Roger Helmer MEP: In Europe, two positives make a negative

How our European freedoms threaten British jobs

After eleven years in the European parliament, I rarely come across an entirely new insight into the European process. But I was brought up sharp by a question posed by a sixth-former at Leicester Grammar School.

We were having a debate on February 11th, on the motion “This House believes that the benefits of EU membership outweigh the costs”. Speaking for the motion, Lib-Dem MEP Bill Newton Dunn laid great emphasis on the benefits of free movement within the EU. All these young people, he said, would be able to look for jobs and careers not only in the UK, but in 26 other member-states as well.

Of course apologists for the EU always like to point up the benefits of free movement. Young people can study in Strasbourg, Salzburg or Stockholm;Madrid or Milan or Munich. And equally they can work across the EU.

These things are certainly true. But British students also go to Canada and California, to Singapore and Sydney, and last time I checked the trend was for a higher proportion of students going to study overseas to look outside the EU. And on employment, I like to cite my own experience. I’ve worked in the USA, and in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Korea, and I never found any difficulty being outside the EU.We live in an increasingly globalised world, and we should not be limited to the EU. As the Norwegian NO Campaign slogan put it, “Europe is too small for us”.

Nevertheless, the right of free movement in the EU is generally presented as a plus. And another positive is the increasing hegemony of the English language, which has become the de facto lingua franca of Europe (and much of the world). When I first got to Brussels in 1999, the screens around the parliament building were in French, and spoke of “Séances” and “Réunions”. Then after the election of 2004, quietly and with no fanfare, the language changed to English, with Sittings and Meetings. It was a while before I noticed it.

In my eleven years in the parliament I have only once or twice been in a situation where I felt at all limited by language. English has become the second-language of choice for the great majority of continentals. After all if you’re born Danish or Finnish or Latvian, you would have serious difficulty travelling without English. The accession of the Eastern Europeans seems to have given a further boost to English.

So on the face of it, two positives. Two hits for British citizens. The right to free movement and job mobility, plus the dominance of our native tongue.

It took a highly perceptive question from the audience to highlight the snag. If most Europeans speak English, then they are well-placed to apply for a job in the UK -- whether as a software engineer, as a doctor, or merely as a waiter. And as EU citizens they are free to do so. Meantime a Brit can only realistically apply for a job in France if he speaks French. And even leaving aside the legendary English reluctance to learn languages, it’s unlikely that our English applicant would be fluent in more than one or two languages. If he spoke both French and German, he’d still have access to less than half the EU, whereas at home in England he could face competition for jobs from right across the EU.

The UK could thus become, for linguistic reasons, a magnet for job applicants from across the EU, in a way which would apply to no other single EU memberstate. And English job applicants will therefore face much tougher competition in their home jobs market than would otherwise be the case.

The sixth-former set out this idea, and asked “Isn’t it so?”. Bill Newton Dunn hedged around the question defensively -- I suspect that, like me, he’d never thought about it before. But I said “That’s a remarkably perceptive question, and the answer is “YES”. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Noes won the debate.

2 thoughts on “Roger Helmer MEP: In Europe, two positives make a negative

  1. Anne Palmer

    This poem was written at the time when there was only 11 Nation States in the European Union. Europanto was created in 1996 by Diego Mariani a journalist, author and translator for the European Council of Ministers in Brussels. Europanto is a linguistic jest presented as a “constructive language” with a hodge-podge vocabulary from many European languages. Marani created it in response to the perceived dominance of the English language, it is an emulation of the effect that non-native speakers struggling to learn a language typically add words and phrases from their native language to express their meanings clearly. He thought this was easier than Esperanto which one had to learn. This below was sent to him and in return I received a letter back. He obviously had fun reading it.
    Esté nueva idioma, no es crazy,
    Pero it can make unas personas trés lazy,
    No necesitar to learn eleven idiomas,
    For al final cette course, no hay diplomas.
    C’est trés facile than “Old English Pigion”,
    Per favore-grazie, you learn just a smidgen,
    Straight up mate, vous ne regrettez pas,
    Just cheek, sommi Old Greek, you understand JA?
    Was darf es sein more than anything now?
    For c’est un morçeau de gateau, mein Frau,
    C’est wild, to learn impotante Europese,
    Just mix up todo este idiomas avec mucho ease.
    Beware though, personas in Brussels just might,
    Qué commencer as a joke, may be taken as right,
    Si Europanto catches on, c’est vraiment to relate,
    Mucho interpreters will meet a very sad fate.
    Goodbye, Arrivederci, Gia sas, Hasta Luego, Adjö, Näkemiin,
    Farvel, Dag, Au revior, Até logo, and Auf Wiedersehen,
    N’est pas vraiment, C’est un horreur,
    Arrividerci———————until tomorreur!!!!

  2. Anne Palmer

    A thought provoking article Roger Helmer, however, I will respond to it because who knows, one day, some-one might take heed and do some-thing in what I see as “room for improvement” in the department of Education.
    Sadly, most young people here in the UK can hardly speak ENGLISH, never mind learning a foreign Language. Whether that is due to bad schools, lack of the teaching of foreign languages, the standard of our TEACHERS, I do not know. All I do know for sure is that the British standards in the average UK Schools seems to be lacking very much so, in “Good Education”.
    School Days should be the best days of anyone’s life. Why aren’t they? Has the Education system in the UK been deliberately “Dumbed Down”? For that is how it looks to me. It is how I have actually thought so too.
    I come from a generation that left school to go to work at fourteen, not only that, from an area where many had no “school” to go to for months because our School was bombed and was our of action for a while, but as I remember it, school was such that we wanted to go, we wanted to learn, it was an nice place to go to, even if the discipline was quite strict and yes, the cane often kissed my hand at times-usually for talking too much at the wrong time, but it was the ruler across the back of my hands when writing wasn’t as neat as it should have been, that I remember the most. Even now I hate the ruler!
    What I am saying though, is that if “tomorrows” grown ups want to make their mark in the world, school must become a joy to go to, to learn everything they can and yes, in the learning of foreign Languages, they will also automatically learn to speak ENGLISH better. Even though I want out of the EU, It is a big World and the young today, need to understand and speak a foreign Language.


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