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Saturday, June 1, 2013

What did the EU ever do for us? A beautiful funeral, France’s Steve Jobs, and Mad Swivel-eyed loons.

In Hard Times, it is inevitable that people get angry and look for someone to blame; unsurprisingly, foreigners and the EU are getting a lot of blame with all political parties vying to take the toughest stance on immigration, and anti-EU rhetoric is now commonplace pretty much everywhere. It is interesting how the negative side of the EU is widely publicised but all the good stuff is either ignored or taken for granted. It reminds me of the famous Monty Python sketch in Life of Brian, What did the Romans ever do for us? So here is my EU version:

What did the EU ever do for us? Nothing much really. Except of course for Cheap Flights, Cheaper phone calls, easier travel across Europe, half of our exports and therefore millions of jobs, cleaner beaches, lead free petrol (remember what it was like before?), a recycling culture (where I live over 60% of household refuse is now recycled), bans on harmful food additives, freedom to travel live and work across Europe, access to health services in Europe, smoke free workplaces, equal pay legislation, holiday entitlement, the strongest wildlife protection in the world, European arrest warrants and cross border policing and anti-terrorism co-operation, support for human rights and democracy across Europe and beyond. and lots of other boring but important stuff too long to list here.

Apart from that, what did the EU ever do for us? There is one other little thing: Peace. The EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed. It furthermore assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980. So what has the EU ever done for us? Plenty as you can see. The cynics of course say we could have achieved most of this as a loose trade confederation but quite frankly that’s rubbish; maybe our European neighbours could still achieved much of it without us but with the UK at the heart of Europe, we will still be heard in a world where the UK’s influence as a single country is diminishing rapidly. More on that another time.

I attended my former friend and colleague's funeral recently. The turnout for Barbara was extraordinary showing the multiple bonds of friendship she had created. A member of her family read ‘She Is Gone’ by David Harkins. I did not know this short piece but it became popular after it was read at the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002. Here it is:
You can shed tears that she is gone
or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
or you can open your eyes and see all she has left.

Your heart can be empty because you can't see her
or you can be full of the love you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she's gone
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back

or you can do what she would want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Barbara posing with a cut out of Steve by my desk

Xavier Niel first came to my attention in his fight against the French establishment to win a mobile phone license. He finally succeed after the big boys (Orange, SFR, Bouygues) managed to keep him out for several years. As a result of this, my mobile phone bill has gone down from around 50 euros a month to 2 euros a month. He is sometimes referred to as France’s Steve Jobs (although he is still very much alive). He is fairly unusual in France in that he is a very successful businessman who is anti-establishment, did not have an elite upbringing and is not mates with all the old school politicians and business leaders. After making money in France’s minitel (like an early version of the internet) he went on to run some porn services, had a brush with the law and a prison sentence and then created Free Telecom which revolutionised broadband internet services in France allowing you to buy a complete package of services at a much lower price that the competitors. You can see why the big boys love him so much. Now he is successfully doing the same with mobile telephony. He has amassed a fortune in the process some of which he is investing in a variety of small ventures. Recently he announced the creation of ‘42’, a new university in Paris for Computer Science students which will favour applicants from poorer backgrounds. It will all be free, funded by Niel; unique in the French world of elite schools. A few years back, Niel and a partner bought Le Monde, France’s most prestigious but ailing daily newspaper. ‘We saved The World’ as Niel likes to put it. Our world quite clearly needs more people like Niel!

Unfortunately there always have been and always will be people in our world who are totally insane. And of course everyone’s definition of insanity varies. However, what we can all agree on is that people who murder others in cold blood, people they don’t know, usually for some so-called cause, are utterly nuts. The people I have in mind are those who murdered the off-duty British soldier in Woolwich recently, the Norwegian swivel eyed loon Anders Breivik who shot dead 77 innocent people, the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s who murdered over 1800 people including over 600 civilians, the two men who killed innocent people at the Boston marathon recently. Whilst these people may not appear mad when you talk to them, they clearly ought to be locked up in Broadmoor poison (sorry Freudian slip – should say prison). The point I really want to make here is that the problem is not Islam or any of the other religions and causes these people say they are killing for. The problem is that they are lunatics, often radicalised, influenced, by others. The answer is for all of our religious and political leaders to work together, to condemn such violence, to embrace people who are lost, and not to use this evil to recruit people to their own causes and for their own ends. Fundamentalism and extremism will always breed evil. We all need to work together to embrace difference, welcome people who are unlike us, end parochialism, and above all we must not allow the horror of these acts to change our behaviour in a way that breeds even more hate and violence.

‘If you speak to a man in a language he understands, you speak to his head. If you speak to a man in his OWN language, you speak to his heart’ Nelson Mandela

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