A small piece in the Telegraph today heralds the soon to arrive European health card – about which we will hear a great deal more in the none too distant future.
The same size as a credit card, it is to replace the familiar E111 form for holiday makers who travel to European countries. It will carry the holder's name, date of birth and an identifying number, and will be valid in all EU member states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The idea is a good one, as the card will be valid for five years, instantly recognisable and make the process of obtaining medical services while abroad that much easier.
But there is a price. Announcing its introduction in Brussels in February last year, implementing a decision of the European Council at Barcelona in March 2002, health commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou drew attention to the "powerful symbolic value" of the card. "After the euro", she said, "the European health card is another piece of Europe in your pocket".
This was repeated by Prodi and Ahern in March of this year, with Ahern crowing: "The Health Insurance Card is a very tangible manifestation of an initiative by the European Union which would have real, practical benefits for its citizens".
Needless to say, the card will have "a distinctive European symbol" on it – i.e., the ring of stars and that, together with the triumphal crowing of its progenitors, betrays the real agenda. Once more, a worthwhile example of co-operation between European states has been hijacked by the European Union, in pursuit of building a "European identity", as a stepping stone towards political integration.
That objective was actually flagged up in 1985, in the Adonnino Report (A People's Europe - 6/1985 Bulletin of the European Communities, Suppl. 7/85) as one of the ways of making Europe "meaningful to its citizens", thus making "a substantial contribution to the realisation of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe". The EU, in promoting its version of the health card is cynically exploiting the needs of travellers for its own ends.
In the forthcoming debate on the constitutional referendum, this card will undoubtedly be claimed by the likes of MacShame and others as an example of the benefits of our membership of the European Union. It is no such thing – neither Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway nor Switzerland are members of the EU, yet they are participating in the scheme. It is a good example of intergovernmental co-operation that could have happened without the EU, and is not dependent on it.
By hijacking the idea, the EU is simply bringing co-operation between nations into disrepute, not least – in that it was first proposed in 1985 – because it will have taken the EU 20 years to gets this particular piece of "Europe" into our pockets. Possibly, without the EU, we could have had it earlier.