Posts Tagged ‘Trieste’

LIBERATING AND CONVENIENT

August 23, 2012

Whilst I’ve been away from the UK in Europe, I’ve crossed frontiers a dozen times, and never had to show a passport or identity card, nor declare goods to customs. Eurozone citizens crossing with me did not have to lose money through changing currencies. I lost 8% to the money-changers by having to change sterling.

When I return to the UK on Sunday, I will have show an identity card at Trieste airport as I leave the Schengen zone. When I arrive in the UK two hours later, I will have to queue to show my identity card again.

I’m still trying to discover the supposed benefits of British insularity. Our currency is devalued far more than the euro is. Staying outside Schengen means we are excluded from sharing of security information.

Nobody likes too much regulation, but that’s not the sole preserve of the European Union – national governments do it too. Democratic accountability in the EU? Maybe not great, but Britain has a first-past-the-post voting system that usually gives exclusive power to a party winning around a third of the votes. Not supremely democratic either.

At least I have not only British nationality, but also Swiss, so like most Europeans I can travel around with a small plastic identity card in my wallet rather than a passport. Switzerland doesn’t even belong to the EU, but it has adapted itself to many EU norms and remains safe even after opening up its frontiers within Schengen.

In most respects I love living in England, the place where I was born and grew up, so I’m working hard on my insularity. But for the moment, I don’t quite get it. Just now, I find European harmonisation liberating and convenient.

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Creating peace – an underrated achievement of the EU

August 14, 2009

“Sovereignty of the Free Territory belongs to the people living in that territory.” Anodyne words these may seem, but they are loaded. The corollary is that  sovereignty does NOT belong to those not living there … not any more.

The inscription is on a memorial in a fishing village on Slovenia’s Adriatic coast. The village looks Italian: it has a clock tower like St Mark’s in Venice. It WAS in fact earlier Italian. At the end of World War II Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans seized it together with the city of Trieste.

In 1954, an international treaty gave Trieste to Italy and the rest of the coast to the Yugoslavs. The same evening as the treaty was signed, the Italians from the settlements along the coast left their homes, abandoning pots cooking on stoves, and walked over to Italy as refugees.

They were scared for their lives, and for good reason. The Partisans had slaughtered thousand of Italians on the coast in 1945 before U.N. authority was established. It was a reprisal for the cruel, racist occupation of parts of Slovenia and Croatia during WWII, when Italian Fascists burned villages, shot hostages and sent thousands of young men to concentration camps where they starved and died. The Italians were afraid that withdrawal of the U.N. would lead to another bloodbath.

After 1954, tension continued to run high along a border of barbed wire and armed guards. Trieste was packed with thousands of resentful Italian emigrants. The Yugoslavs bristled with Communist militancy.

By 2004, Slovenia and Italy were both in the European Union. The concept  of government by nation states had reached its limits of absurdity. Many inhabitants in the area had had 5 sets of different state identity papers without ever moving from the house where they were born.  And still no real peace.

Now that both Slovenia and Italy are in the EU, people can move freely from one country to another to work, they use the same currency (the euro), and they drive through the old frontier without having to stop (Schengen).

Harmonious co-existence has broken out. A supranational organisation such as the EU may have its drawbacks, but many in the West do not give it the full credit for creating peace where before there was killing and hatred.


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