Yesterday British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that an in / out referendum on whether the UK should remain as part of the European Union will take place on Thursday 23rd June 2016. Now’s the time to start thinking about and talking about what this means for our resorts, our communities and our status as ex-pats in the local area.
To engage debate and ask the relevant questions, Source Magazine has enlisted the help of David Freeman a political journalist based in the UK who has a special interest in the local area. Here’s the first of David’s instalments, which opens the debate and considers the likely impact an ‘out’ vote might have our our favourite resorts.
Is this the last winter season in Morzine for the seasonaires from the UK ?
The EU referendum may decide !
Morzine, Les Gets, Montriond and Avoriaz are all buzzing with life. People travel from all over the world to enjoy the mountains, summer and winter, but not everyone travels to play. There is a huge community of people, united by a love of the mountains and the enjoyment of a party, who work together to make the place run smoothly and provide the services the visitors need.
Whether its building chalets, driving transfer buses, cooking, bar work, translating and more, the resorts depend on the seasonaires and travel company staff as much as they, in turn, depend on the resort.
A huge proportion of the people working in and around Morzine are British. They don’t have to think about visas and work permits today. They can run businesses, operate chalet companies, lease property and more. That may change, or become a lot harder, if the UK votes to leave the EU.
Over the last sixty years skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking have became sports enjoyed by millions and not just the wealthy few. The EU has played a huge role in making that happen.
The Channel Tunnel was built, low cost airlines started operating and suddenly travelling to the Alps became as easy as travelling to Glasgow, Edinburgh and other destinations within the UK itself.
The European Union has given those people in the UK who live, work, invest, own property and enjoy the mountains an increased level of security and comfort, knowing that they have a right to be there and understanding that they also have status within the region.
If the UK leaves the European Union, no one knows what the impact will be on those who love to live or work or visit the mountains. Property owners may find that it becomes more complicated to obtain planning permission to carry out works and to own property. Those students about to enjoy a gap year may find it more complicated to get working visas that will almost certainly be required for UK citizens working in Europe.
Seasonaires who help resorts to run smoothly, who provide the transfer drivers on whom we all depend, who build the chalets in which we stay will all find that they are, if from the UK, displaced by others from countries that remain within Europe.
These all sound like “first world problems” on a globe that faces far more challenging and difficult times. These concerns cannot compare with the tragedy, trauma and chaos of the refugee crisis but there is one area in which you can link the outcome of the EU Referendum with the chaos in the Middle East and conflict in the World and the tragedies they cause.
Most people enjoying the mountains today are too young to remember the reality of the First and Second World Wars. As that collective memory fades, so too does the concern about the likelihood of war within Continental Europe itself.
The European Union has grown in size, perhaps it is too large and complicated and it certainly needs reform, but it does represent an attempt by its members to ensure that there are mechanisms to resolve disputes and, most important of all, it encourages travel and trade within the European Union which has, in turn, increased contact at a grass roots level between the populations of all European countries.
After the Second World War, a small group of people established an organisation in Hammersmith, London called “The Link”. The purpose of The Link was to take people from London to Austria and Germany immediately after the war so they could be introduced to and make friends with former enemies. People from Germany and Austria were also brought to London for the same purpose.
The purpose of these exchange visits was clear. It was an attempt to try to ensure that the death, destruction and tragedy of the Second World War never happened in Europe again.
Those small efforts, coupled with larger political efforts that led to the establishment of the European Union have worked. Whilst there may have been disputes and conflicts, there has been no war on the scale of the First and Second World Wars within Europe for more than 60 years.
There can be no doubt that if the UK leaves the EU, it will put a strain on the union itself. Other countries will think about similar action, just as regions within countries, Scotland, Catalonia and others, are looking to see if they can become independent states themselves.
People living and working in the mountains, may not be thinking about these issues. However, the combination of the real risk to the mountain life style that so many enjoy, coupled with the risk of increased conflict, should make everyone think about whether to vote and how to vote.
The British Government website www.gov.uk (search for postal vote application form) enables people to register on line to vote in the Referendum by post provided they have not lived outside the UK for more than 15 years. You can also nominate someone else to vote for you, called proxy voting.
Those of us who are concerned about the possibility of the UK leaving the EU hope that expatriate organisations, bars, clubs and social networks whose members enjoy the mountains and who depend on easy access and the right to work, will think about registering to vote to ensuring that the Referendum does not bring an end the fantastic time we all have in Morzine and the EU alps !
Seasonaires should also be reminding the guests in their chalets, the passengers they drive, and the tourists they help, that it might be rather different in the future if the UK leaves the EU. Let us hope the ski-ing and boarding community, whether seasonaire, tourist or investor will vote to stay.