What did the freedom of movement mean to me?

A couple of years ago, my daughter had a non-uniform day at school. She wasn’t sure what to wear, however at the end, she picked a Polish football top, with my nickname on it (ksiadz, which means in English priest), and a Croatian scarf (see the photo).

My kids were born into a truly European family. I am Polish and my wife comes originally from Croatia. Yes, I know; their European identity and sense of belonging to different cultures and traditions won’t be taken away, however it might affect our and their lives in the future. When I asked my daughter about the choice of her non-uniform day clothes, she simply said: “I like to call myself a foreigner”. I was pleasantly surprised.

I remember my life, as a student in Croatia, before Poland joined the EU. I remember that every once a month, I had to visit a local police station to prove that I was a genuine student. When we were living in Italy, my wife had to wait quite a long time for the study and a work permit.

The freedom of movement has been part of our lives for many years now. We have always cherished and appreciated the opportunity to live in different parts of Europe. Each experience opened up our horizons and made us more “rounded individuals” (at least, that’s what we both think!). The freedom of movement has played such a vital part in our lives. In actual fact, it was the WAY OF OUR LIFE. it enabled us to:

  • Travel freely without any restrictions
  • Work
  • Study and participate in a number of scholarship programmes
  • Gain additional qualifications
  • Enhance our live chances

Britain has now “departed” from the European Union. For me, it is a sad and nostalgic departure. Although UK left the block at the end of January 2020, the transition period was officially completed on Thursday, 31st December.

I know that this new chapter in the history of the UK is not the end of the world. However, I am also sadly certain that we will get used to this new norm. It is disappointing that, whilst the Portuguese wine, Spanish oranges and French cheese will continue to move freely, people won’t. I wish UK nothing but success. Although this country gave me a lot, I am saddened to see it leave a project which overall has brought us many advantages, most importantly peace and prosperity.


* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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  • James Fowler 1st Jan '21 - 1:22pm

    Michal, thank you for this piece. I am really sad about what has been lost too.

  • Barry Lofty 1st Jan '21 - 2:50pm

    Yes it is the things that enhance our lives that will be sadly missed and being part of a bloc that together can help in times of stress, for all of the fact that life goes on it is a really sad time in more ways than one.

  • Peter Martin 1st Jan '21 - 3:07pm

    “I am saddened to see it leave a project which overall has brought us many advantages, most importantly peace and prosperity.”

    We all want peace but why is it necessary to have a Pan-European political entity to guarantee it? The countries of most other continents seem to get along reasonably well and trade together without resorting to force of arms. Is war likely to break out in South America, for example, because they haven’t followed the European example?

    And if Poland is now so prosperous, why is depopulation a growing problem?


  • Tony Greaves 1st Jan '21 - 3:46pm

    What a sad and surly response to Michal’s inspirational posting. Michal’s story is inspirational because it can and must be the “once and future” in Europe. We will achieve it by, in the meantime, concentrating on the specific and the details rather than the grand design, and slowly working to get closer again.

    And yes there are enough wars going on in the world today. There is no reason why there will not be future wars in South America, or indeed in Europe (which is far from immune as we have seen in the Balkans and Ukraine not so long ago). To think otherwise is to be unbelievably naive.

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Jan '21 - 4:25pm

    @Peter Martin
    Quoting from the page to which you linked:
    “Radom, about 100 kilometers south of Warsaw, is like many towns and smaller Polish cities losing residents. Many of these residents are leaving for bigger cities, such as Warsaw, seeking better economic opportunities. At the same time, slow family formation and low birthrates are further hampering growth.”

    This article is partly about depopulation of smaller towns/cities in favour of larger ones. Isn’t migration within a country to larger cities in search of better economic opportunities a feature of many countries?

    And on the birthrate point – don’t we already have more than enough humans on the planet i.e. mightn’t this be a good thing?

  • Peter Martin 1st Jan '21 - 7:21pm

    @ Tony Greaves,

    I really don’t have any issue with people moving around and forming relationships as they do. It’s the sanctimonious posturing that this is only possible because of the EU and which at the same time guarantees peace which is the objection. The EU has thousands of km of fences on its borders to prevent just such movement. It’s no better than any other political entity in this respect.


    As your argument acknowledges there can be no guarantees against wars. This must include within the EU too. There have been more civil wars than international wars since WW2 so bringing the countries of Europe closer together could mean they are more likely, rather than less likely, to occur.

    Prediction is always difficult, especially when it’s about the future but a possible scenario would be a country leaving the EU/eurozone and defaulting on hundreds of billions of euros in debt. Secession of a territory, even without the added complication of debt default can, as we all know, lead to armed conflict. There’s no reason this cannot happen in the EU too.

  • Andrew Tampion 1st Jan '21 - 10:21pm

    For me the striking thing about Michal’s story is that hec was able to study abroad and meet his wife before either Poland or Croatia joined the EU. This, as Peter Martin points out does tend to undermine the argument that it’s is only through free movement under the EU that moving to live study and work abroad is possible. Although EU freedom of movement will have make this easier for EU member states.
    In a similar way I have seen a number of calls for performers to be given rights to tour in EU countries. While I have no objection to this I do wonder how The Beetles where able to perform in Hamburg for up to 3 months a year in the 1960s when Germany was a member of the European Community and the UK was not.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 2nd Jan '21 - 12:19am

    @ Andrew,

    Many things were possible before the European Union. It’s just that being part of a multinational union made, and continues to make, them easier. Having to report to a police station regularly is not “easy”, it’s a burden, an unnecessary piece of bureaucracy, as you Brexiteers are so opposed to.

    Michal and his family are an example of how freedom of movement opens up opportunities, making moves from country to country less daunting than once they were. Could you get a residence permit, or rely on local services to support you? With freedom of movement, such problems became fewer and easier to solve? The right to retire somewhere warm and still retain your full state pension? Only possible in the European Union as your rights were protected without question? Try the same in most other countries, and see how far your pension is protected.

    And quoting examples from more than fifty years ago is a double-edged sword. My father came here in the early sixties, settled, founded a successful business and raised a family. Nowadays, thanks to this country’s immigration policies, he wouldn’t have been allowed to visit the country, let alone settle in it.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jan '21 - 5:37am

    It makes perfect sense for the PTB in the EU to be committed to the principle of freedom of movement. But only within the EU! They don’t want their external borders to be totally open any more than do other political entities such as the USA and UK. They naturally want their internal borders, such as the one between Germany and Poland, to be just like the ones between Texas and Louisiana, or England and Scotland.

    It is is considered totally normal and natural that anyone can move between the individual States of the USA, to live, work, and form relationships with the people who live there. It wouldn’t, in quite the same way, be a story on Lib Dem Voice for anyone to have moved from, say, Northern Ireland to Wales, met someone, married and raised a family. Then made an argument about the superiority of the UK because it allows freedom of movement.

    This all fits in with the desire of the PTB in EU to become more than just “a multinational union”. Or, it becomes a “multinational union” like the UK where we might all have separate national football teams but there’s only one currency and only one central government.

    Of course it is perfectly reasonable to argue that it would be a good thing for the UK to become part of the emerging structure too. But that’s not why we joined in 1973. The interest of the UK was only ever about being part of a trading bloc. Maybe that will change as the younger generation takes over. We will see if we live long enough.

  • My first train journey across Europe was in about 1960. I travelled from Netherlands to Austria. There were customs checks, there were problems with currency. I cannot say it was a huge inconvenience, but we need to remember that many more people travel now than sixty years ago. We will have to see what the summer brings, but there is little doubt that problems in terms of queues will increase. And for what?
    Some years after that, in the 1970s, I was in Berlin for the weekend. I decided to have a stroll in the East. The formalities crossing the border were far from casual. The story since is well known. However I have visited the former East Germany a number of times, and one of the things that struck me was that it was, and is, very difficult to adjust from one form of system to another.
    We have now put ourselves in a similar position in the U.K. it will take many years to adjust. In the meanwhile many people will have their lives disrupted.
    It seems a heavy price to pay for leaving the world’s only democratic intergovernmental organisation.

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