Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dear members who read Liberal Democrat Voice, it seems that we aren't as representative as you thought...

So, Sal Brinton is the new President of the Liberal Democrats, a result which seems to have come as a surprise to some people. Me, I had no clue in advance of the declaration, as the Presidential campaigns almost entirely bypassed Mid Suffolk, which is my connection to what one might describe as 'ordinary members' (they aren't ordinary, as I note here).

Nobody visited us, nobody approached any of our members to canvass support on their behalf as far as I can tell, and all we saw was the mailing and, for those of us on e-mail, three messages from each candidate, one of which was probably too late to matter, especially given that nearly three-quarters of members voted by post.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceI don't think that Mid Suffolk was particularly unique though, as unless you were easily accessible, or had some Party event taking place on your patch, it was unlikely that a candidate would come your way - Liz Lynne being the honourable exception to that statement. And even she could only visit so many places in the time available.

Naturally, I kept my eye on Liberal Democrat Voice and my Twitter feed, although given my Local Party's bemusement at both, I was never likely to be convinced that what I was seeing online was likely to reflect the outcome. Hell, I didn't believe it in 2008, when it was pretty accurate as it turned out.

Daisy's campaign, whilst it was lively and enthusiastic, didn't appear to have anywhere near as much reach beyond social media, and given her late emergence as a candidate, it was never likely to leave enough time for her to raise her profile to reach beyond the Internet. That isn't, by the way, a criticism. After all, it took Ros two years of travelling the country to establish her credibility as a likely contender for the Presidency.

So, if you're an ordinary member, confronted with three candidates of whom you're likely to have little personal connection, what are you likely to do? The most likely thing is to read the manifestos and study them for marks of credibility. Who else thinks this person is good, and are they someone that I know and trust? In 2008, Ros's campaign had Regional Chairs, all of whom were well connected and well respected. Her background in local government over two decades meant that there was a network of local councillors who knew her, or knew someone who knew her. There were, even in areas where we had relatively little strength in local government, people willing to endorse Ros if asked for an opinion.

It didn't strike me that any of the campaigns had that network available to them - again, time didn't really permit. So, the endorsements were key, and that's where Sal scored hugely. Ordinary members see the names of Paddy and Shirley and, if they vote at all, are likely to be swung by that in the absence of a personal connection. That is, I presume, why candidates seek endorsements.

My friends and fellow readers, you are more Internet-savvy than ordinary members on the whole, more engaged with the day to day stuff inside the bubble - and Liberal Democrat Voice is within the bubble, I'm afraid. You're disproportionately male, disproportionately young, disproportionately politically engaged (well, two out of three isn't bad in my case...), in short, somewhat atypical of the Party's membership. You are, because you're more engaged, less likely to be swayed by endorsements. You are, perhaps, more likely to be swayed by a candidate who engages with you on social media - you were rather more supportive of Tim Farron in 2010 than the membership as a whole (LDV readers favoured Tim by a 2:1 margin, whereas the result was 11:9).

So, are Liberal Democrat Voice polls worth the bandwidth they take up? Possibly yes, possibly no. They may signify trends - ministerial popularity measured over a sufficient length of time might be a signpost towards future problems, or might signal potential future leadership contenders, perhaps. Do they reflect membership opinion more widely? That, I guess, depends on the question asked.

But should we, or anyone else take them terribly seriously? I can't help feeling that I shouldn't, merely seeing them as they are, a snapshot of our views as Liberal Democrats who read Liberal Democrat Voice. And, until there is some other, more truly representative means of measuring opinion amongst members, I don't doubt that Liberal Democrat Voice will continue to poll readers, and that those who wish to interpret the results as being of great import will continue to do so...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

@BaronessRos in the Lords: Transport - Women's Safety

Tuesday saw Ros return to the subject of transport, something that she has taken a keen interest in over many years, when she took the opportunity to raise something which is somewhat puzzling, i.e. the lack of regulation of cycle rickshaws...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD): Does the Minister share my concerns about the cycle rickshaws or pedicabs that operate in parts of central London? Unlicensed, the drivers are not required to be trained or insured; nor do they undergo CRB checks. Do the Government intend to take up the recommendation of the Law Commission and create local authority licensing for them?

Luckily, the Minister is on the ball, as you would hope from a Liberal Democrat Minister...

Baroness Kramer: My noble friend is absolutely right: the Law Commission has provided some instructive direction on this. We received the Law Commission’s report in May. We will be following up on that and providing our response shortly. As she knows, the situation on licensing is somewhat different in London from elsewhere.

I can't help feeling that this is a good thing, given that they are quite vulnerable when mixed in with buses and the like...

Friday, November 28, 2014

@BaronessRos in the Lords: Deregulation Bill

Ros does not lodge many amendments to legislation as it makes its way through the Lords but, last Tuesday in Grand Committee, the Deregulation Bill offered her an opportunity to introduce a change which would be cheap and popular...

Amendment 87B

87B: After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—

“Births, marriages and death registration: historical searches

(none) After section 34 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953, insert—

“34A Historical searches

(1) The Registrar General may provide a copy of an historical record held by him, which need not be a certified copy, to any person who makes a search and requests such a copy.

(2) A copy provided under subsection (1) may not be used in place of a certified copy as proof of an entry in the register.

(3) For the purposes of this section—

(a) an “historical record” means any entry in a register held by the Registrar General which is more than one hundred years old on the date on which such a request is made;

(b) a copy of a record which is not a certified copy means a paper, electronic or other duplication as may be prescribed in regulation.

(4) The Registrar General may charge such fees as appropriate in relation to making and delivering a copy of a record which is not a certified copy, but such a fee shall be no more than £3.00 per record.””

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD): I rise to offer the Government an early Christmas gift, cunningly disguised as Amendment 87B. It is a rare jewel; a genuine piece of deregulation which no one as far as I can tell opposes, which saves money and does not cost anything. I shall explain.

In 1837, a system of civil registration of births, deaths and marriages was introduced into this country. For most of the time since then, it has been a legal requirement to register these events with the district registrar who issues a certificate. The framework has remained largely unchanged since then. Anyone can order a copy of a certificate from the General Register Office, which is currently set at a cost of £9.25. Because possession of a certificate does not confer identity, these certificates could be used for any purpose and many of us at some point or other may have used this service to order a copy certificate.

The one group of people in this country who could really use this service much more extensively are those, like me, who are researching their family history. Should noble Lords think this is a minority pursuit, one website alone, Ancestry, has 2.7 million global subscribers. The success of programmes such as, “Who Do You Think You Are?”, along with the relative ease of internet searching has led to an explosion of interest in genealogy. This will almost certainly increase this year as the result of the wonderful coverage of the centenary of World War I.

Genealogists from across the globe can trace their ancestors back to these islands. The Irish and Scottish Governments have been much quicker than the English and Welsh Governments to appreciate the great tourist value in people looking for their roots. For genealogists, the information on general registration certificates is invaluable. Birth certificates contain the father’s name and occupation and the mother’s maiden name. A marriage certificate will record both the father’s name and occupation, so in theory, you could use the general registration to trace ancestors back for well over 200 years. An ancestor dying in 1837 at the start of registration might well have been born in the 1750s.

Sometimes, the GRO is the only way of resolving the matter by distinguishing between individuals of the same name on census and parish records, but this valuable resource is nothing like as well used as it could be because the only form in which it is legally allowed to be given is by ordering and paying £9.75 for the full certificate. That is not the case in many jurisdictions. In Ireland, for example, the essential information is provided for €4. In Scotland, an extract can be ordered online through the authorised provider, ScotlandsPeople Centre. The General Register Office issues many thousands of historic copies every year. Even at £9.75 it does not make a profit from them. As I will explain in a moment, it would almost certainly be happy to find a less onerous way of doing this kind of historic business. It would also fit in very well with the Government’s deregulation agenda and the drive to digitise public services.

Turning to my amendment, I recognise and say at the outset that my limited expertise will not have produced an amendment that the Government would accept in its current form. But the fundamental point, aimed at allowing the GRO to change the regime for historic events of more than 100 years ago, is one that I hope the Government will take away for consideration. It would mean that for a much reduced fee - I have suggested £3 - the data could be sent by e-mail, rather than issued in a long-form certificate. One hundred years simply reflects the period at which census data is made public, and was the period chosen in the 2002 White Paper. A different time could be chosen, or differentials between births, marriages and deaths established.

This issue has been discussed since 1990. A public consultation in 1999 showed overwhelming support for such a change. The GRO itself proposed similar changes in a 2005 regulatory reform order. Ironically I was a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee at the time, but sadly the GRO proposed a whole package of measures rather than simply this specific change. Had there been this change only, it probably would have been successful, but unfortunately the package was considered far too wide ranging for a regulatory reform order.

I caution the Government against putting off making this modest reform until a wider package of measures can be drawn up in their own Bill. The reality is that GRO reform is always unlikely to be a priority in the legislative programme of any new Government. The fact that the GRO has been unable to get a Bill in three terms of the Labour Government and one term of the coalition Government says it all. As I said, this is a probing amendment only, which I hope that the Government will take away and consider. I recognise that the GRO will need time to consult on changes and draw up the details, but this can be done by secondary legislation. The important thing is to get this change into this Bill. I beg to move.

It shouldn't really have been any easier as, in footballing parlance, Ros was rolling the ball gently across the face of the penalty area for the Minister to slot into an open goal. Sadly, said Minister, who shall remain nameless, chose to smack it against the crossbar. I can only hope that he tucks away the rebound... 

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.

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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...