I promised in my last blog to write about the European Union in a less defensive manner, emphasising the positive aspects the EU has brought in my personal life, rather than responding to an anti EU agenda set by UKIP fruitcakes. So here it goes.
- Travel (Free Movement of People). I am old enough to remember having to show my passport three times on my first holiday from Holland to Spain in the sixties. Now even the remnants of the old border stations I passed are gradually demolished. Some Dutch joke goes that the only way you know you passed Belgium on the way to France is because the motor way had quite a few pot holes in that stretch.
- Right of abode (again free movement of people). I have worked and lived in four EU countries: From the Netherlands I moved to the UK where I worked 15 years for British Telecom and then started my own company MaXware UK Ltd. Having sold the Company to German SAP I then lived and worked five years in Belgium before settling down in France. Never a permit was needed or even an application form to be filled in.
- Free Trade (free movement of goods and services). When MaXware UK was started, I just had the sole right to sell MaXware products, developed in Norway, in the UK market. Because of my language skills on the one hand and the vicinity of Stanstead and Luton airport, home of RyanAir and Easyjet, I was soon given responsibility for Europe wide sales. It meant I could have sales meetings anywhere in Europe and be back in my own bed by night fall. The founder of Easyjet Stelios Haji-Ioannou, is in fact one of the UK business leaders that has said his business would not even exist without the EU. I also enjoyed the fact I could sell our goods and services without ever having to fill in a single customs form.
- Human Rights. In 2007 I found myself one of the million UK innocent citizens on Labour’s National DNA data base. It was only after intervention by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (S and Marper v United Kingdom  ECHR 1581) that our privacy was restored. This is how Europe protects us from over ambitious national politicians.
- Democratic Rights Being a resident, but not a citizen of the United Kingdom, I was never allowed to vote in national elections. Voting for my MEP meant that I felt that at least I had some democratic rights.
- A better Quality of Life I am as weary of British Upper Classes, Industrialists and Bankers represented by the Tories, as I am of the overzealous UK Labour movement. Like a see saw out of control they waste all their efforts on blaming each other and the first years of any new government are wasted on undoing where the previous one overshot their ambitions. Some say that around 70% of national legislation is nowadays concerned with European Directives. There is nothing intrinsically bad about these directives. It seems to me they are far more balanced and thought out than the legislation ‘on the hoof’ you can witness in national parliaments, Westminster no exception. So when a car I buy has EU type approval and I see EU quality labels on food I have trust in that. I also think that the EU is preventing a ‘race to the bottom’ trying desperately to be competitive with the emerging markets. I am thinking of things like working hours, paid holidays and health and safety.
- Peace in Europe Having heard first-hand from my parents of the atrocities and deprivation of World War II, I am conscious of how lucky our generation has been never having had to go through something like that in our life-time. To some that argue that it was NATO that kept the peace I say that NATO is a fight club and to me fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity!
- A stronger voice in the world I am conscious of a shifting global power base in the world. Far from a ‘special relationship’ I have always felt that the USA treated my adopted home country as a lap-dog. While I have admiration for the bravery of British troops, I feel that there is no reason why they could not be just as brave in the context of a European army, one that one day might replace NATO and where America plays a less dominating role. By the way I think that the Dutch Soldiers in Afghanistan and the French Soldiers in CAR are doing just as important and brave a job and that here it’s more about protecting lives than US Oil interests.
- Care for the environment Pollution has no respect for National Borders. A poisonous radio active cloud can traverse the English Channel just as easy as it can blow eastward into Russia. #Chernobyl. It is pointless to be nuclear Free in Holland when Belgium has the highest concentration of reactors sitting right on our border. So to have environmental policies on a National level is pointless. On a European level it makes a bit more sense and at least together as Europe we have a hope of influencing developing economies not to make the same mistakes as we have.
- The Euro Yes that most hated thing in Britain, I still call it one of Europe’s greatest success stories. I remember the shouts of delight in some corners of Britain when its value against the Dollar dropped from around a dollar ten to around 80 dollar cents. These same people were awfully quiet when the humble Euro surged back to a high of around $1.60. Wikipedia tells me the euro today is the second largest reserve currency as well as the second most traded currency in the world after the United States dollar. As of November 2013, with more than €951 billion in circulation, the euro has the highest combined value of banknotes and coins in circulation in the world, having surpassed the U.S. dollar. No doubt UKIPS Professor Congdon will say it all will end in tears, but I see very little evidence of that. As for the pound, I see it converging towards the Euro and then no doubt some smart ass politician will convince the British public that now would be a good time to step in, when they could have gone in at 80 pence and made my Pension worth 20% more!