Friday, July 01, 2005

EU boons list nets own goal

EU boons list nets own goal, Jul 1 2005
By Ross Smith, The Journal

The Foreign Office is launching a charm offensive to convince the North of the value of the EU as Britain takes over Europe's presidency today.

Benefits cited for the region include 142,000 jobs said to depend on the EU, and £5bn a year coming in from exports to member states.

The department also said the region was receiving £650m in EU funds between 2000 and 2006.

But Newcastle United fans may be puzzled to learn that misfit former striker Patrick Kluivert is considered an example of the benefits of the union, alongside Estonian Sunderland goalkeeper Mart Poom and Middlesbrough's Slovakian international Szilard Nemeth.

And civil servants seem not to know which countries are not EU members.

Gateshead's cultural partnership with Bergen is mentioned, as are flights from Newcastle to Geneva - yet neither Norway or Switzerland is in the EU. But the list says 44% of tourist visits to Northumbria in 2002 came from EU countries and 411 students from the North-East took part in the Erasmus exchange programme between European universities.

Britain takes the presidency of the EU for the next six months in the midst of the crisis following the rejection of a draft constitution by France and the Netherlands.

Europe Minister Douglas Alexander said: "The proof that Europe has been good for Britain is all around us.

"I believe in what works for Britain - and a reforming Europe works for Britain.

"And, in the weeks and months ahead, I want to make that case on the basis of the facts about the practical benefits of European membership and why Britain should be a leading European power."

But Sunderland anti-EU campaigner Neil Herron said: "To infer that without the EU we would not have cheap airlines or student exchanges, or even foreign footballers, is at best misleading - at worst totally disingenuous and dishonest.

"The best one is the tourist one. Do you think that the people of the North-East are gullible enough to think that the tourists from EU countries only come here because of our EU membership?"

Our cultural benefits can be pretty dramatic

Theatre company Northern Stage has felt the EU's benefits.

It brings European artists to Newcastle and sends North-East productions abroad and director of communications Richard Bliss says free movement within the union makes life a lot easier: there's a lot less bureaucracy and form-filling."

In 2003, a £66,000 grant helped the Newcastle Gateshead Gypsy Festival, with theatre, dance and music from Spain and Germany.

And last year, George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia was put on in conjunction with Catalan company Teatre Romea.

A £1.8m grant is helping redevelop Newcastle Playhouse.

"Hopefully this will draw in visitors, particularly if it's theatre you can't see anywhere else in the country, which will benefit the wider city," Mr Bliss said.

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