Thursday, 8 December 2011
Why Nadine Dorries worries me
I am worried. And I am worried about something that I never thought I would be in my lifetime. I worry that the life I have built up here in the UK rests on precarious foundations. Let me explain. I am German. I have moved to the UK in 1996 and, by all accounts, settled here successfully. I work at a university, joined a political party and will stand for council elections in May next year. That's not a bad achievement in terms of integration I think.
However, listening to Nadine Dorries on Newsnight yesterday (you can watch her exchanges with Sir Malcolm Rifkin HERE 9:30mins into the programme) I am not so sure anymore that I made the right choice. Her comments made me feel very insecure indeed. And I never thought I would ask myself the question: do I, as a German, have a future in the UK?
All of this of course is a result of the Eurozone crisis and the moves by France and Germany to forge a closer union. I always believed (Euro or no Euro) that closer co-operation would happen. Europe was designed to contain some parliamentary and legal components which meant that nation states gave up some of their sovereignty. Don't get me wrong: I always recognised that there are huge problems with this transfer of powers to the European Union in some areas, not least the fact that there is still no elected government of Europe but only a motley crew of bureaucrats and clapped-out national politicians who decide what we eat, consume, trade and produce.
Yet, I was never in doubt that the way to address these problems was to engage with others in the European Union and find a way forward. Yet, if it was up to Nadine Dorries, all bets are off. As the countries in the Eurozone will grow closer together, Britain may move away from European institutions. Yet it was these institutions that, by and large, have protected my legal status in the UK. It is because of Europe that I am being treated exactly the same as any British citizen when I apply for a mortgage or a job in this country.
I could become a civil servant in Leeds, draw a local government pension and, incidentally, if I decided to move to Germany again at the end of my working life, I could transfer my pension pot to Germany without any hitch. It is this ease with which we are moving around in Europe that is remarkable, though often unnoticed. This wouldn't be the case anymore if Britain takes a step away from Europe, adopting a position more akin to, say, Switzerland. Arranging health care, pension arrangement and applying for work visa can be a nightmare for anybody from Switzerland or any other non-EU country living in the UK.
In a way what I am saying I think is that I never really felt like a foreigner here. Living as a German in Cardiff or Leeds felt more like being in a different part of your home country where people somehow happen to speak a language different to your own. If Nadine Dorries and the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservatives have her way, this feeling may not last. Moving away from Europe and its institutions will create uncertainty in the minds of people like me. My position, and incidentally the position of tens of thousands of expatriates living in Spain, Portugal or Italy, will become precarious. That is why I am worried.