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Jim Murphy

Minister for Europe

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Friday 26 September, 2008

Queer Sarajevo Festival

This week saw the launch of the 'Queer Sarajevo Festival' . This was meant to be a celebration of  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights and freedoms in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to promote tolerance and diversity. I was shocked and saddened to hear that following an outbreak of violence on Wednesday night the organisers felt they had to take the decision to cancel the remainder of the festival.
 
Homophobic violence has no place in any society. Bosnia and Herzegovina has signed up to various international human rights treaties that forbid discrimination and under Bosnian law such discrimination is illegal. It is important that all people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and all over the world, should be allowed to enjoy their human rights without fear of violence, intimidation or discrimination on the basis of their beliefs or sexuality. The British Embassy has been keeping in close touch with the festival organisers and issued a joint press statement with other Embassies in Sarajevo condemning the violence. And as the UK Government, we urge the Bosnian authorities to take strong action against those who perpetrated this violence.

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Thursday 18 September, 2008

Global Europe Seminars in Budapest and Warsaw

I've just returned from a fascinating two days in Budapest and Warsaw, where I met politicians, business leaders and academics to discuss how we can best work together, within Europe, to tackle the challenges of climate change, the credit crunch, and the Georgia crisis - to name but a few. And I took part in two seminars on the theme of "Building a successful and sustainable Europe".

Poland is, of course, a large and influential EU Member State - one of the "Big Six" - and a natural partner for the UK. We can find common cause on many issues, such as how to best respond to Russia's actions on Georgia. And we have a great deal to discuss on subjects where we differ - for example on the action that is needed to tackle climate change.

In Budapest I was reminded about how passionately Hungarians disagree about their politics, and also had very good discussions of EU issues with Kinga Göncz, the Hungarian Foreign Minister. We released a joint UK-Hungary Human Rights Declaration, emphasising the commitment of both our countries to protecting human rights, and eliminating all forms of discrimination, especially against the Roma, who are a vulnerable and marginalised group in many EU countries. The Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center, with its exhibition "From Deprivation of Rights to Genocide", was a moving example of quite how crucial it is to do everything we can to ensure that discrimination and hatred have no place in the 21st century world. Earlier in the week I had the chance to meet and talk to the remarkable Elie Wiesel at a dinner in London to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Holocaust Educational Trust.  Well done to the Trust for 20 years work in keeping the memory alive.

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Thursday 11 September, 2008

Visiting Hungary next week

I'm going to Hungary next week for meetings on Europe (making it more competitive, creating more jobs and growth, making it more secure and prosperous in the face of globalisation) and the range of foreign policy issues on the agenda at the moment.
 
I'm also going to discuss human rights and tolerance with my Hungarian counterpart  who recently hosted the 1st Budapest Human Rights Forum. The Hungarian government is trying hard to integrate better its 10% Roma minority, which faces problems of exclusion and intolerance. Some people might have seen the film Happy New Life by Arpad Bogdan - a young Hungarian film director who spent his childhood in an orphanage, and who has examined the issues faced by a generation of Roma like him in his new film.  Last week the BBC screened a documentary about Mr Bogdan - entitled "Looking for my Gypsy Roots".  I will meet the  documentary's producer/director, Antonia Meszaros, at an event at the British Embassy.  The situation of the Roma in Hungary and Central Europe is a complex one - to which there are no easy solutions, but it's not a situation any of us can ignore. I look forward to hearing more about what is being done and will post an update while I'm in Budapest if I can. 

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Tuesday 09 September, 2008

EU-Ukraine Summit

The Foreign Secretary visited Kiev two weeks ago, to show our support for Ukraine in the wake of events in Georgia. Today in Paris the EU and Ukraine agreed to take our relationship a big step forward by agreeing to conclude an Association Agreement.  This will help Ukraine to integrate further into the European economy, co-operate on tackling organised crime and trafficking, and improve the prosperity and security of the EU.

Ukraine is a European country, the Summit today explicitly recognised that fact and acknowledged that one day Ukraine might apply for membership.  David Miliband set out our approach towards Ukraine in a speech he delivered in Kiev.  We believe that the door to EU membership should be open to Ukraine.  EU membership will take time and effort, but the goal should be clear.

This success makes it all the more important that Ukraine can handle effectively the domestic political challenges we have seen over the past couple of weeks.  I've been heartened by the firm commitment which all sides in Kiev have made to tackling those challenges constitutionally and democratically.  Ukraine's democratic record, as well as its impressively free media, have the shown that the country can be a leader and - as the Foreign Secretary said in Kiev - a model to others in the region.  They also underpin Ukraine's strong case for membership of the EU and NATO in due course.

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Friday 05 September, 2008

Best of luck in Beijing

A quick blog to say good luck to GB's squad doing their last minute preparations for the Paralympics starting in Beijing tomorrow. We've got 206 athletes competing in 18 Paralympic sports (and did you know there's 50 years between the youngest and oldest of our competitors?). Another lesser known fact is that the Paralympic Games started at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Aylesbury in 1948 when a certain Dr Ludwig Guttmann started a competition between sports groups and other hospitals at the same time as the Olympic Games which was also held in London that year. It's being going strong ever since and all the best to this year's team.

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The Balkans - international pressure point

The world has rightly been focussing on the crisis in Georgia and I've also blogged about it in the last couple of weeks. But it is important that we don't forget about the other international pressure points - one of which is Bosnia and Herzegovina. This week I met Miroslav Lajcak, the International Community's most senior representative there. Bosnia and Herzegovina was the scene of unspeakable ethnic cleansing in the 1990s. I visited Sarajevo earlier in the year and saw the progress but also the pressures. A wide-ranging agreement with the EU in June was an important step. But there remain significant obstacles to progress and we have to maintain our focus to ensure the country moves forward.

The Balkans remains a sensitive region. Kosovo is now independent and faces the challenge of building a successful multi-ethnic country ; Serbia has elected a moderate government and faces the challenge of moving definitively towards Europe; Karadzic is appearing before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia charged with war crimes, but Mladic remains on the run; and Macedonia remains fragile and in dispute with Greece over its name. All of these are complex situations, and until they're resolved, rebuilding following the shattering consequences of the break up of Yugoslavia will not be complete.

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Wednesday 03 September, 2008

Cyprus Settlement

A lot of Brits might still be lucky enough to be holidaying on Cyprus at the moment, and if so they'll be inadvertent witnesses to a historic moment today when the leaders of the two Cypriot communities  launch direct negotiations aimed at finding a Cyprus settlement.  The progress that has been made this year has been incredibly encouraging.  The two leaders have demonstrated their commitment and willingness to work together towards a settlement to reunify Cyprus.  What the two leaders are embarking on presents perhaps the best opportunity to solve the Cyprus problem.

I welcome the launch of these talks and encourage the two leaders to seize the opportunity to put an end to this damaging division that cuts right through the heart of Cypriot society.  The phrase "once in a generation" is overused in politics but that really is what this is.  We'll continue to support their efforts in the coming months, and I look forward to having the opportunity to visit the island soon.

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Wednesday 20 August, 2008

Olympics

The Olympic medals table makes great viewing.  Team GB are third - thanks to the brilliance of so many UK sportsmen and women.  I stayed up and watched the womens marathon til after 3am and, while much of the drama was about Paula Radcliffe's run and Liz Yelling's fall, the real story was the FCO's Mara Yamauchi coming in a record 6th, equalling the best performance by a British woman.

But interestingly the table looks great from other countries too.In the US the table has been redefined and the US are top ahead of China by organising it according to total medals won rather than the number of golds. Given this would drop us to fourth, behind Russia, I'm not persuaded! Spare a thought too for the Slovenians who could also be top - if it were organised in medals won per capita.

It's also great to be ahead of France, Germany, Italy and every other European country! Barring a surge by one of these, we may well be number one in Europe.If so, I can genuinely look forward to the next time I meet ministers in Brussels.I will miss the games. Roll on 2012 and London.

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Tuesday 19 August, 2008

Georgia Latest

I agree with Robert who commented on this blog on 17 August - he's right to question whether punishing "ordinary folk" in Russia through imposing visa restrictions is really an effective and logical response to Russia's deplorable actions in the last 2 weeks. The UK's visa policy is always to focus this kind of action on the people responsible rather than the general public - that's why we targetted tightened visa restrictions at Russian officials only in our disagreement over Litvinenko, and why we did not change our visa policy towards ordinary Russians then and why we won't change it now. But we do need to send clear messages to Russia about their behaviour.  As the Foreign Secretary said today in his article in the Times we can't disengage.  The right response is hard-headed engagement to make sure that Russia understands the consequences of its actions. As Russia has breached international norms, the international community needs to respond as one.  The UK has been intensively engaged in international negotiations, including through the EU, G7 OSCE, NATO and the UN, to ensure an appropriate, unified response.

I regret to say that even now the situation on the ground throughout Georgia remains fluid and fragile. Although the ceasefire is largely continuing to hold there are some reports of continuing violence and this must stop immediately. And there are still Russian forces well beyond Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We welcomed the Russian statement that withdrawal was beginning but there is no sign whatsoever of this happening on the ground. We now we need to see evidence on the ground that Russia is living up to the commitments it has made.

The Foreign Secretary has been in Brussels again today, this time for a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of NATO countries.  Some of you will have seen that he has been making these points strongly.  The UK continues to offer Georgia both practical and political support in the short term - for example through sending immediate humanitarian aid - and longer term as they continue with their reform processes. The Foreign Secretary is right now flying to Tbilisi to discuss with partners there what we can do to help, and to see the situation on the ground for himself.

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Wednesday 13 August, 2008

Georgia Discussion in Brussels

I'm in Brussels discussing the situation in Georgia.  The 27 countries of the European Union were united in their grave concern about the recent developments.  Military actions are not a solution.  The war has led to heavy loss of life and inflicted widespread humanitarian suffering.

Foreign Ministers welcomed the EU mediation efforts and urged the parties to the conflict to respect the commitments they had made, starting with an effective ceasefire.  They reaffirmed that the European Union will work to support the observation mission on the ground, which is led by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and provide essential aid for the humanitarian situation.

The crucial thing now is to make sure that the ceasefire holds and the humanitarian suffering is addressed.  Then we need meaningful talks about the future and strong international supervision of the process.

 

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Brits Abroad

News earlier this week about the number of UK holiday makers in Spain who are arrested each year.  I was on holiday in Costa Brava, an area of Spain that is remarkably British.  In fact there seem to be more Irish bars than there are in Ireland.  And I have to admit I didn't see any trouble at all.

But the figures are worrying.  British tourists abroad sometimes forget that if they break the laws of the country they are in they will face justice in the same way that a foreign tourist visiting the UK is subject to our laws when they are here.  Meg Munn is the Minister responsible for Consular Services in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  On Tuesday, she commented on the report and reminded Brits of some of the simple steps they can take to avoid problems when travelling overseas.  You can read these and get travel advice on our website .

 

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Tuesday 12 August, 2008

Events in Georgia

The events in Georgia over the last 5 days have shocked me, people throughout the UK and the international community. Russia's use of force in a sovereign and democratic country is unacceptable and unjustifiable. The situation has been moving too fast to even blog about at times, and I have kept in touch daily with our Ambassador in Tbilisi to follow Russia's movements and motives, Georgia's response and the impact on the people in Georgia, including the 350 or so UK citizens who have been caught up in the violence. The  Prime Minister,  Foreign Secretary and I have  all  been involved in efforts with partners in the EU, NATO, G7, OSCE and UN to put pressure on Russia to end its actions, and David Miliband and I will both be in Brussels tomorrow at an emergency meeting of EU Foreign Ministers to discuss the situation and way forward.
 
Today, President Medvedev has said that Russia's forces will end their operations. We wait to see the evidence of this. I visited Georgia in May and met President Saakashvili and saw for myself the fragile situation on the ground - this has now been shattered. It is for Georgia and the international community to work together, building on the efforts of France and the OSCE, to return to the path towards peace in the region.

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Tuesday 29 July, 2008

Serbia's ambassadors reinstated

You may have heard last week that the Serbian government has decided to reinstate its ambassadors who were withdrawn from the EU countries that recognised Kosovo's independence. This is good news. It is only by having regular contact that differences can be reconciled and relationships strengthened. This decision will allow us all to work together to achieve our shared objective - Serbia in the EU.

The new Serbian government has shown in the last week that facing up to the past is the only way for Serbia, and the region, to secure lasting peace and prosperity (see my blog on Karadzic arrest). I am pleased that the new government is seizing opportunities to move Serbia closer to the EU.

Of course there is still more for Serbia to do to fulfil its EU ambition and  I  hope they continue to progress with the same pragmatism and drive they have shown this week.

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Wednesday 23 July, 2008

Karadzic arrest

I was really pleased to hear the news that Radovan Karadzic has been arrested in Serbia.  Karadzic has blood on his hands and the world is a better place now that he has been detained.  He organised the murder of thousands of innocent people in a vile campaign of ethnic cleansing.  We should congratulate the Serbian government for this achievement.  Having seen first hand the efforts to rebuild Bosnia after the terrible three way civil war, I think that this is an important step.

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Tuesday 22 July, 2008

Public diplomacy - what do you think?

I took part on 21 July in a joint FCO/Chatham House seminar focused on the FCO publication on public diplomacy I launched recently in Washington “Engagement: Public Diplomacy in a Globalised World”. I want to drive forward the debate and the event was a part of this effort. With participants from business, NGOs, the media, civil society, government and academia, there was some pretty lively discussion. I want to hear what you think too. Comment on this blog to share your thoughts about the publication and I’ll come back to you in a few weeks with a round-up of where I think the debate has got to.

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