The EU. Time for reflection?

e118cf62d6About seven years ago I wrote an article for a Czech broadsheet ‘The Prague Post’ about the impending Schengen policy that was due to come into effect for all invited EU members. This legislation ostensibly allowed the citizens of its members to freely move across national borders with an ID card effective as valid documentation and thus speeding up the extinction of the ‘national’ passport. The UK, instinctively and politically wary of foreign migration resisted the temptation to sign up to the Schengen scheme (and granted it’s participation already unlikely because of its sovereign currency) and thus the British passport remained an integral and essential part of our national identity.

Well if a week is a long time in politics then seven years is a lifetime. The vicious worldwide recession, The Arab Spring, the Iraq and Afghan wars, Syria, the Ukraine have all dominated our lives, newsreels and consciousness. And the idea of the UK joining in the Schengen Policy now a far off dream for even the most optimistic of pro Europeans.

Brussels we have a problem

As with so many EU policies Schengen seemed a sensible one on paper and dispensing with border controls for EU citizens, allowing free, unquestioned movement within the Eurozone to work, travel, to visit friends and to holiday is surely a well intentioned piece of policy. But as is the case with so many EU laws and regulations it seems unworkable in practice. The historical tensions within Europe cannot be covered up by an EU band aid. As evidenced in the former Yugoslavia and with two prospective EU members Turkey and Ukraine these tensions, racial, religious and historical are patently much closer to the surface than our common perceptions of these countries are led to believe. I for one regard myself as fairly well informed on these matters, in a man off the street way, but prior to the war in Yugoslavia I had no clue as to the underlying hatred and simmering animosity held by its people. And with this in mind I would suggest that an enlarged Union would not have the capability, the essential historical knowledge, the diplomatic savvy or political influence to unify in the strong, fair and lasting way that can realistically serve all the countries within it.

A level playing field

Through my vocation as a musician I have travelled to and lived in several EU countries. It is something I appreciate greatly and has given me opportunity and life experience I would not have otherwise had without the freedom being an EU member gives me. The liberty of getting on a plane and freely entering a different culture has been personally enormously valuable and repeatedly life changing. It is a freedom I cherish and I’m constantly browbeating my less travelled friends in the UK to try it for themselves. It’s true I am no ‘little Englander’. And let me say at this point, and for the record, I do not want the UK to leave the European Union. And although ( whether by accident or design) it now seemed a sensible decision to keep the pound, I do not have personal issue with European migratory workers (for I am one) and I am not opposed to a centralised European Parliament. 

However what I and many of our European cousins are wary of is the continual failure to implement EU rules within the Eurozone. As an example, If we take a country familiar to the UK, the former British colony Malta and a country I lived in for 5 years, it became apparent to me after some time there that Malta ‘appeared’ to benefit far more from its membership to the EU than the UK. A highway building programme, tourist attractions (most recently the National Aquarium), environmental clean up, the new City Gate and brand new open air theatre all funded on average with 70-80% of European money. And on the surface this seems progressive, positive and generally only good for the Maltese population. However, when one witnesses at first hand it’s blatant disregard for aspects of EU law by sectors of its population and in tandem the failure to implement these laws by the EU then one’s compassion, understanding and pride in being a part of it naturally begins to wane. Contravention of EU law is commonplace in Malta. And it is safe to say in every EU country. The failure to close environmentally damaging power stations, rampant construction, an archaic legal system, the disregarding of fishing quotas all examples of this continual contravention. And it is these inefficiencies within the EU that exasperate the general populations within it.

Perhaps it is time for a period of reflection within the EU. To halt any further expansion until the Europe we inhabit now is a more efficient and transparent machine. Voted for by Europeans for a fairer, hopeful and inclusive Europe that moves forward due to its successes and not because of the lack of them.

10501293_1480667195483958_713265311_nMartin McNeil is a writer and a musician. He has just finished recording his latest album in Woodstock NY which is due to be released this summer.

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