Tag Archives: UK

“My word is my bond” – but not for EU citizens in the UK!

As many of you know, I recently moved to the UK to start a PhD. (that is also the reason why this blog has been a bit silent recently).  Everyone that has ever moved abroad knows that it is quite a mess especially in the first couple of weeks. In my case I had to settle down at the University, find a place to live, get a new phone number and a new bank account. As I lived in several other countries before, finding a suitable place to live is the most difficult thing to do usually (at least for me)…

But this time it was a bit different. Surprisingly, the most annoying issue surrounding my move has been the UK banks. (And I am not talking about the financial super crisis… and Gordon Browns rescue plans for the banks and himself).

The situation is as follows: I am a postgraduate research student with a studentship (= regular income for the banks, right?) and I am a EU citizen. What do I need? – Basically a cheap (preferably free) current account with a debit card that I can use everywhere in Europe. Since I will be travelling a lot, it would also be good to be able to use the debit card without any fee abroad. You might ask yourself how I came up with these specification? Well basically that is the kind of account I have in Germany. As you can see, I neither need a flexible overdraft scheme nor a proper credit card.

So what happened? Innocent as I am I walked into several high street banks and told them my story. I expected to be treated as a normal student (we are all Europeans, right?) and I expected to be offered a student account (which is usually free of charge and comes with a couple of freebies). But instead I was offered either an “international account” (for “only” £5 -7 a month!) or a cash account (free but usually given to teenagers, so the debit card is not really accepted everywhere).

So what is the problem? I don’t have a credit history in the UK! And I suppose because the UK has not joined the Euro they also do not accept credit histories from other European countries. OK, fair enough, but actually I would be flexible on that as I do not need a flexible overdraft scheme. What actually struck me most about it are two things: The inflexibility of the banks (since I always thought the financial sector is more flexible in the UK than elsewhere in Europe) and the absolute absence of any “European” rule. Basically for the bank it does not make a difference whether somebody is a EU citizen or comes from a country in Africa or South East Asia.  Needless to say that most banks charge huge fees on anything that happens abroad (withdrawals, purchases, transfers). I assume that all this is connected to not being a member of the Eurozone…?

In the end, I decided for one of the “teenager accounts” and I am planning to get another account next year with a different bank (because then I will have credit history…although having no overdraft scheme makes it a bit difficult to prove that). Another proof that something is not working properly here is the following. I have to wait for ONE week to get the account number and TWO weeks for the debit card. Every other bank in every other country (even Belgium!) I used so far was much quicker… I expected to get the number immediately and the card 3-4 days later…

And I really had to laugh while waiting at one of the banks. The TV showed Gordon Brown explaining the financial crisis and that the motto of most brokers is “My word is my bond”… It obviously only applies to brokers and not to customers.

PS: And while we are at it: Another issue that is clearly discriminatory is the issue of Research Council Studentships. You do not need to be British to get one but you must prove that you have been a UK resident (which is funny because there is no registration process….) for three years. At first sight that sounds like a reasonable thing but just think a bit further: British citizen would also be excluded if they decided to study in another EU country for their Bachelor. But the rule is not fair here: British citizens can always claim to have lived at their parents address for these three years…  So who is excluded from the whole scheme? EU citizens (that is Non-British) that on paper are supposed to have the same rights everywhere in the EU! Well of course it is also against the whole idea of making Europe the “most innovative knowledge based society”… but that is already the story of another blog post, I suppose.

Update 25/10/2007: So after 1 week I got my account number, after almost 2 weeks my debit card. I even got my activation code for the Internet banking. However, the PIN code for the debit card is still missing. After reading through the letter I learnt that I had to “activate” my debit card either online or by returning a letter. So after “activating” my online banking account (with the “online activation code”) I was really happy that the “activation” of the debit card actually worked online! So hopefully they will send also the PIN soon since without it the card is pretty useless. Then I had this crazy idea to actually “use” the online banking since I had “activated” it. So, I found out that I needed to order a “card reader” which I somehow expected since they did not send me any online PIN numbers … but the next surprise came immediately: It can take up to 15 days to deliver this card reader!!!

So, the only way that I actually can get my money is queuing at the cashier in a branch of the bank…. (I don’t think I have ever done that in my life…)

I have not yet given up hope as it might be the problem of this particular bank. However, I think this is just ridicolous and not acceptable. It basically can take more than a month until a bank account is fully functioning (+ all the other restrictions I have to live with!)…

Just to put that into perspective: I lived in Belgium, Germany (both famous for bureaucracy) and Romania (known for not being quite as efficient as the rest of Europe), but in all of these countries this whole process of opening a bank account (with debit and credit card, online banking and telephone banking) takes no longer than 3-4 days!


Cameron vs. Brown

Interesting how Gordon Brown defends the EU and the Lisbon Treaty: Conviction or tactics?

Breaking News – Brown to visit Brussels this week!

So finally, after seven months in office British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is to visit the European Institutions for the first time… well, it is about time!

Read the story here.

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EU forces iTunes UK to cut prices

Even though I am not a big fan of iTunes this is good news for consumers in the UK:

Apple is ditching its policy of charging UK consumers more than other Europeans when they buy songs from its iTunes service, following an EU antitrust investigation. The computing giant announced this morning that it will cut prices at its UK iTunes store within six months, bringing them into line with iTunes pricing across Europe.

The move is a significant victory for the Which? consumer watchdog. It prompted the EC’s antitrust proceedings against Apple last year by complaining that British customers paid almost 10% more than those in the eurozone.

So, within 6 months there will be a 10% cut in prices for music download on iTunes UK. Here is the EU press release. At the same time a cartel case against big record companies was dropped because the Commission could not prove that record companies were imposing these sales arrangements on Apple.

I think this is a good example how the EU can actually help consumers in Europe. It would be a good opportunity for the EU to communicate this success in the UK in a clear and concise manner. (The press release is not a good example for that…). But positive EU news usually disappear rather quickly. At the end of the day Apple will run a big advertising campaign to promote lower prices which will probably boost sales. It must be frustrating to work in DG Comp.

Another interesting issue in that context is whether this decision will have any implications on the proposed Commission consultation on how to deal with the online content industry in Europe.

Update 11.1.08: Today David Miliband writes about this issue (Europe Makes a Difference to People’s Lives – Shock) in his blog and reckons that this story “will bring a smile to the Prime Minister”.

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Welcome back!

The summer break is over. Slowly, the Brussels xpat crowd is coming back from holiday.

I just started deleting blog spam….it is incredible what kind of spam you get these days! It used to be only the obvious things about different medications and various operations, as well as dating opportunities…but now they started making compliments:

  • informative post, keep it up.
  • dude cool site i like it very much.
  • revolutionary. breathtaking. awesome post dude.
  • Excellent forum with fantastic references and reading…. well done indeed…
  • great site, nice design.
  • nice choice of colors.

and my favorite:

  • your blog is so important. you are the new media

That should give me indeed enough motivation to go on with my blogging 😉

In case you just returned from your holidays in a remote area without newspapers and Internet connection, you might be interested in what happened during the summer. Here is the ultimate (but incomplete) list of important things you missed:

1. Early elections in Poland! What does this mean for the new EU treaty?

2. European Parliament elections in Romania!

3. Still no government in Belgium! Even summer was cancelled in Brussels this year.

4. The IGC is on the way, Gordon Brown needs strong nerves; and just to make sure: Britain has not lost control of its foreign policy: part 1 and part 2

5. George W. Bush lost Karl Rove and Tony Snow.

6. President Sarkozy is back!! Sarkozy in the US!! A new Iraq strategy?? A deal with Gaddafi!! Cecilia Sarkozy saves Bulgarian hostages (on her own!!)!! Hyperactive president!!

7. Georgia and the mysterious missile; Russia proposes own IMF candidate

8. Germany: Two years of Angie and Italian Mafia in Germany.

9. EU news: EU wants to break up energy giants; The EU and Kosovo

10. Media news: BBC dropped from Russia’s FM waveband; wordpress.com is blocked in Turkey! wordpress.com is still blocked…

11. George Tabori and Ingmar Bergman

In the euroblogosphere two (among many others I have not yet discovered) very interesting new blogs appeared: Brussels Comment and The European Parliament (that wants to find out what Europe has ever done for us).

Bad news for the German speaking blogosphere: The best political blog has decided to call it a day! Good bye Kosmoblog! We will miss you!

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EU achievements

As the weekend comes closer, the media is getting more and more enthusiastic about the achievements of the EU (for a change). The BBC came up with Ten things the EU has done for you (somehow inspired by the popular What has Europe ever done for us? -video) and a guide to the best euromyths.

Unsurprisingly, the EU institutions also want to communicate the success stories. 50 ways forward – Europe’s best successes is the official website of the EU. And the German EU Presidency also celebrates the ‘unprecedented success story‘.

The Independent has a rather entertaining list of 50 reasons to love the EU and a nice comment by Denis MacShane. And because “Lists like this drive the Eurosceptics mad”(Reason Nr. 50!) here is the front page:

50 reasons to love the EU

Giddens in Brussels

Today, Anthony Giddens promoted his new book in Brussels. It is called “Europe in the Global Age” and it is about the “European Social Model”. Before I go into details, I need to stress the fact that I have not read the book and I also do not have the intention to do so. Not because of the fact that I don’t think Giddens is a good writer but I have the feeling (after his presentation) that it offers no new insights into the topic. Giddens offered some nice catch phrases about social justice and economic efficiency but no groundbreaking research results.

He started off calling the EU “a gigantic learning machine” that has various ‘social models’ that obviously learn from each other. The major problem of the European social model (that does not exist in this sense) is not, as commonly argued, globalisation but rather an aging society and the development of a knowledge – based – service – society. According to Giddens there are only best practices but no best models. A society is sustainable only if it manages to do structural reforms to address the challenges of the future. After two years of research he came to the conclusion that three points are essential for a country to be successful in the 21st century:

1. competitiveness has nothing to do with the promotion of low tax regimes

2. social justice and a high level of employment are also important

3. “women and children and young families first”

In the second part of the lecture he stressed the fact that the Lisbon agenda of the EU is “weak on social justice” compared with the economic efficiency/ competitiveness rhetoric. Even though many countries that have pursued policies in the Lisbon agenda style succeeded, Giddens warned that the winners from today might be tomorrows loosers because they might forget about the importance of “social justice”. But we should not think in old patterns here: “The people that are poor today are different from the people that were poor 30 years ago.” Commenting on the current state of the EU, Giddens stressed the fact that we should not be too pessimistic and that the EU is in a much better condition than people think.

All in all, nothing new. And be honest: would you buy the book?


Finally I managed to see the movie with the best title ever: “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”. The movie has been described as quality trash and got a lot of controversial press coverage. For some good comments look here and here and here. In my opinion it is a very funny movie but I don’t want to get into the philosophical debates surrounding it. Love it or hate , take it or leave it! Surprisingly, the movie became a mainstream success and has even topped the box office in the United Studies which is quite odd since it is rather anti-American.

By the way: the scenes in Kazakhstan were filmed in a village called Glod in south-eastern Romania which explains the Romanian swearing at the beginning of the movie. In fact not many people know that Romania has developed a quite professional movie industry due to its relatively low production costs. A list of movies that were directed or produced in Romania can be found here.
However, in my opinion Sacha Baron Cohen is a marketing genius.The campaign for the movie started nearly a year ago (or even earlier) when Borat hosted the MTV European Music Awards being mostly unknown outside the UK. The old quote that all publicity is good publicity has been verified. It began with the story of the removal of his website by the Kazakh authorities. Afterwards lots of little movies appeared on the internet mainly from his TV show. Over the summer, Borat appeared frequently in different places always trying to get as much media coverage as possible.

Finally the trailers were released and everyone was thrilled. Unfortunately, it is a short movie (only 82 min). And the several long trailers here and here (up to 2 min 30) include already the best jokes. I was really looking forward to the movie but I guess I was just a victim of the marketing strategy.

And now the controversy continues: The government of Kazakhstan accused Borat again. Russia banned the movie completely. Some of the people that were mocked by Borat want to earn money as well. Borat got beaten up. Even the Romanian villagers want to take Borat to court. And the result at the box office? The second weekend was even more successful than the first one. In case you want to know how this people got in the movie in the first place I found an interesting article here.