This week I watched Jean Claude Juncker give his inaugural State of the Union address. As I watched I smiled. I am interested in politics but it rarely makes me happy. But his speech did. I watched as he spoke about the refugee crisis. And I was happy as soon as he started on the subject. Why? Because he called it what it is; a refugee crisis. Not a migrant crisis. Before getting into any detail he had called it what it is. Now I don't know a lot about Mr Juncker's previous dealings as President of Luxembourg or whether or not he got it right with his economic policies during that time (I think a lot of people would say he didn't). I appreciate he makes some odd jokes at times and greets people in his own unique way. He makes some odd decisions. But this time he got it right.
He spoke for some time and if I quoted everything that I agreed with or thought was appropriate then I would basically be repeating his whole speech. He described the situation as "a matter of humanity and human dignity." He talked about the creation of the Geneva convention in 1951 and how it was implemented in order to help those who jumped walls in order to flee war and totalitarian oppression. Just as these people are doing at the moment. He said that asylum was a right. He made this crisis real by asking those in the European Parliament what they would do if it was them with their children in their arms. He quite rightly said "There is no price you would not pay, there is no wall you would not climb, no sea you would not sail, no border you would not cross if it is war or the barbarism of the so-called Islamic State that you are fleeing." When put like that it makes almost all arguments against helping these poor people invalid.
Juncker made sure to remind people that when he was talking about how many refugees need to be accommodated that they were not just numbers but human beings. It really was an empathetic, compassionate speech. He broke down the barriers of religion and subsequent stereotypes and assumptions when he stated "There is no religion, no belief, no philosophy when it comes to refugees."
Sat listening were representatives of all member states. Many were sat with banners in front of them with "Solidarity with Refugees" proudly displayed. These countries applauded and were enthused. They did not tut or heckle when Juncker talked about the allocation of how many refugees each should take. There were of course some who did not agree but in general the plan to accommodate refugees was well received. And at least they were signed up to the scheme.
Now of course Britain is not bound by this scheme so is not obliged to take in these refugees. The European Parliament are gathered together working as a team to help these people who are being forced to leave their own countries and we are one of just three countries who chose to keep ourselves out of this. So we watched, smugly thinking that we are well out of it. That we are better than these people fleeing. And cleverer than those other countries who are having to take them in. Now where are these people fleeing from? Syria, Libya and Afghanistan amongst others. These countries sound familiar. Oh yes, we really care about the people in these countries. We care enough to help them out by sending in the military to sort everything out. Or in the case of Syria to begin with a recent unauthorised drone attack. And then once we drop out bombs and expel "the bad guys" we walk away. Leaving these places to sort themselves out. We care about them, but not enough to actually help the people left in the destruction. We are like the well to do concerned folk in the neighbourhood who understand the need for local authority housing but don't want it on their street. "Oh yes, of course these people need help... Send them to Britain? Oh, gosh no."
The British MEPs looking on did not win me over either. David Coburn MEP heckled Juncker midway through and was shot down quickly. "You can interrupt me from time to time. I will not at each time respond to what you are saying because what you are saying is worthless." Juncker's reply was smart and funny but sadly shows the way we are seen in Europe. Nigel Farage's response to the address was to talk about the "biblical proportions" of those coming and how we need to follow Australia's lead and stop the boats coming. Children are dying on these boats and he wants them turned around and sent back.
I'm embarrassed. I am not proud to be British at the moment. A country made up of people from varied backgrounds. A country with a history of conquering other countries around the world. Not interested working alongside our neighbouring countries to help those in need. It's such a shame. There are so many good people in Britain. So many people willing to help. So many concerned about the welfare of others all around the world. But those in power choose to protect their own interests rather than protect others. Great Britain? Not at the moment.
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