Thursday, 14 September 2006

"Go West"

“Go West” got me thinking about the plight of my countrymen back in Cameroon regarding their perilous attempts at getting to the “gold paved” streets of the West. Staying on this train of thought, my mind drifted to the countless Slavic and Finno-Ugric immigrants I encounter daily during my commute from one end of London to the other in order to get to work. This song seems to encapsulate the mood of both parties and correctly sums up all their ideas about ‘the West” which have been formed by what they see in Hollywood films and flashy foreign adverts.

As one of only three E.U. countries to not restrict flow of nationals from the eight new Eastern European accession countries, Britain received a phenomenal amount of immigrants from Eastern Europe (mostly Polish). The Labour Government greatly underestimated the amount of people the country would expect to receive and therefore, could not properly brief local councils on what preparations they should make. This saw immigrants ending up sleeping rough, local schools not being able to properly prepare for extra children and friction with local populations. However, there have been positive aspects to their arrival namely, an increase in the size of the labour force without the fear of more people claiming social security in the future, a wider tax base and increased business opportunities for businesses i.e. shops now sell Eastern European products.

After extolling the pros and cons of increased Eastern European immigration, one must ponder the reasons behind it. In the first paragraph of this article I mentioned the image these immigrants had, or still have, of the West and what they expect to gain from it when they arrive. All immigrants from what is oddly called the “Second” and “Third” world share this view of the West and logically, would like to reside here for some time however, there’s one crucial difference between the parties. Those from the “Second” world countries of the eight new Eastern European members of the E.U. have the ability to get to the West, well three countries at least, without much restriction; while those outside of that privileged area have to brave precarious journeys due to lack of information and restrictions imposed on them by Western governments. It probably seems weird to be speaking of E.U. nationals in the same breath as illegal aliens from “Third World” countries far away from ‘Fortress Europe’ but despite the fanfare and the usual left-wing pomp associated with E.U. events, the reality remains: the eight new Eastern European members have a long road ahead. While we experience masses of new arrivals here, back in Eastern Europe they’re experiencing a ‘brain drain’. Hundreds of thousands of young people are leaving their countries because they cannot be offered the sort of lifestyle they feel they need and deserve. The workforce we see arriving from these countries are by and large well educated and law-abiding with the potential to, combined with the efforts of non-E.U. immigrants, completely close our employment gaps in the Public Sector. However, this often is not the case which sees young men and women with degrees in subjects like Ophthalmology having to do cleaning jobs at McDonald’s. Now we have to deal with the issue of why they come here. A country or part of the world having an attractive image isn’t enough reason for people to decide to up-sticks and move out of their ancestral homelands; there has to be something wrong with their homeland in the first place.
After the reform agendas embarked on by the eight countries during the 1990′s, little economic miracles happened in succession. Growth was often in double-digits, investment was pouring in, state coffers were full, regeneration was going on and there were wage rises. In short, things were booming! But under the surface, not all was moving equally rapidly. Despite the countries being awash with DFI (Direct Foreign Investment) this never really translated into jobs suitable for the large graduate population and the wages were still out of kilter with the rapidly rising prices. This created a situation in which people found it increasingly difficult to make a living in their place of origin which resulted in an increase in migration. The relative free movement of peoples within the E.U. gave the populations a chance to act on the feeling that was already present.

Going by the rhetoric and propaganda from the E.U. one would think that the momentum gained by these countries would be accelerated under the watchful eye of ‘Grandma Europa’ but when one looks closer and really assesses the situation, it becomes evident that this is mistaken. How can a structure like the E.U., a big centralised quasi-Soviet behemoth, guarantee the preservation of the liberal framework these countries have achieved economically and are in the process of achieving politically? How can the Union with its slumping growth rates, rickety Welfare States and rigid economy be a guiding light for free, open, flexible and rapidly expanding economies? It’s like the U.K. teaching The Netherlands about the prevention of teen pregnancy! One example of a paradoxical situation is the role of ‘Yes’ campaigns throughout the history of the accession of new members into the E.U. Every country has had its ‘Yes’ groups and its ‘No’ groups. The ‘Yes’ groups always seem to have the most ‘dosh’ while the ‘No’ groups are branded as reactionary xenophobes by the national media. According to an article by MEP Roger Helmer on the Bruges Group website (‘Estonia faces the EU propaganda barrage‘) the ‘Yes’ campaigners in Estonia even went as far as handing out post-cards with a hot male model on them saying that E.U. men were sexier than their Estonian counterparts due to their healthier lifestyle and therefore a ‘Yes’ vote for the E.U. would result in a vote for sexier men. It’s nice to know that the E.U. can still defend its case with sound, logical and to-the-point arguments.

I believe that the joining of the E.U. will be a step back for the Eastern European accession countries as it will slowly erode their efforts at liberalisation of their economies and make investment just as unattractive there as it already is in, let’s say, France. Also, policies such the preservation of the C.A.P will damage farmers’ productivity, lead to waste and inefficient farming methods which will eventually result in damage of the surrounding natural environment. Extra regulations will make business harder to conduct and the zeal for reform (for it is still greatly needed) will wane as the prize of E.U. entry has already been won; it’s not as if the E.U. would be a cheerleader for radical market reforms anyway.

These extra problems have the potential to prolong the westward flow of young talent for some time to come and only make the case for withdrawal even stronger.

In my humble opinion, the grand ceremonies of the accession day were a death knell for Eastern European development and they smacked of the sort of ceremonies one would see held at significant days on the Soviet calendar. The long dominated but often very industrious peoples of these countries have swapped one master for another and it may take years or decades before the full impact of E.U. membership on their economies will come to light however, there is one solution. Withdrawing from the European Union and embarking on a path of renewed reform, attraction of foreign investment and protection of Liberty purely for the sake of one’s national interest will make development even faster in the future and ensure that the country is considered worth living in once again by young talented youth.