that
  • in line with the IPCC's findings, global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2015 at the latest and continue to decline thereafter in order to maintain a likely chance of keeping the rise in global average temperature below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels;
  • the important role of other policy measures, including energy efficiency, substantial energy savings, renewable energy and the phase-down of HFCs contribute to closing the gigatonne gap;
  • applying climate related innovations in the energy and industry sectors would be an advantage for Europe as an early mover in the growing global market for energy and energy efficiency related goods and services;
  • the climate change challenge provides business opportunities for industry and SMEs and in this respect stresses the importance of clear, long-term climate and energy goals;
  • tackling climate change needs to be an inclusive process and that the decision-making as well as new technologies and innovations should open to all and take into account, for example, the historical challenges faced by women in the developing world;

Calls on
  • all European countries to urgently contribute to cut emissions;
  • the EU, as a major global player, to speak with "one voice" at the Paris Conference, in seeking progress towards an international agreement;
  • the EU and its Member States to honour their commitment to scaling up the mobilisation of climate finance, in order to contribute their share to the Copenhagen Accord commitment to jointly mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020 and calls on other donor countries to play their part in order to foster further mobilisation of climate finance;
  • the EU to act now to maintain its forefront position in the global green race to harvest the potential for growth and competitiveness;
  • three clear, binding, ambitious climate and energy targets in the EU for the year 2030: for reduction of greenhouse gases, enhancing energy efficiency and renewable energy;
  • the implementation of the European Council conclusions of May 2013 to phase out environmentally and economically harmful subsidies including subsidies for fossil fuels which according to the IEA accounted for $544 billion worldwide in 2012;
  • an international commitment to increase research and development (R&D) investment in sustainable breakthrough technologies in the relevant sectors. We consider it essential that the EU lead by example by directing expenditure devoted to research on the demonstration of innovative climate-friendly and energy-efficient technologies, and that the EU develops close scientific cooperation in this field with international partners, such as the BRIC countries and the USA;
  • the EU and its partners to find, in the immediate future, the most effective way of promoting links between the EU Emissions Trading System and other trading schemes aiming for a global carbon market.

Mark Reckless clearly didn't get the memo. It clearly can be racist, or stupid, to talk about immigration.

It's been a fairly normal day so far. My hot chocolate, served with marshmallows, whipped cream and chocolate flake (so shoot me...) at the station was served by a very efficient woman from Eastern Europe, before I boarded a train to London operated by a subsidiary of a Dutch rail company.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
When I got to Liverpool Street, I remembered that I needed a haircut, so dropped into the barber shop across the street where another woman from somewhere else in Eastern Europe very efficiently trimmed what's left of my hair at a cost far in excess of what I'd pay at home in mid-Suffolk (well, it is 'that London' and they have overheads to meet).

And now, I'm on a Circle or Hammersmith and City line train, surrounded by people of a wide range of nationalities and races. Am I bothered? No, actually.

The supposedly shock news that a sizeable proportion of new passports granted to non-EU migrants is done so by the United Kingdom is, it seems, causing some controversy. Odd, really, because most of the fuss comes from people who purport to believe in market forces but want the votes of people who fear those very forces when push comes to rather uncomfortable shove. The fact that we have one of the strongest rates of economic growth in the EU, speak English and are the former colonial power for a vast swathe of the globe might be a contributory factor.

And for all the rhetoric of the "we're too crowded, send 'em all home" brigade, they offer no solution other than compulsion, no answer to the questions of who will do the jobs currently done by migrants, pay no heed to the utter hypocrisy of those who mourn the apparent loss of a country they would abandon the moment they had the means to retire to Spain (and in some cases already have).

I kind of like my country as it is - ever changing in an ever changing world - and I understand that standing still, regardless if how tempting it might be, is unlikely to allow us to stay prosperous in an interconnected, highly competitive global economy. It is, if you like, the difference between engagement and isolation.

And so, to those who claim that, to talk about migration is to be branded as an extremist, I say, go on then, talk about it, let's see what you've got to say. But given that most of the arguments in favour of severe restrictions on inward migration are offered in a mostly fact-free environment, don't expect an easy ride...

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - Regulation in the Digital Economy – The case of Uber

The Free Democrats (Germany) have often been seen as economic liberals first and foremost, an impression that their recent travails in government did nothing to change. They raise an interesting argument here, even if they appear to have a touching faith in the free market...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Notes that
  • ALDE asserts its commitment to market principles as the means through which to encourage prosperity;
  • competition and knowledge sharing is what drives companies to research and innovate in pursuit of competitive advantage, which in turn leads to a better standard of products and services and lower prices;
  • today’s technologies have the potential to enable exponential improvements in quality, price, and efficiency;
  • many regulators have reacted to the new challenges of the digital economy by simply banning it;
Considering that
  • the debate about taxi apps is really a debate about the wider sharing economy. This debate forces us to think about the disruptive effects of digital technology and the need for entrepreneurs in our society;
  • medallions and similar quotas create an artificial scarcity that insulates the market from competition. That lack of competition, in turn, undermines any incentive for innovation or investment in new technology;
  • safety, predictable prices, and adequate insurance are still important public interest goals that could justify some level of continued government oversight;
Calls on
  • regulators to consider that we cannot address the challenges of digital technology by ignoring them or by trying to ban these innovations;
  • all relevant parties to engage in a real dialogue in order to discuss disruptions caused by technology and to find reasonable accommodations of innovation that ensure fair competition among all players on the market.

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - Green growth the key to future European success

This is a Swedish-speaking effort, proposed by the combined forces of Svenska Folkpartiet (Finland), Centerpartiet (Sweden) and Folkpartiet Liberalerna (Sweden);

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Notes that 
  • according to the European Economic Forecast for Winter 2014: GDP growth in the EU, has turned positive in the second quarter of 2013, is increasingly driven by domestic demand;
  • the consequences of the economic crisis are still holding back growth and job creation and could do so for some time;
  • unemployment is at record levels and, there is a serious risk of growth remaining stuck in low gear;
  • bold structural reforms in both vulnerable and core countries are still needed to tackle slow growth;
  • the projected unemployment rate in the European Union is unacceptably high at 10.7% in 2014.
Believes that
  • One of the most important keys to the future success of the European economy can be found in green technology;
  • there will be endless opportunities for European companies to thrive on a global scale if innovation and product development in green technologies thrives;
Calls on
  • innovative steps by the European Union to strengthen Europe’s technology sector focusing on green technology;
  • the European Union to be active in the global work to combat climate change, and take steps to focus on renewable energy sources;
  • the EU to use more of the EU structural funds resources on developing green technology;
  • support energy solutions that can be used by everyone in order to promote sustainable energy solutions;
  • the Juncker Commission to include the above-mentioned issues in the upcoming programs of the European Commission.

This isn't a bad resolution, but certainly does indicate how well the United Kingdom is doing in relative terms, as unemployment is well below 7% now here as well as GDP growth comfortably ahead of our European partners.

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - Combatting tax havens

The second resolution is jointly sponsored by Svenska Folkpartiet (Swedish People's Party, Finland) and Folkpartiet Liberalerna (Sweden). I comment below...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Notes that 
  • the issue of tax evasion and tax havens needs more attention, as evading taxes hinders development globally;
  • the flow of money to tax havens includes but is not limited to multinational corporation's tax-planning schemes, corruption and money laundering;
  • the issue is both local and global and many different actors need to be part of the solution;
  • multinational corporations have significant economic power. Of the 100 largest economic actors globally, 40 are corporations according to the Transnational Institute, and therefore they are key to solving this issue;
  • international cooperation is needed, and all parties should be present at the table when matters of this nature are being discussed. Today many discussions under the OECD umbrella are being held only with rich countries present;
  • tax havens and taxation is a key factor in maintaining poverty globally as countries in the global south transfer 800 billion euros to tax havens and rich countries according to a report by Financial Integrity (December 2012), while the same countries annually receive approximately 96 billion euros in foreign aid. In order to help these countries move away from dependency of foreign aid, the challenge of massive tax evasion has to be addressed;
  • according to estimates the EU loses approximately 1,000 billion euros annually due to tax evasion;

Believes that 
  • due to the complex nature of tax evasion there is no simple answer to combatting the issue;
  • it is difficult to follow the finances of multinational corporations as they do not have to report the nature of the financial transactions between different countries they operate in;

Calls on
  • the European Union to harmonise corporate tax rates by introducing minimum levels;
  • the development of clear rules and regulations for national reporting of multinational corporations profits and taxes, and transparent information on owners and beneficiaries for national administrative bodies;
  • the European Union to actively support the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in their work in the global fight against tax evasion and tax havens, while working to making sure that the developing world is included in these discussions and decisions.

My gut feeling is that the resolution has its heart in the right place, right up to the point where they call for a minimum level of corporate tax across Europe. I see where they are coming from, but interference in a sovereign nation's right to set its tax levels is probably unacceptable and prevents a national government from potentially offering incentives to encourage certain desired behaviours. I'll be opposing this in the working group if given the chance.

@ALDEParty Congress resolutions 2014 - Boosting Bioeconomy in Europe

The first resolution for consideration comes courtesy of Suomen Keskusta, the Finnish Centre Party. It may not surprise you to know that they're quite keen on forest products...

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Lisbon, Portugal on 20-22 November 2014:

Notes that
  • climate change is one of humankind’s greatest challenges;
  • the European Council has committed Europe to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95% by 2050;
  • Europe is highly dependent on the energy from third countries and the dependence has only increased during the last two decades; the EU’s annual import bill for fossil fuels is around 400 billion euro;
  • bioeconomy and renewable energy sources offer an enormous potential to tackle climate change, promote growth and jobs in Europe, decrease the energy dependence from third countries, and make a major contribution to energy security at international, national, and local levels;
  • renewable energy technologies are available and becoming more and more competitive;
  • forest-based bioeconomy has remarkable potential especially in the more forest rich regions of Europe;
  • citizens’ well-being, industrial competitiveness and the overall functioning of society are dependent on secure, safe, sustainable and affordable energy;
  • from food to fuel, or medicine to clothing, nearly anything that’s not metal or glass can be produced in or by plants; Biomass can be processed like crude oil into energy, chemicals and raw materials;
  • the EU adopted its bioeconomy strategy in 2012 and it is linked to Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for research 2014–2020;
Calls on
  • the EU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 in line and in parallel with the other key players on the basis of an ambitious and binding international agreement;
  • the EU to set ambitious 2030 targets for renewable energy sources;
  • Member States to reduce their dependence on imported fossil fuels;
  • the EU and Member States to make more substantial efforts to move faster from fossil-based economy to bioeconomy especially by upgrading their bioeconomy competence base and investing more on education, training and research;
  • the EU to drive for new technologies that focus on sustainable, renewable and recyclable raw materials in order to create new jobs, growth and added value;
  • the EU and Member States to secure the competitiveness of the existing bioeconomy industries by providing them with a favourable setting in which to operate and grow;
  • the European Commission to encourage the use of renewable, bio-based, recyclable, and environment-friendly raw and other materials in various sectors, such as construction;
  • the Member States to replace the use of coal with biomass and other renewables;
  • European companies to generate new bioeconomy business by means of risk financing, bold experiments and the crossing of sectoral boundaries.

@ALDEParty Congress 2014 - an insight into policy making at the European level

As tomorrow sees the beginning of this year's ALDE Party Congress, I thought that I would offer readers a chance to see what it is we will be discussing in Brussels. So, today, I'll be publishing the resolutions as submitted so that you can get a feel for the issues that arouse interest.

You'll see that they cover a wide range of territory, but sometimes do give an impression of looking towards a domestic audience too. Amendments have been submitted by member parties, but given that they can be contradictory, I'll leave them out for the time being.

What happens is that working groups of delegates meet to discuss the resolutions - usually split into the theme resolution and all others, but this time split into foreign policy and everything else - and thrash out the amendments to reach a set of recommendations which then go to the main floor of the Congress for agreement. This is where the key arguments take place and deals are cut between delegations, in an attempt to reach an outcome which is as acceptable as possible to the broad spectrum of opinion. An ability to comprehend why a particular party might have serious concerns and to find a form of language which is inclusive are key skills.

Only if there are key philosophical differences are debates taken to the floor of Congress, although it is not unheard of for the working group to be less than entirely representative, especially if one of the major parties with a sizeable vote is on the losing side in the working group.

So, as I noted, over the coming hours, I'll be publishing the resolutions. If there's anything you think should be addressed, please let me know, preferably with an explanation...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

For all the signs of my impending mortality, I'm a long way yet from a pine box

I am, officially, fifty (and five days). That, apparently, is the bad news, although I can't help feeling that I'm still a long way away from a pipe and slippers (the fact that I don't smoke is probably a factor, and as for slippers... why?).

Luckily, my health is generally good, although it would be nice to shift the persistent, hacking cough that has bedevilled me for the past two or three months, and emotionally I feel as though I'm in my mid-thirties. It is only life that keeps reminding me that this might not actually be the case. Surveys ask for my age, my employer sends me documents about my pension and people insist on asking how it went. I'm sure that they really care, but...

Nonetheless, it has been a pleasant few days to mark my occasionally erratic half-century (made off seventy-two deliveries, four fours and a six for the statisticians out there). And yes, I've offered the odd chance but reckon that I've been pretty good value for it.

I took Thursday off, and spent the day riding buses and trains around Suffolk - we have buses, you know... we're very up to date in the East of England. Stowmarket to Bury St Edmnunds via Tostock and Thurston on route 384, on a bus held up by geese on the road at Beyton, followed by route 86 from Bury to Brandon (don't bother, it isn't worth stopping) and then a train to Norwich where lunch was taken, before a quick return to Lowestoft and back and then to Stowmarket for dinner with Ros.

Saturday was a family day, as my families gathered in Norton for lunch. It was nice that my parents and Jamie and Liam (my stepson and nethew respectively) all came from London to join Sally (my stepdaughter), her husband Brij, Ann (my sister-in-law) and Ros and I for good food and lively conversation.

Sunday was the surprise element, and one that Ros kept very well. A cross-county drive brought us to Holy Trinity Church at Long Melford, where a concert of Tudor and Elizabethan music was taking place, one of my recently discovered loves. The Cambridge Renaissance Voices were excellent in a venue that really complements the complex vocal harmonies of the likes of Byrd, Gibbons and Dowland.

All in all, a splendid few days. And now, I have stuff to do - after all, the next half-century has to start somewhere...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Another random walrus moment...

I see that Boris Johnson has said, on his monthly AskBoris slot on Twitter, that the animal he would most like to be is a walrus, a notion that he and I share. Apparently, Boris likes it that they lie on rocks and belch. This is, of course, true. Personally, I prefer their winning smile, their magnificent tusks and their charming ability to regurgitate fish.

Walruses are also rather well-padded, somewhat ungainly out of water and possess magnificent whiskers. Ah well, Boris, two out of three ain't bad...

Sunday, November 09, 2014

#IbackEd... with friends like these, who needs enemies?...

It seems not to be the fashion to indicate a degree of sympathy for one's political opponents these days. Often, such an expression is seen as either weakness or as a thinly-veiled attack. I disagree - my political opponents are people too, with all the same weaknesses, personal foibles and contradictions as the rest of us, politically active or otherwise. It is the reason why I have always been loathe to attack someone for making a mistake in their personal lives (within reason, I draw the line at acts of illegality).

Today, I had one of those experiences which leads you to wonder whether or not there is a future for politics as it is now done too frequently these days. Having woken up and peered myopically at my Twitter feed, I was moved to post
It is, if you like, the "doth protest too much" school of sloganising. I understand the reasoning behind it, certainly I do, but in an increasingly cynical world, an orchestrated defence of the leader which appears to fly in the face of the polling evidence looks like just that, an orchestrated and not spontaneous display of on-message social media. The public don't really buy it.

And Ed Miliband is exactly the same person he was when the Labour Party elected him as their leader four years ago. Is he a bad leader, are the policies wrong, or do the media just hate him because he isn't what they want him to be? Whilst I disagree with his solutions to our nation's problems - I'm a liberal, he isn't, so that should really go without saying - he is expressing opinions that are shared by a respectable proportion of the population. But I really couldn't say that he is a bad leader - I don't know how good a leader he is allowed to be, either by his own Party, or by the media. I do get the impression that large swathes of our national media don't like him - they do seem to delight in finding opportunities to belittle him.

And I got a reply from someone using the Twitter name @killingbritain, who seemed to think that an appropriate response to my thought was to refer to a local government by-election in Nottingham where the Liberal Democrat candidate was beaten by the 'Bus Pass Elvis' candidate. An interesting response, I thought, entirely irrelevant to the point being made, but simply a cheap attack on an unknown political opponent.

I wasn't impressed - if someone anonymous thinks that David Cameron is killing Britain, I would suggest that they need to get out more, frankly - but politely replied, generating more irrelevant, cheap invective in response, a point I again politely alluded too. The response was to suggest that, if I felt attacked by someone on Twitter, there was an established reporting mechanism. So I reported him. After all, he or she (but probably he) wanted the attention...

I tend to think that such pointless aggression on the part of an anonymous partisan is the very sort of behaviour that puts the vast majority of people off the notion of involvement in politics. After all, who needs to put up with such stuff when there are many other things to do which involve less aggravation and probably higher levels of personal satisfaction?

But then, people like @killingbritain probably don't want anyone to play in their playground who doesn't slavishly agree with them. It might be easier, but I think that they'll find it a bit sterile... and perhaps a bit lonely one day...

@BaronessRos in the Lords - EU: Counting the Cost of Food Waste

In her capacity as Chair of the House of Lords European Union Sub-Committee D, Ros has been dealing with the aftermath of the publication of her Committee's report on Food Waste. There have been meetings and conferences, invitations to accept, speeches to make and even a little media coverage. However, the wheels of the House of Lords do turn rather slowly, and despite the fact that the report was published on 6 April, an opportunity to debate it before the House only arose on Thursday evening.

Naturally, Ros opened the debate...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD): My Lords, the scale of the food waste problem that emerged from our inquiry was truly staggering. Around 15 million tonnes of food are wasted in the United Kingdom every year and around 89 million tonnes across the EU. Those are probably conservative estimates of what is recognised as a data-poor area. Our inquiry did not cover food losses in the developing world; they are a rather different although equally pressing matter. Nor did we cover the trickier question of waste through overconsumption.

If one message comes from our report that I would like everyone, including the Government, to understand, it is that there must be a recognition that whatever the technical difficulties of defining and measuring food waste are, these should not distract us from the importance of taking urgent action to address a problem that is not only morally repugnant but unsustainable. It is becoming increasingly recognised that in the years ahead food security will be a very serious matter. Surely it makes sense to start by wasting less of what we already have.

As set out in our report, there are clearly some big issues to be tackled, not least the need to think about the supply chain as a whole rather than thinking about food waste prevention at each stage. Taking this approach helps to deal with the tendency we observed for individual participants in the food supply chain simply to pass the waste elsewhere so that their statistics look good at the expense of someone else’s, but the problem is not addressed.

The picture that emerged was not entirely gloomy. Our evidence uncovered a raft of initiatives and efforts that are being undertaken. It was also clear from our consideration of EU policy that the United Kingdom has taken a lead in this area, due in no small part to the work of WRAP—the Waste and Resources Action Programme. Now, six months on from publication, I will not rehearse the conclusions and recommendations of our report. While they all remain salient, I would like to reflect on some of the developments since publication and then perhaps consider some next steps.

First, a recurring theme that emerged throughout our evidence sessions was that when people and organisations begin to think about food waste, they quickly start to reduce it. For that reason, I was delighted by the degree of media interest in our report and the subsequent debate that it sparked off. Particularly heartening was the response by some individuals, organisations and businesses as a result of that media coverage. Many of them have made contact with me and I have met with quite a few of them. I have spoken at conferences and seminars, including one organised by the Dutch embassy, and I have undertaken a visit to Birds Eye in Lowestoft to try to understand the role that freezing can play in reducing food waste. The week after next we are going to the restaurant chain Nando’s, which is going to demonstrate how it will use technology to redistribute leftover food from its outlets.

Through that dialogue, I have learnt more about what is being developed. For instance, Tesco has taken its 25 most wasted products and taken a whole-supply-chain approach to see what target actions could be taken to reduce that waste; for example, with bananas, it has reduced wastage at the farms by 6% and has changed practices at the warehouse and in store to reduce waste there. Consumers are being educated in how to store bananas and given recipes for what to do with overripe fruit.

Secondly, the excellent work of WRAP has continued. Its completion of a farm-to-fork assessment of the potato supply chain, in collaboration with Co-operative Food and Co-operative Farms, is an example of the kind of study it undertakes. It highlighted that a particularly wasteful point in the supply chain is the packhouse. Here it recommended a review of size specifications, as well as alternative options for those of “abnormal” size; for example, the development of a product range of small roasting potatoes could eliminate more than £250,000 of lost value, based on a sample of 50,000 tonnes.

During our inquiry, we were most concerned to hear about wastage on farms caused by overzealous specifications set by retailers, last-minute order cancellations and punitive clauses for undersupply. We look to the retail sector to address those issues with its suppliers. The role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in setting fair terms of contract might well have a positive effect on food waste, but we wait to see.

Thirdly, our report considered the role of the EU. As many noble Lords will be aware, the European Commission published in July a wide-ranging series of proposed amendments to its waste legislation. These included an EU-wide aspirational food waste reduction target of 30% by 2025. The Commission says that it wants to use the baseline set in 2017, and we would be concerned about this because it would not recognise the very real progress that the UK has made before that date. Also included was a definition which excludes on-farm waste—another serious matter—and a requirement that member states develop national food waste prevention strategies. While this is welcome progress, it falls far short of the more holistic approach that we recommended in our report.

We had always understood that a communication on sustainable food had been drafted earlier in the year and was to be published at the same time as the waste review, but it has never seen the light of day. This debate takes place six days after the new Juncker Commission has taken office, under which responsibility for food waste has been transferred from the Directorate-General for the Environment to the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers. My fear is that this might signal a resistance in the Commission to the whole-supply-chain approach to food waste. So I would welcome the Minister’s observations on this change, and on whether he knows whether the communication on sustainable food is now likely to be published, with the new commission in place.

As I emphasised earlier, time is of the essence. One very practical area where it is possible to take action swiftly is food distribution. In that regard, I commend the work of charities such as FareShare, the Trussell Trust, Company Shop and FoodCycle. FareShare, for example, has reported a recent step change in the willingness of some supermarkets to donate food to them. FareShare is now providing enough food for more than 1 million meals per month in the areas where it works. This, it estimates, is with just 2% of the food out there. These meals are provided in outlets run by voluntary organisations such as daycare centres. These organisations are struggling with reduced budgets, so the provision of cheaper food through FareShare is a lifeline for them.

There appears to be growing momentum. Food banking is controversial, but given that it is increasing we were interested in how more fresh food could be included. We heard in our evidence from the Netherlands that food redistribution which includes fresh produce is entirely possible. However, whether it is FareShare or food banks, you need infrastructure for storage and delivery and that takes money. So, in this regard, I am really interested in bringing some of the supply chain participants together to thrash out some of these issues, to see whether the barriers are perceived or real, and to come up with some solutions. It would be very helpful if the Government committed to working with us on how redistribution of fresh produce can be boosted.

Looking to the slightly longer term and beyond UK shores, food waste prevention has to be made a reality across the EU. Last week, I had the opportunity to raise the issue with members of other EU national parliaments. Many of them went on to refer to my remarks, so I detected a willingness—although there are no concrete proposals—to do more. Can the Government tell us what they are doing, or plan to do, to boost the prominence of this issue among ministerial colleagues?

There are three specific areas where national Governments and the Commission could make a difference. One is to ensure that where food is not consumed by humans, it is, where safe, consumed by animals. The second area is to ensure that regulations aimed at making packaging more easily recyclable do not have the effect of reducing shelf life, so that packaging waste turns into food waste. The third is to ensure that the whole question of date labelling is kept under review, to ensure that it reflects genuine risk.

I thank the Government, notably the responsible Minister, Dan Rogerson, for very helpful evidence, the comprehensive response to our report and the subsequent correspondence between us.

This is a wide-ranging topic, and I am proud to say that our members worked meticulously over the nine months of the inquiry, with invaluable input from our then clerk Aaron Speer, our policy analyst Alistair Dillon and our specialist adviser Dr Julian Parfitt. I have covered only a few aspects of our work today. Noble Lords will no doubt pick up on others and I look forward to a stimulating debate.

For the rest of the debate, here's the link to Hansard...