Expats and Europe
I usually try to avoid political issues in ‘Twitters from the Atlantic’, but a number of expats have shared with me their concerns about the recent European Elections. Apathy, as well as dissatisfaction with much of Europe’s political system and political classes, seems to be at the root of the problem. Even so, voting in the European Elections is the only opportunity that we, as expats, get to express our feelings yet, sadly, many expats that I know could not even be bothered to put down their gin and tonics for a few minutes and toddle off to their nearest polling station.
Like many expats, I watched the results of the UK local and European elections with dismay. Although those living in the UK know more about UKIP than I, and will be better placed to make more informed judgments, I am concerned about the implications of UKIP’s success, as well as their growing influence upon the UK political landscape, for both current as well as ‘would be’ expats intent on living in Europe.
Despite the views of its critics, the right to live and work in any country in the EU is a wonderful thing, which should not be given up lightly. There are currently over 300,000 retired expats living in Europe, and many of whom seem to be oblivious to what the UK’s potential withdrawal from the EU could mean for them. Experts agree that pensions, health benefits and investments would all be under threat should the UK withdraw from the European Union.
It is quite clear that UK expats currently have very little representation in the UK. It also appears that there are only very few British politicians who are concerned about the welfare of UK nationals living and working overseas. However, we must remember that we can only live in the country of our choice at the whim of politicians, in agreement with the EU. Should the UKIP bandwagon advance yet further, it could force a referendum that leads to a UK exit from Europe, which could spell disaster for all British expats living in Europe.
We are often told that one of the reasons for the rise of UKIP is the disenchantment of voters with the number of immigrants, European and others, entering the UK. Surely, this argument could also refer to the people of Spain, Italy and France with regard to British expats? I am well aware of the cultural changes that a large number of Brits, for instance, bring to a Spanish village or small town. Is it not reasonable to assume that there could be resentment in much the same way towards us, and particularly if the UK is no longer part of the European family?
To spell it out more clearly, if the UK leaves Europe, it would mean that we would cease to be European citizens and we could no longer have the right to live and move freely in Europe. European laws would no longer protect us, and the right to ensure that British State pensions would be paid in full in Europe would cease. Other benefits would cease to be protected too, including reciprocal health care arrangements that are so important for the retired expat. We would be living in a foreign state, just as any other country outside the EU. In short, should a referendum take place, there is a strong possibility that our lives would change considerably, and not for the better.
The cynics will raise the issue of Switzerland and other countries that, although not part of the European Union, have negotiated agreements and exemptions in favour of their citizens living in other European countries. They argue that no doubt the same would apply to the UK, should an exit occur. It may be the case, but it may not. Personally, I prefer to have the reassurance of a system, as imperfect as it may be, that guarantees me the right to live elsewhere in Europe, and not be at the mercy of populist governments and political parties of the day.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Letters from the Atlantic’ ©Barrie Mahoney