Opinion: Christine Tongue – Europe and me

Christine taught in France in the 70s

I can’t believe that in a few weeks I might have to stop thinking of myself as a European citizen.

Growing up in the West Midlands in Wolverhampton the place was full of Europeans. We had a mad neighbour who’d been in the Dutch resistance and had no fears of climbing on his roof or driving home-made motorcycles very fast as he’d spent the war risking his neck facing much greater dangers.

I had a German physiotherapist who helped to get me walking again after polio. My Southern Irish uncle, the doctor, married my dad’s sister, and turned her into a catholic to the scandal of the Salvationist wing of my family.

My best friend in school was Polish. Her family had come as refugees along with thousands of other east Europeans. I learned to love pyroggi and Polish cheese from the exotic deli that opened up to serve the new residents.

The Second World War threw large parts of Europe up in the air and many landed in the West Midlands factories as that’s where the work was.

So, I was used to the idea that we were part of Europe. When West Indian and Asian people arrived – for the same reasons, jobs in the thriving industries and services – it wasn’t a particularly new experience.

In the 70s it was my turn to migrate. I went round the world, lived in Japan for a while, and finished up teaching English in Paris. I noticed how clean and prosperous it was compared with when I’d been in the 60s when it seemed a very grubby city with peeling posters on the walls and litter everywhere.

I was teaching Parisian businessmen English on a one to one basis because the edict had come down from the French government that they all had to learn English. I discovered a lot about human motivation – I’ll never forget my naughtiest middle-aged pupil, who would shrug gallically and say “teach me if you can!” (in French of course). I won…..

Even though it was a low wage job (the boss of the language school at one point said that just being in Paris should be reward enough) I was properly employed so had to go through a medical to get the French equivalent of a national insurance card. I remember going for a chest xray on the wrong day and finishing up with a bunch of bare chested blokes and having to explain in my terrible French why I was there and why I wouldn’t take my shirt off.

Conditions improved after we teachers joined a French trade union, my first experience of industrial action. More money and holiday pay! It was easy to get a job in France because by that time we were in the European Union.

In 1974 I went home to vote in the referendum to stay in Europe. I didn’t think twice about it – I felt like a citizen of the world so Europe was just a first step in international unity.

There are all kinds of problems with Europe but to me there are a lot more problems with leaving.

Nearly 50 years later I’m still keen on being in Europe. Good employment rights, peace, free movement between countries, co-operation rather than conflict – why mess with that?


  1. I loved this piece which illustrates on a personal level our cultural connections and the benefits of the security and rights our membership has provided. It so saddens me that I will be deprived of my European citizenship in a few weeks.

  2. Whether Britain leaves the UK or not, I shall always think of myself as European, as well as Welsh and British. There’s more to being European than being in the EU.

  3. We will always be Europeans. Leaving an organisation that was sold to us as just a trading platform, and now increasingly wants to legislate our lives undemocratically, is the desire of many of all political shades. True democracy and sovereignty are important. Future plans for the EU include the European Defence Union with aims to include judiciary, policing, security and intelligence etc. Future plans include taxation via Brussels. MEPs have talked out about the sham of voting and the inner circles in the EU. Retired UK military, intelligence and civil servants are raising their own real concerns at the technical notes in proposed agreements preventing democracy. They see the European Defence Union as a real threat, and fear the EU is lining up the US as its new enemy. My late husband was from continental Europe, I worked there for many years and have many European friends. I worked on a project for independent MEPs. We can easily travel and continue our ties with friends across Europe. We do not need to be tethered to an undemocratic organisation, with growing financial problems with the euro, a distain for the people of countries like Greece imposing draconian austerity measures, and new ambitions to take many aspects of national government control away. Look at the history and timelines of the EU and you will discover a great deal of ambitions kept secret, with even Thatcher being told by her bosses to not mention the defence union advocated by Delors. This is not a political debate. It’s about real democracy. We will always be Europeans. But we regain our own voice. I cannot understand now the behaviour of those such as Juncker, Barnier and Verhofstadt are seen as civil, democratic or appetising in anyway, if you look at their comments in detail.

    • If “Lighthouse” has any impartial information on the things which concern her, perhaps she could kindly provide links. A European Defence Union sounds like a good idea to me. As for the US becoming an enemy, the US government wants to sell food which has been produced under hygiene rules considerably laxer than ours. That doesn’t sound as if their intentions are particularly friendly.

      • European Defence Union all over the press today Marva. Facts. Veterans for Britain with very senior people voicing their concerns at all military, policing, 5 eyes, security analysis powers etc being taken away from UK in hidden clauses in the withdrawal agreement. Again, people of all political persuasions have tried to raise this for years and been shut down until now. It is not a good idea when a country’s powers are taken away from them. I don’t welcome chlorine in my water – do you – and we have it this side of the pond. That isn’t friendly either. Bring on the full facts. They are there if you research them and look at indecent outlets such as UK Column.

    • The EU has always been more democratic than the Micky Mouse electoral system used to elect MP’s in this country! It is Proportional, and all EU laws, and Regulations have to be agreed by ALL member states beforehand! I would sooner have a Federal States of Europe which would not, and cannot ever have a quasi dictator like Trump!

      The EU is the second largest economic bloc in the world, after China, and the US has always seen this as threat, because they are only the third! The EU has everyone’s best interests at heart, unlike Boris Johnson who only has HIS self interests at heart! Who is backing him the Americans especially Rupert Murdock, after all Johnson was born an American, in New York! Many of the extreme right manage Hedge Funds like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who stand to make billions once the UK has been sold off to the highest bidder!

      A skilled, highly trained manager or engineer in India, or China can live very well on a tenth of the salary of the equivalent in the UK, which means in order to compete we will have to reduce our incomes to that of the Indians, and Chinese so get used to eating a bowl of rice a day folks, because that’s what will happen to the majority!

    • Well said, remember Degaule, and his “non” there is precious little respect from European Politicians towards the UK.

  4. My older sister was killed in the Blitz, and my Dad was a guard in Belson! That’s a conversation stopper isn’t it, and it stopped me when my Dad told me this, and I was stationed in BAOR Germany in 1962! His regiment had landed in Normandy on D-Day Plus 2, by which time the Germans had woken up, and in his Regimental War Diary the Adjutant noted “Landing went better than expected, only lost 12 men”. The Regiment fought all the way up the French, Belgium coast, freeing vitally important ports, and at the end of hostilities they were used to detain prisoners in Belson, because they were so disease ridden they could have infected the population! Some 13,000 former prisoners continued to die in the first six weeks after liberation, and the bodies had to be Bulldozed into pits! Yet later when I married a German woman, despite initial frosty feelings, both my parents came to love my wife!

    Since 1945 all Europeans have enjoyed peace, this is unique in our history, when you think in the last 200 years there were four devastating wars that killed millions! I was proud to be a European Citizen, and not just a “Subject” of the Queen! My citizenship of Europe will be taken from me if we leave Europe, and all the benefits of being part of the second largest trading bloc in the world, after China will be lost! And for what? Because a minority of little Englanders don’t like foreigners!

    If we leave the EU it will be the greatest act of Self Harm this country will have to endure! The Turnout at the Referendum was only 72%, and the results were 52% to leave, and 48% to remain. So 52% of 72% is about 38% to leave, that means 62% of the electorate did not vote leave, think about it!

    This country is being sold down the river by a parliamentary minority, for what? So we will become a small offshore European island with about us much world influence as Norway, Duuurh!

      • People who seriously read the Daily Express;
        People who think that, at all costs, we should have blue passports;
        People who think that by leaving the EU we will get our Sovereignty back;
        People who believe that, if we leave the EU, all the cod in the North Sea will promptly swim into “our” waters.
        Hope that helps.

  5. Why mess with that – because in a national referendum more people felt differently to the author. It would be easy to compose a piece showing the negative effects of freedom of movement and trying to link vastly different national economies.
    Is overturning the concept of democracy and effectively disenfranchising the electorate worth it ?

    • A referendum is advisory, not mandatory. And given the certain chaos that will arise if we leave Europe, then better maintain the status quo.
      Who was it that said, in 2016:
      “It is surely a boon for the world and for Europe that [Britain] should be intimately engaged with the EU. This is a market on our doorstep, ready for exploitation by
      British firms: the membership fee seems rather small for all that access”?
      Yep. Boris Johnson.
      If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    • Andrew, the facts are 17,400,000 people voted to leave the EU, but there are some 46,500,000 people who make up the electorate! That means about 29,100,000 people did NOT vote to leave the EU, do the sums! The so called Referendum has been hi-jacked by the extremist right wingers, who have their own interests at heart, and who make up a minority parliament! Thank God for those MP’s who do have some integrity, and are trying to stop this take over of our country! Both Hitler, and Mussolini did the same, they both took control of their countries by stealing it from the electorate, and look what happened after that, Gotterdammerung!

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