Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, near London, has terminated its special relationships with its former twin towns in Germany (Friedberg, near Frankfurt) and France (Villiers-sur-Marne). The Guardian, on December 1, interpreted that as the latest manifestation of grassroots Euroscepticism. One of the few opponents in the town council, however, refers to the decision as a moment of ideological lunacy on the part of the Tories. (The Labour Party isn’t represented in the council.)
Friedberg’s mayor is quoted by the Guardian as saying that the decision came as no surprise: “Not enough young people have been involved. These days they go to China, Russia and the US.”
Earlier this year, another Guardian article argued that in Coventry, which has a particularly high number of city partnerships,
a trawl of the local newspaper archives finds many mentions over the last five years of local dignitaries jetting off to various twin towns, but comparatively few tales about ordinary people benefiting.
This was a reflection when Doncaster (east of Manchester) cancelled its trans-channel partnerships.
Many Germans would agree. My experience differs. In fact, England was one of the few affordable destinations for me or my family when I was a child. I was no exception – many of my classmates, too, had their first stay abroad in our English partner town. But things seem to have changed. Well-off families travel the globe, and others either stay at home, or head for southern European destinations during the summer vacations, and straight for the beach, a swimming-pool, or a discotheque. The idea that travelling might be about learning about foreign people and their lives seems to be a thing of the past – or maybe we tend to believe that we know each other well enough, anyway, within Europe.
The Tory members of Bishop Stortford’s city council probably believe that, too.
According to German daily Die Welt, Friedberg’s mayor was surprised, even though the British side had always been somewhat reserved. (The sub-headline, on the other hand, suggests that there had been no surprise.)
Italian partners, too, had been much more reserved during the most recent meeting, Keller is quoted, and that had been a change, as the atmosphere had been much more friendly in the past. And taking a look at the bigger political picture as he sees it, Keller deems Bishop Stortford’s decison as a step back into English isolation (ein Schritt zurück in die englische Isolation).
» China, Myanmar: Friendly Consultations, Oct 3, 2011