Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 15, 2016
This is the follow-up to a two-part column logged during my time touring through the United Kingdom and Europe.
NETHERLANDS?—?First of all, thanks to those who took the time to drop me a note after last week’s column. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the U.K. and Europe.
As our second week drew to a close, our crew took a hop across the channel to Holland, Germany, France and finally Belgium. Aside from a few language barriers (which were conveniently handled by an app on the iPhone) we were landed, through passport control and in business.
Once in the Netherlands, I quickly noticed that movement throughout EU countries was much easier than I had ever anticipated. The airport is chalk full of EU-specific stations, allowing for ease of travel among the countries of the union. Express lanes, quick scan passport services and EU fast pass depots were just a few of the options European travellers had to speed up their entrance into another country. I thought of taking a pic or two of the process, but Dutch airport police were quick to point out the fact that taking photos at that point is strictly forbidden. Needless to say we respected their wishes.
Our time in Holland found us in and around the city of Lichtenvoorde. A very idyllic Dutch locale of approximately 20,000 people. There is clearly wealth present and by all accounts had a much more conservative viewpoint on the European Union than other more liberal centres. They also had fallen victim to the closure of one of their manufacturing plants the week before, so optimism was a bit low, with many local residents feeling their operations were better suited to countries outside the European Union — countries operating with less overhead and fewer restrictions on production. The Dutch papers echoed that sentiment.
The Netherlands is clearly pondering whether an exit from the EU would benefit them — mostly due to the costs involved with EU membership, while trying to compete with more dominant economic players.
Whether “Nexit” is just wishful thinking for the Netherlands or it actually becomes reality will be interesting to see, but for the moment at least it appears to be business as usual for the Dutch.
Looking east, the true benefactor of a revamped EU (especially from an economic standpoint) may be one of those aforementioned bigger players — Germany. Long quiet on many fronts since the Second World War, Germany is looking to take on a bigger role in the revamped union.
Aside from London, which is one of the most diverse cities in the world, Germany as a country seemed to have a highly diverse population, in part due to welcoming more than one million refugees in 2015. While there are distinct differences in culture from country to country, the passing back and forth in this area of Europe was seamless — clearly speaking to the one nation style of leadership, and the diversity that style brings with it.
Obviously there are security concerns with completely free movement, but in the short time we were there it did make for much easier travel.
A European Union that doesn’t list the U.K. as a member means Germany stands to build a stronger economic case for itself, while striving to avoid the same social class concerns stoking the fire right now in the United Kingdom.
As one of the largest centres in the union, post-Brexit, it should allow the Deutschland economy to take full advantage. It should also continue to trigger the upward migration of residents to Germany due to social and political upheaval in places like Turkey and Eastern Europe.
Finally, the fact that Germany relies on such an export-driven economy suits the EU style. Having a common currency (however weak currently) and access to an ever-growing workforce positions the country well in a union without the U.K.
Overall, we encountered a wide range of viewpoints on the next step for both the European Union, as well as the United Kingdom. It was an absolute pleasure to take in so many different cultures and see, listen and learn. Sometimes we were a fish out of water, other times we looked completely comfortable with the swim.
In either case, to be in Europe and the U.K. right now was a tremendous opportunity, a rare chance to witness items of historic significance taking place. I will never forget it.