One thing I never got used to as a Euro MP was the reaction of certain British people who seemed to think that everything that had any slight connection with Europe must be related to some covert attack on our national way of life in Britain. Yet sadly this mistrust is all pervasive, so imagine speaking to someone senior in the airline industry with a view to them providing public safety information to their passengers or travellers and being told that they couldn’t be involved in anything ‘political’. Surely saving lives, ensuring the safety of our fellow citizens, is indeed political and should be the concern of us all.
Over a year ago when I sat at the awards ceremony of the 112 Foundation in Brussels, I was speaking to my table companions about what we could do to improve knowledge of the number in the UK. Amongst them were officers and executives from the London Ambulance Service who had won an award and a director of Language Line, Vanessa Eke. Language Line ensures that those calling the number in the UK can be immediately put through to someone who can speak their language. In this sense the UK runs a spectacular 112 service for our visitors; we just don’t tell our own people about the number they need to dial should they need help in another EU country. 999 won’t get you anywhere – you need (and kids need) to know 112.
Vanessa and I fell to talking and I explained that we had tried to contact some airlines to enlist their support but not with a great deal of success. She encouraged me to try again, emphasizing this was a public safety message and so how could anyone object. So I went back to my office determined to try again and with the persistent help of my assistant Sam Kynman before the Easter break we had a significant number of UK carriers signed up. Of course, it had a snowball effect with information being published in various places; in-flight magazines, onboard announcements, ticketing documents and the like. Of course it is never enough and the UK still has a lamentable awareness level when it comes to the magic life-saving number 112.
So I am grateful to receive the 112’s award for an outstanding political initiative, but it must be with an acknowledgement to those who encouraged and helped me: Vanessa and Sam. Also indeed thanks to the 112 Foundation for bringing us together and providing the motivation. It does not matter who makes us safe and, if it is Europe, well then three cheers for Europe!