I have been reluctantly thinking of writing the post I am writing now for quite a long time. I suppose the disappointment about the European “project” I was sold as a young, dynamic and naive teenager has been growing with the years and reached its highest peak after the events of October the first in Catalonia.
But let me go back in history to the time “Spain” started campaigning for the EU. In those days people were talking about the “Europe of the nations” not the Europe of the states, which were and are, from my modest point of view, an ugly leftover of the colonial times when some countries claimed the right to patronise others. The Europe I used to believe when I was 16 and 17 was one that respected nations and minorities within nations, that allowed people from certain countries to keep their identity and language, way of thinking and the right to decide about their future. I did feel back then, and even more so now, that Catalonia or the Basque country are pretty distinct from the rest of Spain and, therefore, my dream was a united Europe in which each “nation” was considered as such.
The most attractive point about that megalomaniac project called “EU” was the fact that, according to the agreements, citizens of any of the countries that were in the treaty could move freely from country to country and work in any of them.
Nothing, as I found out later, was further away from reality as that. I reckon the general laws of the EU were only enforced to ensure big companies can move transport merchandise and products saving a lot of money from taxes. But for the insignificant citizen, the treaty has turned out to be mere paper.
My first big disappointment started with my experience in Germany, where I moved to improve my German and maybe start a degree at university. But after a 3-month stay I was sent a very formal and direct letter reminding me of the fact that I should leave the country cause I was not in possession of a residence permit. Residence permit. What was it? Was I supposed to have one as a European citizen? Of course I was. I found a sort of job to support myself and when I wanted to register to start a degree in Germany I had my next problem. I could not get my resident permit to become a student if I was working. I needed a work permit but then I wasn’t allowed to study.
It took me a while to understand the core of the problem and even longer to work out a solution. After hours and hours of standing in line at the “Auslandsamt” in Berlin and several days to enquire all the information needed, somebody was explicit enough about it. If I wanted to become a student at university I was supposed to have a regular income- coming for instance from my family- to live from. But work was still forbidden.
The solution to the problem was letting all my family send a big sum of money to my bank account in Germany to make it shiny enough to show it to the authorities. Then I was given the residence permit that entitled me to register for the University exams. Indeed I had to pass them cause, of course, my Spanish level had to be put to a test. I fully understood that.
Needless to say when you get your permit as student ,you can start working pretty easily cause Germans had, back then, the rule that they could hire students and pay them up to 600 DM a month – 300 euros- without having to settle the regular taxes. Students lived for years and years as such with low wages and state money for learners and were not particularly keen on finishing their degrees early. They knew very well some might face difficulties to find a job.
Anyway, I managed to finish the degree- working with the “Lohnsteuerkarte” at first- then as a freelance teacher.
The second big surprise came when I got to know my second German boyfriend who was working in the Finance Ministry . He had to watch over the state aid distributed to private companies in the region of the former GDR. Not only did Spain receive great sums from the EU to trigger the economy of the poorest regions that never really recovered, but also Germany, which took pride in contributing to a big extend to fund, was drying up money collected from all countries. Training programmes in East Germany started but only took place partially, as I suppose it might have been the case in other countries. Private institutions got the money to give future workers six hours of training but they only received four hours instruction. I have never had much faith in Spain cause it has always been corrupt, but finding such a behaviour in Germany was a hard blow for me.
My then boyfriend made his way to the European Commission with the help of the Ministry of Finance. He was becoming an inconvenient worker in Germany since he kept on discovering cases of illicit state aid. So he was sent to Brussels as a national expert, enjoying all the advantages of the EU bureaucrats such as a double salary. His job there seemed irrelevant even to himself.
I had to witness the waste of time and money myself. My boyfriend was German and his level of English was intermediate. He was expected to write the reports in English and then, other employees translated the reports into German again. Completely nonsense! After a while in Brussels I came back to Dresden where I finished my degree and decided to head for Barcelona in 2004.
My big surprise was that nobody, really nobody, could accept my German University degree and I had to go through a long procedure that involved money in translations and time to get it authorised so that I could work in my own country. I kept on wondering what was true about the whole EU project. In 2004 it was already clear to me the EU was only good for big enterprises to save money in the tolls, but as far as citizens were concerned, it wasn’t much help.
I reckon the final disappointment was after the events of the 1st October 2017 in Catalonia. We held a referendum to find out how many people would support independence. The referendum was, according to Spanish constitution, not legal. Well, the PP finances the party by means of ways that are not lawful and against the constitution too but, indeed, those who rule the country make the laws and enforce them only if it suits them.
Voters were dragged outside of polling stations with violence, thrown downstairs by armed policemen and citizens were intimidated by the authorities to prevent them from voting. VOTING FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE! Something engraved in all our democratic minds and hearts. We vote the representatives in our schools, the speakers in the buildings we live in, as a teacher we vote whenever we can,t find an agreement on whether to give a pass to a certain student or not. Are we going to be now hit by policemen to do so? Did we commit a crime for voting? How many times have rulers changed the constitution? Every time it suits them is the answer.
And what was Europe’s reaction to the undemocratic and dictatorial behaviour from Spain? Look away.
Europe has always taken pride in its pillars based on fundamental rights. It recognises the right to self-determination. It “supposedly” stands up for civil rights like freedom of speech. But we have had our Catalan politicians, voted democratically, imprisoned and our Parliament dissolved under the blessing of a Europe full of those fat cats that need to maintain the status quo no matter what. Game over. There are no real “moral” or ethical pillars sustaining the EU. It’s only big concerns and multinational companies that decide on the future of countries and citizens. And we, neglectable part of society, only exist to pay taxes to feel protected against evils that only those on top invent.
The first of October I was too busy to defend the right to vote to think of something else. But I have had enough time to reflect on what has happened till now. The 8th of October Europe died for me. And so did the dream that some politicians, and most certainly the big companies pulling the strings behind them, wanted to sell to me.
As far as I am concerned I’d better be living here among my people, cause there is no such thing like a European law that is going to defend my rights. When I cross the border I am even less valuable than here. I will have to stand up for my rights with the help of my friends, those at the same level and not over me. They, believe me, don’t care about whether I am an European citizen or not. People have always found ways to overcome barriers and borders when they feel empathy. It’s countries and their governments that have a special interest in building walls and I personally feel personal interests and socio-economic level makes us feel a boundary or hostility towards people much more that the piece of land they have been born in. So to start thinking positive I have to stop worrying about treaties that have been signed by politicians I don’t even know. I want to bid Europe farewell to become, for real, a world citizen willing to establish boundaries with anybody capable of standing up for basic human rights such as respect and also to start from scratch in any country where I feel those human rights are guaranteed!