The price of a united Europe

February 26, 2008 at 7:25 pm (Politics)

With the recent signing of the Lisbon Treaty the creation of the ‘United States of Europe’ is becoming a very real scenario. While EU politicians tell us of the increased prosperity, equality and peace EU citizens will share, a question mark remains over what the impact will be to our freedom and more importantly, our own safety.

In 2007, the world celebrated the union between East and West Europe when Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union, completing the largest phase of the EU enlargement. Almost overnight, Membership rose from 15 to 27 countries in a move towards greater peace and unity.

Positive concepts such as diversity, solidarity, security, efficiency, growth, employment and liberty were promoted in order to inspire the skeptics of such a vast enlargement. Although citizens were warned that setbacks were bound to occur by uniting 500 million citizens so quickly, EU commissioners promised that by working together these issues could be overcome. Beneath the economics and politics of whether or not enlargement is a good thing, problems have surfaced: organised crime, prostitution and drug trafficking is spreading and affecting more people than ever before and the blame is being laid on citizens of the new member states, mainly Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. This is affecting British citizens in more ways than they imagine because they have become targets of criminals inside and outside of their own country. In particular, ex-patriots who have left Britain in search of a quiet life abroad, in areas such as Portugal, Spain and Greece have fallen victim of organised crime.

Crime hits the Algarve

In May 2006, just months after ten eastern European countries joined the EU, a gang caused chaos in the Eastern Algarve, terrorising ex-patriots, as they carried out 12 violent break-ins, over six months. The gang’s tactics involved breaking into houses late at night, violently beating the occupants before holding them hostage, in some cases for up to eight hours, while taking all their valuables. They forced the hostages to reveal their PIN numbers before sending two of the gang members away to withdraw the money ensuring they have the correct numbers. In one case a man had his finger cut off and a dog was beaten to death.

In February 2007, six weeks after Romania became a member state, police arrested five Romanian men, who have since been charged with involvement in the attacks. The leader of the gang is still at large and believed to be involved in a Polish mafia ring. All the victims, except one Dutch couple, were retired British couples living in remote villas.

Of the 12 attacks carried out, more than two thirds of the victims have chosen to move back to Britain as they no longer feel safe in the Algarve. All of a sudden, in a region that once boasted one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, the papers began reporting regular stabbings, robberies and murder, with the vast majority of cases attributed to Eastern Europeans.While tourist boards pump out statistics claiming that people feel safe, and crime levels are lower, the fact that organised crime has become a major issue in the region gains little attention, as has the lack of police resources to deal with it. The trend has potentially fatal economic implications for an area dependant on tourism.

The victims of these attacks attempted to publicise the issue at the time but only reached the attention of local papers. One 72 year-old man who has now returned to Kent with his wife said: “I lived in the Eastern Algarve for 16 years and never once felt unsafe. Now I cannot even go back there, because the gangs have infiltrated and taken advantage of the remote, sparse landscape and lack of general security. Brits go there to escape the hustle and bustle and the big-brother-like intrusion of CCTV, but now there is such ease of access to the country that hundreds of criminals are in their element. The EU gave some unstable countries access to a country whose police system was barely efficient enough to deal with its own citizens not to mention the huge influx of tourists during seasonal months. It now has the added danger of eastern European crime rings. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Another victim, a 67 year-old woman said: “I admit that I was pro-Europe and very in favour of enlargement but now I have fallen victim to such heinous violence, which can be attributed to this move of unifying countries that are not in a stable position. I read in the papers that the EU Commission said Romania was not ready to be admitted into the EU on January 1, 2007. Four Romanian men attacked me on January 6, 2007. I’m sure for millions of people, this is a great moment of liberation but these things always come at a cost and in this case, the cost has been my personal freedom. I no longer feel safe in Portugal or even in my own country.”

The chilling effect

Polls suggest attitudes towards enlargement are cooling. Forty-six per cent of people questioned in an autumn 2006 Eurobarometer poll were in favour of further enlargement (down from 49% a year months earlier), and 42% were against (up from 39% six months earlier). The rest did not know.However, the picture varies from country to country. People in countries which joined the EU in 2004 seem to be broadly in favour of further enlargement, as are the people of Greece, Sweden and Spain. But in five other member states – Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the UK – only 30-36% support the idea. These countries that take the positive attitude tend to be the ones that believe they have the most to gain from membership or alternatively they have police resources in place capable of dealing with these crime rings.

Most countries have been reluctant to discuss a rise in organised crime however the Norwegian press spoke up about the issue last summer. The police announced that crime in the Nordic countries, in particular prostitution, drug smuggling and armed robbery, had increased since EU’s eastern enlargement.“We feel this paints a bleak picture,” says Chief Inspector Ole Petter Ekhaugen at CID headquarters in Norway to the newspaper ‘Dagsavisen’. Since the enlargement of the EU in 2004 the police have registered an increase in crime perpetrated by people from the Baltic States and Poland.

EU Reaction

The EU has promised since the last enlargement that it will be able to work with new member states to tackle organised crime and trafficking however little evidence of these words in action has appeared. In 2007, EU states agreed that further action must be taken but disagreed on whether to lift the national veto on questions of police and judicial co-operation. According to the EU Commission: “enlargement enables the EU to extend its police and justice cooperation to the new member states, thus making the fight against crime and terrorism more effective. The more EU members integrate their crime-fighting efforts with their neighbours, the better they can protect Europe’s citizens.

There is concern that this move for greater unity could create even more division within the EU. While undoubtedly this is better than 50 years ago when the continent was a divided battlefield, it seems that some citizens feel that if the EU has implemented such a mass enlargement there needs to be some structure in place to protect their own safety.

The differing views on enlargement

We’ve opened up our borders to allow those from poorly developed countries to both abandon their own country’s development, and to bring cheap labour to the UK. Let’s be clear, the only beneficiaries are the employers who don’t want to invest in development and training the UK population. They simply want cheap labour from abroad. This country has ceased to be.Roy West, England

“Why would you not like eastern Europeans to live and work in the UK while loads of Brits come to the sun of the Mediterranean coasts and try to establish their manners and language? Division represents “selfishness” and this is the real problem of our planet today. Unity is the right formula and I am glad to see that “others” have the chance too. Welcome all of you.” Francisco Gomes, Madrid

EU enlargement is a great historic event that ends the division between Eastern and Western Europe. I see a bright future for Europe. Some growing pains are inevitable but the potential for a better world is exciting. Not only will the member states be better off but the entire world could benefit from an expanded EU, especially if it decides to act as a counter force to American imperialism. I wish you all the best of luck. James, Philadelphia, USA

Eastern European workers will undercut our wages. People will still be paid £4.50 an hour in 10 years time. The roads will be more crowded the cities will become more split. This is another nail in the coffin for this once great nation. Why on earth am I going to work in Estonia for 20 pounds a week! They gain and we Brits get taken for a ride again. P Jones, Southampton, UK

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