Page last updated at 11:36 GMT, Saturday, 30 May 2009 12:36 UK

Welsh views from abroad of the EU

By Preeti Jha
BBC Wales News

Puerto Banus, southern Spain
Many Britons choose to make their homes in the Spanish sunshine

Polls suggest the view from Wales and the rest of the UK towards the European Union is not as rosy as much of the rest of the continent. So as voters prepare to elect new MEPs on 4 June, what do Welsh expatriates make of it?


"I've never had to consult an MEP - the thought hasn't once crossed my mind," said Newport-born Paul Townsend, who moved nine years ago to Bad Schoenborn, in south west Germany.

Instead, to deal with the issues that might affect him - from traffic to schooling - he would approach the village mayor.

He said: "The European Parliament for me is a background entity that no doubt does a wonderful job, and if it didn't exist we would see the disadvantages.

"But living in a rural part of Germany, it's the mayor and Bundesland institutions that affect my daily life."

Mr Townsend, who works as a translator for a software company, describes himself as "an extremely proud Welshman" but "not an avid fan of politics".

Nesta Wyn Ellis
I think it's the right direction to try and resolve national differences - relevant co-operation to avoid confrontation
Nesta Wyn Ellis, from Llanrwst, living in Paris

"I know about the institution and what it does, but not how it affects my life here," he said.

That UK turnout in European elections has consistently been among the lowest of any EU country - 38.5% in the last election - suggests that others back home may feel the same.

But across the border in Paris, author Nesta Wyn Ellis from Llanrwst, Conwy Valley said the European Parliament is "important for all of us".

"It's given me a sense that we're not all national governments fighting against each other. I think it's the right direction to try and resolve national differences - relevant co-operation to avoid confrontation," she said.

Ms Ellis had previously contested for a seat in Westminster, and thirty years ago she stood as a European parliamentary candidate for north Wales, for the Liberal Party.

'Too many countries'

"When I fought the election I believed we needed a form of democracy in Europe that wasn't just made up of bureaucrats," she said from Paris, where she has lived since 2000.

"But a lot of key decisions are still taken by bureaucrats, there's no taxpayer representation or real democratic reference point."

Ms Ellis blamed, in part, the expansion of the EU. "There are too many countries, it's grown far too quickly to get any coherent democratic process going."

European Parliament in Brussels
The European Parliament building in Brussels

Ten new member states joined the EU in 2004, followed by Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, bringing up the total to 27.

Smaller countries like Wales, however, can benefit from the European Parliament, according to Ms Ellis.

She said: "Poorer rural communities can receive substantial EU grants to finance development - in areas that may not get money from the national government.

"But it's much harder for constituents to achieve results on other issues through their MEP, for instance if they are falling foul of European law."

She added: "I think you can get more done through your own national parliament or local authority than you can achieve through Europe."

Local role?

Costa Blanca resident John Lloyd, 73, from Penallt, Monmouthshire, is sceptical of the European Parliament.

Mr Lloyd moved to Spain with his wife Jacqueline, six years ago, together they run a website business.

He refers specifically to the controversial "land grab" law in Valencia under which property owners have been forced to pay thousands of euros in fees to local developers for improvements in local infrastructure.

Either give it proper powers or abandon the whole thing and save some money
John Lloyd, from Monmouthshire, living on the Costa Blanca

Mr Lloyd said: "We live in a house that could be grabbed, and if we had known we would not have bought it.

"Though we haven't been directly affected we know other expats and Spanish people who have had to pay up to 40,000 euros for services they didn't want or need."

The European Parliament has criticised "extensive urbanisation" practices in Spain, and in a report released in March this year it had suggested interrupting EU aid for the country until the problem is solved.

But Mr Lloyd said that while MEPs had visited the area over the last five years, and the European Parliament had liaised with the Spanish government, in his view it had been "ineffective".

"Either give it proper powers or abandon the whole thing and save some money. The parliament's not been able to do anything about this law, it's totally toothless," he added.

Voting cards have arrived in the post but on 4 June the Lloyds will not be casting their ballot.

Baltic states

In Klaipeda, a seaport city in Lithuania, former civil servant Jeff Lewis from Llanelli has set up a management consultancy company.

He has previously advised the Baltic states Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania on entering the European Union, in 2004, and continues to work on development projects in the region.

Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania
Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, which joined the EU in 2004

"If it gets its priorities right," he said, the European Parliament could provide "great opportunities" for new and emerging countries of the EU.

He added: "But it needs to make sure participating countries are given sufficient funding to address major issues.

Mr Lewis, 60, however, is unhappy with the "appalling" bureaucracy of the EU, and the "lengthy" waiting times for projects to be approved.

"On two of the projects I'm currently working on, with a UK government agency, we have to wait at least six months for approval - in that time conditions change."

But overall Mr Lewis thinks the European Parliament has a very important role to play.

"Lithuania and Wales are very similar in some ways," he said, "both have benefitted from EU funding, particularly in rural development and travel tourism."

Passionate about the development of both his new and native home, Mr Lewis will be following the results of the upcoming elections, and ensuing parliament, closely.



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