The Wildman is here; he has come for the weekend. Come Sunday morning both of us have gaps in our memory and there is a hole in my whisky collection which neither of us can quite account for. Instead of morning coffee we drink beer at a speed which will postpone Monday for a few hours without turning the clock back to Saturday.
“But come on Brian” says Wildman. “Give me THREE reasons why Britain leaving the EU is a bad thing.”
“It drives a wedge between us and our nearest neighbours at a time when neither of us can afford it, it separates Britain from its biggest trading partner at a time when her economic growth is already being measured in the low single digits, it revokes privileges acquired over the past four decades without recourse to law, it is an arbitrary line in the sand which deprives the young of the opportunities afforded to their parents, it makes superficial promises about freedom of choice whilst forcing us to accept conditional offers of friendship which will eventually bind us in to far less scrupulous allies than we have now.”
I am talking about Donald Trump in this last point and I am agitated. I am conscious that I may have lost count of reasons. Donald Trump is my red rag. The very fact that he is pro-Brexit makes me anti.
“Yeah but I mean what has the EU done for ordinary people. I mean name three real things that the EU has done for ordinary people like you and me.”
I laugh. I am reminded of another famous Brian, the Monty Python version no less:
“What have the Romans ever done for us?”
I think for a moment.
“Deutsche Bahn” I say.
I hate this name. Thinking about Germany’s national railway service gets me even madder than thinking about Brexit or Donald Trump. You would think that — given Germany’s reputation for punctuality, efficiency and technical excellence — our trains would be punctual to the nanosecond but the Deutsche Bahn are living proof that stereotypes can be deceptive.
Scheiss Deutsche Bahn. I say this phrase a lot. Pretty much every day my train is cancelled, arrives late, doesn’t show up for reasons unknown or unstated. Often they show up when they’re least expected — yesterday I saw a ghost train I swear — or at the wrong platform, or they take you to the wrong place and dump you in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. I concede that the trains are just as bad in Britain but that’s hardly a compliment.
The Deutsche Bahn provide a truly awful service and I normally use far worse words than scheisse when I have to describe them. So back to the question: What has the EU ever done for us?
In the case of the Deutsche Bahn the answer is (EC) NR. 1371/2007
To understand that, I’ll take you back two weeks to deepest, darkest, most rural Hesse. You’d have to be a lunatic who’s never applied for a driving licence to try and get around by public transport down there.
In these respects I qualify with ease. I look up a connection requiring 75 minutes, a bus and two trains to cover a distance of seven miles. It is the only connection and it involves travelling along three sides of a square. “Fair enough” I think “I am on my holidays.”
The bus is on time, the first train is five minutes late and the second fails to appear: cancelled due to a mechanical fault. The next is due in two hours’ time. I am further away from my destination than when I started, having paid €4.80 for the privilege. It will take me nearly four hours to complete the journey. Scheiss Deutsche Bahn.
This is not just my opinion. I have shared the carriage with a group of drunken Kickers Offenbach fans. They have reached the same conclusions as I have but have also sussed that the station buffet, the last source of alcohol in the vicinity, is closed. A fine win is instantly forgotten as the red mist descends. One particularly red man is trying to pull open the doors of the buffet room. He will not succeed. I know because I have tried.
It is then that I remember good old (EC) NR. 1371/2007.
Thanks to (EC) NR. 1371/2007 I am entitled to a refund of 50% of the ticket price because the train is more than two hours late. This is an EU directive and there’s nothing the Scheiss Deutsche Bahn can do about it.
The next day, I go to the station, ask for the form and fill it out. The man at the counter asks me if it’s really worth the hassle for €2.40. I tell him that I’m not doing it for the money, I’m doing it to piss off the Deutsche Bahn . They will have to pay for the postage and the cost of the clerical work before they give me my money back. If everybody did this then they would very quickly improve their service, of that I am sure.
On longer, more expensive journeys you can see that this would make even more sense. And not just in Germany; like I say, this is a European directive. Before that, in Germany I would have got nothing.
The EU has some nice tricks when it comes to consumer rights. In a time of globalised business there are plenty of instances where they stand up for the individual. It’s not as if the Deutsche Bahn are going to pull their trains out of Germany and start running them in China after all; it’ll just hit the company in its very fat profit margin.
And it’s not just (EC) NR. 1371/2007. If you’re flying around Europe then 261/2004/EC guarantees you these rights and more. For that reason I choose it as number two on my list of “what has the EU ever done for us?” That one is worth it just for the headaches it causes Michael O’ Leary.
Number three? Well, for sentimental reasons I have to pick 2011/83/EU, colloquially known as the Consumer Rights Directive. Among other things, this gives you the right to revoke any consumer goods or services contract any time within 14 days.
This can be useful if you have a salesman who won’t take his foot out of the doorway or you’re pushed into signing a contract you later regret and on at least one occasion it has saved my bacon. A couple of years ago I signed a contract with a structural surveyor who failed to appear. I called her boss and gave her 24 hours to contact me or else I would invoke 2011/83/EU.
She reacted to the threat admirably. Two days later she left a message on my answering machine. She told me all the times she wouldn’t be available and then asked me to call her back. I did just that. “Fuck off” I said “you’re fired!” I had cancelled the contract the previous evening and there was nothing she could do to prevent it. Previously the German law allowed you to do that only for a period of 48 hours after signing.
So those are my three things that the EU has done for us. I could go on. Wildman is not convinced and in his defence I would admit that my eloquence has deserted me. Fucking surveyors. Scheiss Deutsche Bahn. We both sip our beer in silent contemplation.
“But besides consumer rights, employee protection, economic growth, freedom of movement, cross-border trade, safety standards and improved infrastructure, what has the EU ever done for us?”
Always look on the bright side of life.