Thursday, 5 June 2014

There's Always a Catch

In his first debate with UKIP's Nigel Farage, there was one really concrete benefit to the public of EU membership which Deputy Prime Minister Clegg could hang his hat on: the abolition of roaming charges.

(Well, not now, but in the near-ish future  probably  and only after another classic, money-guzzling regulatory cock-up.)

"Just imagine!", we were urged, as though being presented a vision of a shining city on a hill, "no more those extortionate roaming charges when you go on holiday; when you want to send a text; when you want to make a call!"

Roaming charges are a pain, to be sure.  
None of the standard-issue, long-discredited hogwash with respect to "three million jobs" and "the top table" had held up, but this was a policy everyone could get behind, surely.

True, the price demanded in exchange for such beneficent regulation is hig
— open borders; a debauched democracy; a plundered Treasury; etc.  but it was something.  Right?

As with so many things, sadly, while the EU is (prospectively) giving to holidaymakers with one hand, it has been taking with the other.  
The EU jobs myth has been
debunked time after time

I discovered this for myself yesterday at an airport in Krakow, when I tried to purchase a bottle of Żubrówka 
— a very characteristic bison grass vodka, native to Poland — in the small duty-free shop.

Two prices were listed: one for around twenty-five Polish 
złoty, listed on a red label marked "duty free", and one for nearer sixty, listed on a blue label emblazoned with the EU's circle of stars.  My partner and I figured that the former listing must represent the price in the shop, and the latter the ordinary price including duty  we were being show what a good deal we were getting.

In fact, it turned out that the former sum applied only to travellers leaving the EU 
— bound for the the supposedly resurgent Evil Empire in Russia, perhaps, or to sign up with the British jihad in Syria while "EU Citizens" moving within the EU were gifted the dubious privilege of paying full price. 

The European Union, it turns out, abolished duty-free sales for travel between its members way back in 1999.  Ordinary Britons and British businesses didn't want this, of course:

The duty-free lobby estimates that up to 100,000 jobs will be lost at ports and airports and amongst airline and ferry staff - with 30,000 jobs at risk in the UK alone.  A spokeswoman for Luton airport in Bedfordshire called the decision "a major blow", arguing that 11% of the airport's total income came from duty-free.  "This is likely to lead to higher costs for travel and it could hit jobs in the travel industry", she added.  British Airways warned the abolition could translate into increased landing charges for airlines by about 15%.

In the end, Britain, France and Germany all tried to secure an eleventh hour stay of execution for European duty-free, but were unsuccessful.  Jacques Santer's Commission forced the measure through, despite the fact that it was technically resigned, following the Edith Cresson scandal.

This was an early, concrete realisation Jacques Delors's dream, that the European Commission "should become a political executive", able to "define essential common interests" 
— and to Hell with the opinion of the member states' elected governments.
Hovercraft Swift meets her end at
the breaker's yard
Fears that the move would damage British businesses proved to be well-founded, with its most famous casualty being the much-loved Channel hovercraft fleet.  

Its owners bought a few extra years by selling off these icons of modern British engineering to museums and scrap merchants and replacing them with catamarans, but by 2006 the jig was up and the company went into liquidation, leaving former workers in fear for their pensions.

(So much for Mr Clegg's alleged Euro-jobs, incidentally.)

I confess that all of this had completely passed me by until now  I do not enjoy all the opportunities for regular, personally profitable foreign travel indulged by Euro-politicians, unfortunately.  None of it leaves me with the impression that British tourists (or the tourism industry) are getting a particularly good deal out of the European Union.

With or without those roaming charges.

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