As a directly elected member of the UK Lib Dems’ ELDR (European Liberal Democratic and Reform Party) Council delegation, I went to their meeting in Estonia, on the far side of the EU and on the edge of Russia, the weekend before last. The meeting got some good preparatory work done, we made some good contacts and our Estonian hosts were most hospitable.
What a remarkable city Tallinn is. In a long visit to the Occupation Museum there I learned something of the terrible ordeal the Estonians endured following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, whereby Hitler and Stalin agreed that Russia could have the previously independent Baltic States – a deal between treacherous crooks that soon fell apart. As a result the Estonians were occupied three times - first by the Russians, then by the Nazis, then by the Russians again, this time until 1991. Despite terrible oppression they retained their spirit and in 1991 got their independence back. What a wonderful people.
I returned to England the eco-friendly way by ferries and trains via the Baltic and Scandinavia. This trip has vividly demonstrated to me the vast geographical size of the EU and the scale of its achievement in uniting so enormous an area by voluntary and peaceful means.
The ferry from Tallinn to Stockholm was a glittering, extremely comfortable palace, the weather was calm and as the sun set over the silvery Baltic Sea the scene looked idyllic. The following morning, in pale sunshine, the ferry glided quietly between the islands of the eastern Swedish archipelago. It was an entrancing voyage. This made it all the more shocking to learn that the Baltic is now an endangered sea, where swimming in summer is dangerous due to poisonous algae blooms. No matter how far I travel, I find it impossible to escape the signs of our planet’s sickness.
In Stockholm I boarded a fast inter-city train that travelled south-west across Sweden, then changed to a local train that crossed a causeway over the sea between Sweden and Denmark - a remarkable engineering feat - to Copenhagen. I had a few hours to look round there, then took another inter-city train travelling west, crossing Denmark from island to island via tunnels and bridges. In Zealand I changed trains for Esbjerg where I boarded MS Dana Sirena for Harwich. This ship, too, was extremely comfortable. In addition to passengers the ship carried a cargo of sea containers, the kind that hurtle through Colchester station on freight trains and make you feel like a midget. I counted 29.
The micro-economics of all this were crazy as returning by cheap flight would have been many times cheaper, but I would have missed out on so much that I have seen and learned.
Back to leafletting for the local elections…