Living as an Ausländer has its ups and downs. I know what it’s like to be an alien having spent eleven good years living in the city of Cologne. That’s alien as in belonging to another place rather than the bug eyed monster variety. When you move you are undeniably an outsider, a foreigner, at least that’s the way its starts. Fortunately, the community where I settled was welcoming, tolerant and open. Certainly tolerant of my amateurish use of the German language. In time what started off as unfamiliar became familiar. Even the eccentricities of Carnival in Cologne eventually seeped into the blood. What was initially a crazy spectacle that was best avoided became, at least to me, an annual must see event even in the rain.
Mobility in Europe is a wonderful achievement. It’s a freedom we should cherish. This is why I find the current British debate about immigration so lop-sided and depressing. If anything Britain should be celebrating immigration given that it has fuelled the economic success of the country time and time again.
The White Cliffs of Dover are no greater barrier than the mighty river Rhine or the Alps. What is different is the social attitude we have towards those physical barriers.
With the referendum on whether Britain stays in the EU due to take place on 23 June it’s important to get the facts out on this issue. Let’s begin with the economics. Boring as it sounds if you add up the costs of EU citizens in Britain and compare that with the contribution in taxes you come up with a positive benefit. Moving on to the jobs that people do, and it’s not just the stereotype Polish plumber our NHS and social services are dependent upon staff drawn from far and wide. To a great extent Britain is lucky in that there are so many people with English as a second language. This gives the country an enormous pool of talent to call upon.
There are people who claim that quitting the EU has a benefit. How can this be? Most of the issues that concern the movement of people are cross-border issues. If there is one subject that we need European institutions for it is exactly that – cross-border issues. A lone nation isn’t going to have an impact on global migration but working together there is a chance that problems can be managed.
Let’s have Britain playing a leading role in shaping the future of the EU. Erecting a barbed wire fence on the White Cliffs of Dover is like the story of the little Dutch boy who pocked his finger into a hole in a dyke to stem the flow of water. Sooner or later help is needed.