Europe – are we united or divided and do we care?

European Union

European Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The history of Europe over the centuries looks like a battlefield both literally and figuratively. Every so often, the powerful countries of the United Kingdom, France and Germany would fall out over something or other and go to war. World War 2 was the last such conflict and it has now been nearly 70 years since that war came to an end.

We have enjoyed nigh on 7 decades of relative peace, thanks in no small part to the European Union. The UK wasn’t interested to start with and applied to join a few years after the start only to be vetoed by the French. We persisted and joined the community in 1973.

Our relationship with Europe has been tumultuous ever since and there is a growing groundswell of opinion among the general public that we would be better off outside the European Union. Indeed, the UK Independence Party, started some 20 years ago with an exit from the community as their central policy. For many years, they gained little or no traction but recently, their share of the vote grew dramatically. So much so that the Conservative party promised a referendum on membership of the European Union should they win the next general election.

Because we live in a democracy, we are bound to follow the wishes of the majority. If they want us out, then out we must go. Sky News recently carried out the first in-depth survey to show what people’s voting intentions would be, why they would vote that way and what would make them change their mind (if anything). The results show a country broadly split down the middle with 51% in favour of leaving and 49% wanting to stay. The number one issue cited in the survey is immigration.

I hope that when it comes to the referendum proper, people vote with a clear understanding of what’s at stake either way. This mustn’t be a protest vote. It mustn’t be an emotional knee-jerk reaction or based on reminiscing about the fact that we once stood alone and we can do it again – us against the world. The issue is far too important. By all means, vote for what you want – but make sure you have a reasonable understanding about what you will gain and what you will lose.

As for me, I remain broadly in favour of the UK staying in the European Union. I understand there are drawbacks but I think we gain more than we lose. I think if we leave, much of the foreign companies we’ve attracted to invest over the years may well reconsider. I believe trade will gradually become more difficult and we will lose a lot of influence. According to the Independent newspaper, we gain from immigrants into the UK and if we stopped them coming, it would cost us £18Bn over the next 5 years. I like the way that people can move freely around Europe.

David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party has pledged to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU so the club might have different rules when we get to the ballot box. If he can swing our membership such that it becomes more economic and less political then it should give a boost to the stay vote. It worries me that a large percentage of the respondents to the Sky News poll would not change their voting intentions no matter what.

What about you – shall we stay or shall we go? Why? Do you care?

A hurricane in the North Sea?

Esbjerg PedestrianArea

Esbjerg PedestrianArea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We hadn’t been told where we were going. The best man told us where to turn up and to pack for a few days away. Eventually, our coach, packed with rogues and vagabonds, turned up at a port. The terminal was chaotic. The departure boards told us our destination, Esbjerg. “Where the hell’s Esbjerg” asked Bob the Fish.

Eventually we boarded, an hour late, and made our way to the bar. Although the vessel was a glorified ferry, the operators had cruise ship aspirations and there was a full entertainment programme. The compere was a dead ringer for Dale Winton, just a little more camp. He took a shine to us and kept coming over to our table. Someone suggested he fancied Bob the Fish, although I doubt anyone believed that.

The crossing was rough and our drinks slid around on the ringed table. Although much of it slopped over the sides, we consumed enough to ensure a good night’s sleep in our tiny cabins. When we awoke, the ship  had docked and we made our way into town. We had a look around, but found ourselves inexorably drawn to Esbjerg’s only Irish bar, Hairy Mary’s.

The following morning, there was a compulsory sightseeing trip whilst they cleaned the ship. Our party split into those who were hung over enough to insist on staying on board  (including the groom to be) and those who went sightseeing (including myself and the best man). The tour guide introduced himself and the itinerary. It didn’t sound exciting.

“What do you think of my English?” he asked. The coach replied with a chorus of “very good” and “yes”. He explained that Danish children study English from the age of 5, but don’t start learning German until they reach 11. “You might think this is strange, as the only country we border is Germany. This is because we hate the Germans!”

He pointed out Esbjerg’s tallest building (which had burned down) and 3 enormous statues. He asked us if we liked them. Again, a chorus of “very nice” and “yes” from the coach. “We hate them” he said. “They were a gift from the German government.” He took us to a fish museum (which was more interesting than it sounds). Bob the Fish was in his element.

We eventually found ourselves in a quaint Danish village, when I received a phone call. It was the groom-to-be. He told me that the ship would not sail in the morning as planned so they were going to jump on a train over to Copenhagen and fly home. I passed him over to the best man and they had a blazing row.

When returned to Esbjerg, a storm had really taken hold. It was difficult to stand. It was even more difficult after a night in Hairy Mary’s. Making our way back to the ship involved leaning into the wind at a 45 degree angle. At one point, I turned my back to the wind and was astonished to see the road we’d just traversed submerged in water. The cars from the adjacent car park floated into the sea.

Panic reigned inside the terminal building. An angry mob had assembled at the enquiries desk. A German man at the front screamed at the lady behind the counter “You told me my car would be safe!”, every syllable punctuated by his fist slamming on the desk. Somehow, we managed to blag a flight home in the morning  for which we swore not to tell a soul and made our way onto the ship.

We told Dale Winton our story. He told the ship. A TV crew came on board to film the passengers. They interviewed us and Bob the Fish announced our free flights home on Danish TV. As we left to catch our flight, Dale Winton handed the best man a tape. He’d recorded our interview for us. He joked that recorded over his favourite porno. The best man looked very nervous heading through customs.