Interview with Roger Casale (in Bulgarian and English) - Duma , 22 May 2014

Roger Casale was interviewed by the award-winning Bulgarian journalist Velislva Dareva for the publication Duma in Bulgaria.

Read the interview in Bulgarian here

We reproduce the article below in English.

Interview with Roger Casale, Chair, New Europeans

1. When, how and why was the idea New Europeans born? Are the “New” Europeans new and the “old” Europeans old?

First I should say that when we say “New Europeans” we don’t mean Europeans from the now not so  “new” member states.

We mean a new kind of European citizen – citizens who are on the move in Europe, who live and work in another member state whatever their nationality. For example, 2.2m UK citizens live outside the UK but in the EU. For us, they are all new Europeans.

I believe that European citizens who live and work outside their home member state are at the vanguard of a new, exciting and highly significant sense of what it means to be a European in the 21st century.

Out of this growing sense of European identity and citizenship, we believe a new, more citizen-focused Europe can and must be born.

This is what gave rise to the idea of setting up New Europeans, as an association reaching out to EU expat citizens, championing their right to free movement and their political rights to vote.

We want to learn form the experience of expat citizens to understand what changes need to be made in public policy at local, regional, national and European levels of government.

We want to make sure that European expat citizens are registered to vote for local and European elections, that the political parties engage with and represent us well.

We want to open opportunities for European expat citizens to participate in social and political life on an equal basis with others.

In short, we want to give new Europeans a voice.

In the UK context, two further developments spurred the development of our idea.

The 2010 census results were published in 2011 and showed that the number of European expats in the UK had risen over the previous ten years to 2.3m – 3% of the population. Today the number is probably much higher. I certainly hope so because I believe this is good for Britain.

Then David Cameron made a speech saying that he wanted a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

If the UK left the European Union, where would that leave the position of the 2.3m European expats, dependent on their free movement rights as European citizens to be able to live and work in Britain?

Apart from New Europeans, nobody seemed to be asking this question.

Thirdly, we have unfortunately seen a steady descent into a much more anti-immigration style of political rhetoric in the public discourse, coupled with the rise of UKIP.

The attitude of many in Britain towards European expat citizens coming to the UK especially from Bulgaria and Romanian has become very xenophobic.

New Europeans is very concerned about this and we are focused on trying to counter this.

2. The economic crisis and the crisis in Ukraine raise the question – “Which Europe?”  The Europe instrumental to American strategic interests in Europe, the Europe of bureaucrats, the Europe of xenophobes, the Europe of double standards, the Europe that neglects Easter Europe and its citizens, portrayed as “second hand people”, the Europe of greedy capital, the Europe of the banks, the Europe of selfish interests, the Europe of the person with no voice – What is now? Or Europe of freedom and equality?

Well it is certainly true that there are many Europes, not just one!

The Europe I believe in is based on values – the values of the French revolution – liberty, equality and solidarity.

We should recall these values at the start of the 21st century and make sure they are the foundation for everything we do.

I also believe in the strategy of “small victories”.

Many big changes are needed in Europe but it is better to go in first gear in the right direction than full speed in reverse.

We are at the end of the post-war era in Europe, which provided the context and the legitimation for the European project.

This was based not on “input” legitimacy, that is to say democratic participation (although most people were in favour), but rather on “output” legitimacy, namely providing security, prosperity and peace (which it did).

Peace, prosperity and security are as important as before but they no longer provide a sufficient basis for legitimating the European project (and in any case are in increasingly short supply).

The old way of legitimating the European Union was also very top down – it was the vision of the founding fathers (and they were all men, Schumann, Adenauer, De Gasperi, Monnet).

Now it is time for the European citizen to assume our responsibilities as citizens.  Just as Central Europeans did in 1989.

We, as citizens, need to shape a vision for the future. We need to engage with politics. We need to take charge and shape the narrative.

That this is still possible in the Europe of today has been demonstrated by the citizens of the Ukraine.

3. Is there a danger the Europe of nations will degenerate into the Europe of nationalism? What would such a negative outcome lead us to? A Europe of hatred? Who would want to live in such a Europe?

I would not like to live in such a Europe.

If the European project fails, will a Europe of hatred be the outcome? Yes, I think it would.

It is too easy to blame the other rather than to face up to the changes we need to make in ourselves and within our own societies.

The economic and social fall-out would be massive and at the cost of the weak, the vulnerable and the newcomers in our society as it always is.

Is it likely to happen? Well yes, I think there is a real danger of this.

Some say that the European Union is megalithic and all-powerful.

I don’t believe this. I think that European Union institutions are actually fragile. I think they will not be there in 25 years time unless the people of Europe want them to be there.

Just remember how little time it took to dismantle the old Soviet Union. Do we think it would take longer for the European Union to unravel?

The signs of disintegration are there : the rise of Euro-scepticism across Europe, the threat of a UK withdrawal from the European Union), the social impact of the Euro on the economies of Southern Europe, the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and the lack of strategic European response and the crisis in Ukraine.

Putin is counting on the disintegration of Europe , which may be why he is admired by people like Nigel Farage of UKIP in the UK. He is waiting to see what “real estate” becomes available.

This danger is very real as Americans pull back from a Europe that is unable to defend itself and at times seems to lack belief in its own integrity as Union.

Let us see what happens for example in Moldova. Let us see how things develop in Lithuania with the Russian-speaking minorities there.

I see all of these developments as part of the same spectrum of disintegration.

There are those who want to see disintegration. They are strategic, organized and increasingly influential.

Where is the counter-narrative? Who will speak for Europe?  

4. At the discussion in Westminster University you said that the way we treat immigrants is so shameful because it creates groundless fears in the community and exploits these fears because of topical political interests. How can this type of politics (or more accurately, propaganda) be changed?

This is a cheap and dirty kind of politics  but I believe it can be changed into something more positive. We need to address this urgently because if we do not stop it now it will turn into xenophobia, and then into discrimination and then into racism.

I think there are three main things that politicians need to do:

Firstly, politicians need to tell it as it is. They need to say that migration is a positive force in our society, that diversity enriches our cultural and social life and that we depend on migration to fuel economic growth. They need to go further. They need to say that if there is a lack of school places and hospital beds in areas of the UK where there is a high concentration of people who are not British, this is not the fault of the new people in the area but of local and central authorities for not responding in time to the rise in demand. And they need to say that these new school places and hospital beds will be paid for from the taxation of the new citizens who have come to the UK not for a holiday on benefits but to work.

Secondly, politicians need to engage more and promote community engagement. It is quite clear from the opinion surveys that levels of antipathy towards European expat citizens are highest in areas of the UK where very few European expats live. Many people in Britain don’t like the idea of  free movement but they change their opinion when they meet and work with citizens from other EU member states in their communities.

Thirdly, where there is discrimination , politicians must act decisively to stamp this out. Instead of that we have seen politicians actually pursuing discriminatory policies, e.g. in the case of the suspension of student loans to students from Bulgaria and Romania.

The changes to the welfare system which mean that EU citizens coming to the UK need to wait longer for housing benefit are however, not discriminatory in terms of how they operate.  They apply equally to UK citizens returning to the UK from overseas! This is a point which is very often over-looked.  The changes are discriminatory in intent though and were sold that way politically.

5. Month after month the press in Britain is publishing news about some “Bulgarian danger” or “Bulgarian invasion”, although the Bulgarians account for less than 1% of the UK population. Mr. Farage’s party were certain that 26 million Bulgarians would flood into Britain, despite the fact that the population of Bulgaria is only 8 million. Which part of British society is likely to believe such propaganda?

Let us hope that no one will believe this propaganda anymore, not least because the Office of National Statistics  have just published data which shows that the number of Bulgarians and Romanians working in Britain has actually fallen by 4,000 since 1 January 2014 when border restrictions were lifted.

Some invasion.

New Europeans are demanding apologies from UKIP, Migration Watch and all politicians and organizations including the media who made false scaremongering claims about the number of Bulgarians and Romanians who were coming to Britain.

One newspaper, the Daily Mail, even claimed on 31 December that buses and planes from Bulgaria and Romania were completely booked out. New Europeans helped expose these claims as totally without foundation and the case is still before the Press Complaints Commission.

New Europeans has launched a petition demanding a public apology from all concerned and we would be delighted if as many of your readers as possible would sign it.

There is, however, in some parts of the country still a latent fear of the “other” of the “outsider”. This will still be played on by politicians like Nigel Farage and others but it will no longer be possible for them to use the specter of the “Bulgarian invasion”.  Nobody now believes that this such an “invasion” is  going to happen.

6. In Bulgaria we have a saying: a spoonful of brimstone is enough to make honey bitter. The British media and UKIP filled up a vat of brimstone with regard to Bulgarian immigrants, but lately they have toned it down and they are now trying to add one spoonful of honey in order to make the brimstone palatable. Is this possible, or do you think that after the elections the anti-immigrant campaign will start again?

I fear the anti-immigration campaign will start again and we must do our best to try to stop this happening.

New Europeans is stepping up our engagement and dialogue with MPs. We will also take part in a nationwide campaign to “re-brand” the immigration issue leading up to the general election, working in alliance with other organizations who care as passionately about this issue as we do.

The  opinion poll margin between the two main parties, Labour and Conservative is so narrow that they will be tempted to ramp up the anti-immigration rhetoric to avoid losing even a few thousand votes to UKIP. And of course EU expat citizens do not have a vote at general elections in Britain.

We will be working to brand migration in a much more positive way and to try as far as possible to neutralize migration as an election issue – we will make an impact, but I fear that we will not succeed completely as the incentive for parties to play the anti-immigration rhetoric is simply too strong.

7. What’s the Labour Party’s view on Schultz’s idea for a more federal EU?

The Labour Party don’t like Martin Schultz and they certainly don’t like the idea of a more federal Europe whoever is saying it. They did not endorse Mr. Schultz’s candidature as the Leader of the S&D group in the European parliament

Personally I find that regrettable, but at least the Labour Party are still members (for now) of the S&D group.

The Conservatives decision to leave the EPP was a disaster for them I believe and also bad for the UK as a whole.

I would like to see both are major parties in the UK coming back into the European mainstream.

The current position of the Labour and Conservative parties reflects  the semi-detached nature of Britain’s relationship with Europe.

8. How will the Labour Party react if Mr. Farage wins the Euro-elections?

I think it has already been discounted by the Labour party that Mr. Farage is going to win the European elections.

The Labour Party has displayed little interest in the European elections and is not expecting to do well. Its strategy seems to be to avoid doing as badly as the Conservatives.

At the same time, if the UKIP result leads to a split in the Conservative party then Labour will be happy and believe they can win the next General Election.

So the Labour approach to Europe is conditioned  by tactical considerations in the context of domestic politics.

No doubt politics works the same way in all member states but in our case it seems to be particularly extreme.

Love for Europe in Britain is the love that dares not speak its name.

9. What’s your personal reading and prognosis about the crisis in Ukraine?

The people of Ukraine have show a love of freedom which should humble us in the rest of Europe.

Of course there were different elements in the revolution and the situation is a complicated one.

However, many young people died and thousands risked their lives in the name of freedom . We must not let them down.

All possible means must be taken to stabilise the situation and deter Russian aggression and aggrandizement .

I fear there will be civil war in Ukraine and nobody knows what will then happen next.

There is a huge diplomatic challenge ahead to prevent this happening.

In the meantime, economic sanctions and measures to strengthen civil society must be strengthened and kept in place for as long as it takes.

We can also be no question that we would fail to defend the territorial integrity of the European Union.


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