Monday, 25 January 2016

What has the EU ever done for us?

It was quite an experience, spending a weekend in Cracow – or perhaps I should write Krakow? And pronounce it so the second syllable rhymes with cough and not with bough? Or am I being too political correct?

Well, no, actually. I’m just enthusiastic about the visit and that just makes me a little shamefaced about using an old-fashioned spelling, and German pronunciation. Somehow, I feel that such a vibrant place deserves better from me.

Vibrant it certainly was. Even when the temperature dropped to -16 C, the night was alive with revellers wandering from restaurant to bar to club and back. Even the shops were open, apparently most of the night. The place just breathed vitality.

Krakow: as lively as it’s attractive. And it’s both
You can’t possibly build a serious view of a country from 48 hours spent in one of its cities. But, hey, politicians make ridiculously sweeping generalisations in that way, so why shouldn’t I? After all, out of 330 mass killings in the US last year, one was committed by a pair of lunatics claiming allegiance to ISIS, but that was more than enough for Donald Trump to call for the exclusion of all Muslims from the US, and be applauded for it.

So based on the experience of an entire weekend, I’m happy to proclaim that Poland is young, dynamic, thrusting and going places. Interestingly, 100% of our sample (an old friend – old in terms of time since we first met her, not actually old, I hasten to add – talking to my wfie but, hey, that’s a sample, isn’t it?) pointed to a feeling among Poles that the country is doing remarkably well, and this is due above all to membership of the European Union.

It’s well known, on the other hand, that others have gone off the European project. They resent the loss of national independence it implies, and don’t realise that this is the price they pay for the prosperity. Nothing new there, though. People quickly forget a benefit they’ve already secured, and focus only on what they gave up for it. In Britain we’re seeing the same phenomenon. The Guardian today, for instance, reports on an analysis produced by one Michael Burrage for the British anti-EU campaign. He reckons the country grew much more quickly from trade with the old Common Market than it has from trade with the single market that replaced it.

But isn’t that the way of things? The quickest benefits come in the early days. And the wealth that came from that initial growth has never been lost. We gain less now, but we’re still gaining. As Britain Stronger in Europe replied, for the other side of the debate, membership of the EU was worth about £133bn in 2014, which is no trivial sum. But easy to forget if you only focus on what the country has had to give up to obtain it.

It was fun being Krakow. It was encouraging to see what a lot of good EU membership can do. And that sent me home more than ever determined to resist the trend to take Britain out.

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