By Don Flynn
The sun has been brilliant over (most) of the UK for four whole days in a row and we are all extraordinarily happy. But if there’s an inkling of truth in the weekend’s news that emergency border control plans are being prepared against the arrival of Greek citizens, abandon hope for the balmy days of summer for years to come…..
The news, circulated over the last few days, that the Home Office is preparing contingency plans to control borders in the event of Greek exit from the euro can be read as evidence of just how bad the government thinks the crisis has the potential to become.
The only circumstances in which such a measure would be permissible under the terms of EU law are if a situation threatening basic public security arises. This has been permitted on limited occasions in the past, for example with the threat of public disorder instigated by travelling football hooligans, as during the European football championship in Germany in 2000, or the actions against anti-globalisation protestors intending to visit Genoa, Italy, in 2001 during the time of a G8 summit in the city.
More recent attempts to limit movement rights across EU frontiers have been intensely controversial. In April 2011 complaints were made against the French government’s alleged violation of rules of the Schengen Agreementwhen it reintroduced visa checks at its border with Italy with the intention of preventing the entry of North African nationals. The accusation here was that France had acted against its duty of solidarity with the Italian authorities by failing to undertake any assessment of the situation in Italy as a consequence of refugee movements induced by the ‘Arab Spring’ in Tunisia, and by not working in collaboration with its partners to deal with any issues arising.
Pity the poor middle classes
Schengen issues don’t arise in the context of what the Home Office is reporting to be considering in relation to Greece. Furthermore, the matter here is reported as being pressures arising from the movement of Greek citizens, rather than third country nationals, as in the French-Italian affair.
What can be expected if Greece does exit from the eurozone at any time in the near future, or even in the less dramatic case of continued super-austerity in the country? It can be expected that any person with euro-denominated assets to protect will want to ensure they are safely out the country if a ‘Grexit’ becomes inevitable. The UK’s readiness to convert crisis-hit euros into sterling will justify the cost of a trip to London for those who can still afford it. But the prospect of even longer queues to clear passport control at Heathrow seems feeble enough justification for not helping out the Greek middle classes in their hour of need, particularly when it is likely to be on terms of exchange considerably to the advantage of UK financial services.
The prospect of waves of currency transfers on the part of the Hellenic petty bourgeoisie doesn’t seem to be the scenario Mrs May is most in fear of during these next few months however. More likely she has in mind the flight of workers seeking opportunities to earn a wage given that this will not be possible for very many in their own country. The UK will doubtless be attractive to some of these refugees from economic disaster as they contemplate life outside their Mediterranean homeland.
Us, or Germany?
There are an estimated 300,000 Greek citizens already in Britain, and with 10.7 million left in Greece there’s some scope for growing that part of the UK’s population. Don’t raise your hopes too high though – a similar sized community is also established in Germany and with the economy of that country now enjoying growth and sucking in migrants at 16-year record levels, we can expect a fair bit of competition in terms of getting ‘the brightest and the best’.
Let’s get back to the fundamental question is whether EU law will even allow the Brits to put up the shutters against the arrival of Greek nationals. As explained above, in the absence of a plausible argument that they are coming here to consume large quantities of lager and riot over either the fortunes of their football team or the iniquities of global capitalism, the answer has to be no.
EU Directives make it absolutely clear however that restrictions on the right of free movement across frontiers “shall not be invoked to service economic ends.” This means that it will be a non-starter for the Home Office to argue that any exceptional measures are need to limited the rights of Greek citizens to come to the UK grounds in order to protect the jobs market for people already here.
End of the world as we know it?
But then again we are talking about circumstances that will arise from a disaster of such proportions – a Greek exit – that contamination will rip right the way across the southern European countries and savage the viability of every national economy on the continent for a decade to come. All bets are off on just about any issue in these circumstances. Whole chunks of European integration are likely to be thrown into reverse as borders are reinvented and nations begin to argue with one another about the proper way to divide up the assets which have accrued in a now-failed European single market. Nothing can be ruled out if this happens, including, for anyone who knows anything about the history of this region of the world, the re-emergence of national rivalry, rising political and economic tension, and even war between states.
It is dangers of this order which make the business of getting a united Europeto work again of absolutely critical importance to us all. Maintaining the right of free movement across national frontiers for citizens (and indeed, extending this to the entire region’s non-citizen residents) is a big part of what has to be preserved if things are not to take further turns for the worse. Because of this the UK government should be told to stop its irresponsible talk of curtailing free movement rights and get us back on track to escape austerity and return to growth.
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This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.