“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
George Orwell – Animal Farm
British (i.e. in most cases English) knowledge workers are yet indispensable within most Western countries in the European Union.
With their specific and thorough knowledge from f.i. developments in ICT (information and communication technology), business services and the financial industry, as well as their unbeatable, native knowledge of English, these skilled professionals are very sought after by various larger and smaller companies all over Europe. British people can ‘blend in’ in any modern team of programmers, marketing people and financial wizards. They do so, without causing any commotion, as a consequence of mutual misunderstanding (“being lost in translation”) or due to having a different culture with uncommon habits. The British do what they do and we all do what the British do.
Often these British people wander about from one country to another country, as business, financial or ICT 'nomads': they work at a certain place or in a certain country for a number of years and then move on to the next country and employer, before eventually moving back to Great Britain.
Where knowledge workers from (for instance) Eastern Europe or India often do their best to learn the native language in their new host countries after a number of years, the British don't even bother to do so. “We're British and we speak the ‘Lingua Franca’ of the 21st Century. Why should WE learn another language then our own, for God’s sake. Don’t be ridiculous!” And everybody in – at least – The Netherlands accepts this without protests. To quote George Orwell in this matter: some animals are indeed more equal than others!
And so it can be, that in a common meeting at a financial institution in The Netherlands, with nineteen Dutch people present and one Englishman, the whole meeting is held in… English (some would call it ‘Double Dutch’ in The Netherlands) and nobody even blinks with an eye.
Still, these British ICT, financial and business ‘nomads’ get their chances to work abroad and earn their wages there, without the slighest hassle for permits and ‘green cards’, due to the free traffic of workers in the whole European Union.
Every day tens of thousands of Brittons take advantage of this fundamental right, derived from Great Britain’s membership of the European Union.When this is such a fundamental and utterly important attainment, you would think that even the most Europhobic Brittons would respect this fundamental right, as one of the foundations of the European Union.
Well, you might be wrong about that… If you listen closely, you can almost hear the British PM David Cameron sawing the legs from under this fundamental right in the European Union. Not because he wants to do so, deep in his heart, but rather under the electoral pressure of UKIP’s Nigel Farage and the really conservative Tory MP’s and grassroots. In other words: David Cameron is turning into the straw man of the British anti-EU lobby.
The following snippets come from the Financial Times of 20 October:
Urged by members of his own Conservative party to curb immigration and harried by the anti-EU UK Independence party, David Cameron is under pressure to formulate a policy to tackle the issue – and fast. But with the rest of Europe in no mood to rip up the rules allowing freedom of movement within the union, the British prime minister risks angering everyone while pleasing no one.
The prime minister’s aides claim he will set out his position on immigration before Christmas. Whatever he says, he is unlikely to satisfy the eurosceptic bloc of Conservative MPs, let alone quieten Ukip, which wants Britain to leave the EU completely.
At the same time, the rest of Europe has no appetite for abolishing the EU’s founding treaty, which covers freedom of movement for citizens of the union. Angela Merkel, German chancellor, wants to curb benefits for migrants but has no thought of limiting their right to travel for work in the first place.
Speaking on a visit to Ford’s factory at Dagenham on Monday, Mr Cameron said: “We need to address people’s concerns about immigration. I’m very clear about who the boss is, about who I answer to and it is the British people. They want this issue fixed, they are not being unreasonable about it. I will fix it.”
He now wants to limit the movement of workers from existing EU members – but even his own colleagues admit he has yet to work out exactly how. José Manuel Barroso, outgoing president of the European Commission, on Monday repeated his warning that a cap on migrants would be against the EU treaty. For once, he found common ground with Nigel Farage, Ukip leader.
“You cannot do what Mr Cameron is pretending to do and remain a member of the European Union,” Mr Farage said. “It is one of the fundamental cornerstones of the European Union that you have the free movement of people.”
Britain used to be an ardent advocate of the principle, recognising that a single market in goods, services and capital required a fluid labour market. As in the US, Europe’s workers had to be able to go where the jobs were. One European Commission source said: “[The UK government is] driven by an idiotic attempt to out-Ukip Ukip.”
Vince Cable, Lib Dem business secretary, said Mr Cameron’s warning on immigration could hit jobs and investment: “Once you start putting up barriers to free movement of workers within the European Union you destroy its whole essence – which is why the rest of the European Union is not going to allow it.”
The most powerful quote about Cameron’s “misbehaviour” in this discussion about the free traffic of workers within the EU, is the anonymous EU source, who states that Cameron tries to behave more UKIP-ish than Nigel Farage himself (see first red and bold text).
In earlier years, the discussion in Great Britain with respect to immigration had mainly been about the ‘floods of low-wage immigrants from former Eastern Europe’, who would be claiming the jobs of the lower-class British workers in the not too distant future. Yet, this didn’t happen.
Besides that, there have also been fears in the UK (and also in The Netherlands) that herds of East-European immigrants would visit ‘our’ shores to pick up ‘our’ welfare payments and unemployment benefits, after a few months of working (or after not working at all). Apart from a view relatively small scandals, I am still waiting for those herds to show up.
Frankly, we hear more often stories about extortion of East-European workers by Dutch (and probably British too) companies and bosses, than that we hear stories about East-European “workers” sponging on our societies. Most workers from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria are very hard-working people and they often do the work, for which the Dutch are either too expensive, too clumsy or too unfit and spoilt.
As an example: can you imagine a Dutch unemployed person, standing for eight hours in a row behind a flower packaging machine, bundling roses or Gerberas? Or do you see that same unemployed guy or girl picking asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers or paprikas for six to eight hours a day? Most Dutch unemployed people don’t see that either. The East-Europeans are more than happy to fill up the void and earn those Dutch luxury salaries, even though they often get paid less than a genuine Dutch worker would.
So in my humble opinion, the repression of domestic workers by workers from the East-European low wage countries, for which so many Dutch and British people fear, is a smaller problem than most anti-EU parties let you think. It is not that I try to downplay the problem, but I really think it is a containable problem.
Of course, we need to be cautious about the excesses, caused by the free traffic of workers, for our domestic workers, as well as for the foreign workers themselves.
When we suspect abuse of labour protection regulation by obscure temporary labour agencies or witness breaches of collective labour agreements and minimum wage arrangements through opaque fiscal/legal constructs, we should warn the government about that. (Local) government officials should interfere and they should severely punish deliberate (multiple) offenders.
Nevertheless, the free traffic of workers is one of the most treasured attainments of the EU and it will never be put under jeopardy by the rest of the EU member states. Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats (see second red and bold text) was 100% right about that. And when the British are indeed so senseless to fumble with the European immigration laws in their own country after all or even plan to leave the EU, they should think about the consequences for their own British nomad workers all over the European Union.
They should consider that this could even become the end for ‘British workers being more equal than all other workers’ in Europe, as they are hard, but not impossible to replace. These British knowledge workers now receive a warm welcome all over Europe and most of them do truly deserve that.
However, when the UK indeed abolishes the European immigration laws and turns into an ‘inpenetrable island in the European sea’, like even Switzerland has never dared to be, these British workers all over continental Europe could possibly be replaced with knowledge workers from Southern and Eastern Europe or Asia.
In retrospect, these South European, East-European and Indian knowledge workers are willing to learn the language of their host country after all. And at least they don’t pride themselves on perfectly speaking the ‘Lingua Franca’ of the 21st Century, which allegedly “discharges them for eternity” from learning another language!