Last weekend I was in Chester and Liverpool to meet local authorities and business people interested in developing economic cooperation with Romania. Liverpool John Lennon Airport hosted the launch of a project that could increase trade, and air travel, between the city and Romania. The event was organised by Romania Gateway 2018, a UK company to support Romania in improving absorption of EU funds and use public and private sector investment for large-scale regeneration and infrastructure projects. The initiative received enthusiastic support from local authorities in Cheshire West and Chester, and from members of the Parliament.
I met Councillor Bob Rudd, Lord Mayor of Chester, Councillor Mike Jones, Leader of the Council, Councillor Alan McKie, Councillor Stuart Parker, Graham Evans, Conservative MP for Weaver Vale and Dr Sajjad Karim, Conservative MEP for North West England. I told my interlocutors that in ancient times Romanians' ancestors were among those who built the Hadrian Wall, and now we build together bridges and open gateways between our countries to promote their interests in the world.
I had an inspiring conversation with Dr Sajjad Karim MEP. He is committed to contributing to build a strong United Kingdom that takes on a leadership role in Europe and we both agreed that cooperation with Romania could be an important asset to his plan. He gave a remarkable example of political elegance and fair play when saying: "I apologise for what the UKIP said about Romanians. It was disserving both the UK and Romania. It was something one never does to friends and Romania is a long standing friend of the UK". Later, he posted on Twitter: "After awful bigoted un-British electoral campaign referring Romanians by @UKIP I have reached out to repair with Romanian Ambassador."
In an interview for The Bay Radio, Lancashire, Dr Karim stated: "We have a long historical bilateral relationship with Romania upon which we can build. Network is essential and despite a lot of negativity in the recent months regarding Romanians, Romania is an old friend. The type of ignorance that we have seen displayed in many of our newspapers and indeed spouted by some of our politicians has simply disserved a great nation like the UK. Romania not only has tremendous potential but it is a country that has a lot of expertise and an educated population that does have an outward looking nature. It is exactly the type of people we as a nation can work with. Many Romanian people are deeply upset about the way they have been portrayed in the UK all the recent moths. It is essential that today we reach out and try to repair this relationship."
He was right to say that we have long historical connexions. The ancient name of Chester was "Deva". Deva is today the name of a Romanian town in Transylvania and this is not by coincidence. Chester was founded as a Roman fort with the name Deva Victrix in the year 79 by the Roman Legion II Augusta. In 88 AD, the Emperor Domitian ordered the Legion II Augusta to the lower Danube, at the border of the Kingdom of Dacia (nowadays Romania). After the conquest of Dacia in 106, Legion II Augusta had its garrison in Deva, Romania. In the old Dacian language, "Dava" means "fortress".
I have always been fascinated by history, because if we know the past, we can understand the present and eventually anticipate the future. In the old docks area in Liverpool (the beautiful town of The Beatles), alongside impressive memorials dedicated to those who gave their lives for freedom during the Battle of the Atlantic, there is also the Legacy Sculpture commemorating migration from Liverpool to the new world. It is estimated that approximately nine million people emigrated through the port, many of them being British. The bronze statue shows a young family and is a tribute to all those embarked on a brave and pioneering voyage to start a new life in America. When speaking about the free movement of persons within the EU, some people forget the past. A visit to Liverpool could help refreshing the memory.
What the people I met in Chester in Liverpool do is to put at work the four basic "freedoms" of the EU: the free movement of goods, services, capitals and persons. We all benefit from these four liberties: the City of London is a thriving centre of commerce, services and finance, bringing advantage to the whole of this great country, but also to Europe; the trade between Romania and the UK is almost 3 billion pounds a year; "Romania Gateway 2018" is based on the free movement of services. And because of the free movement of people across Europe, 2.5 million Britons live in another EU country and 120,000 Romanians live now in the UK.
As the capital city of European economic liberalism and the meeting point of most important axes of global interests, London has a long tradition of freedoms. One of the oldest surviving ceremonies is the granting of the Freedom of the City of London. It is believed that the first Freedom was presented in 1237. The Freedom gave the right to do business and work in the square mile. Today most of the practical reasons for obtaining the Freedom of the City have disappeared. It nevertheless remains as a unique part of London's history to which people are proud to be admitted. Prior to 1996, the Freedom was only open to British or Commonwealth Citizens. Now, persons of any nationality may be admitted. Anecdotic, this status continues to offer some "privileges": the right to drive sheep over London Bridge; to carry a naked sword in public (even though I am not sure the City Police would tolerate it); to be married in St Paul's Cathedral; or if the City of London Police finds a freeman drunk and incapable, they will bundle him into a taxi and send him home, rather than throw into a cell.
The four freedoms of the European Union found inspiration in the British history of freedoms. In a way, it is an extension of the old Freedom of the City of London to the scale of a continent. This is one of the reasons Romanians have a great respect for the UK. They deserve to be treated with the same respect.
Post Scriptum: Starting on the 13th of June, I will have the privilege to drive sheep over London Bridge.