Je suis Européen et fier de l’être!

With the EU Referendum approaching, here are the views of James Edwards, a second-year Politics and International Relations student and founder of the Southampton University Students for Europe society.

James Edwards

James Edwards, BSc Politics & International Relations

In June, Britain will have a referendum on whether to remain a member of the European Union or not. For most students this will be our first opportunity to have our say on the EU. I will not get bogged down with broad arguments and heavy statistics in this blog but will rather focus on what we have now. This year, we will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to decide our future: let’s not forget everything we have gained in past generations.

Imagine a typical day for most students: waking up, a quick breakfast, then off to lectures. Lunch spent chatting with some friends, then more lectures in the afternoon. Sounds simple enough, right? What that doesn’t include are some basic facts that most of us take for granted, in particular the lecturers themselves. At a university like Southampton many of them are from the EU and can only work here with such ease thanks to our membership of the EU. What about what they teach you here? Without membership of the EU there would be nowhere near the same amount of research funding available, which could impact on the quality of our education.

How about at lunch, chatting with your friends? There’s a good chance some of them are from the EU and while, at times, your friends may annoy you, I doubt you would never want to see them again. The point I am trying to illustrate is that for many of us those factors seem like just background noise, these EU migrants just a statistic we keep hearing on the news each night, but these are real people, real lives – our colleagues and friends futures’ we are talking about. Let’s not forget that.

Following on from my last point is the increased community that membership of the EU provides us. In 2012 an estimated 14,500 UK students took part in the Erasmus student exchange scheme, spending a semester abroad in Belgium, Spain, Italy… an experience made possible primarily because of the EU. Should we leave the EU it is likely we would lose our position as a Programme country and instead become at best, a Partner country like Russia. It is even possible, due to any internal changes the UK may make to its freedom of movement policies, that we may end up like Switzerland unable to access funding support for Erasmus students.

For all the talk from the Leave EU campaigns about how Britain could still maintain many trade agreements with our neighbours if we left, schemes like this would simply not be possible for us to continue with in the current way. Furthermore, how about where you choose to work in the future? Around 1.4 million British people live abroad in the EU; without membership of it we lose the ease with which we can access so many jobs and opportunities.

As a student I have never had the chance before to have my say on whether I believe Britain should be a member of the EU. For that reason I am excited that we are having a referendum on this issue. However, for the sake of my European friends, I am worried about their future should we leave the EU, and for the sake of my own future job prospects, risking that £400 billion a year of exports to the EU seems downright foolish.

Finally, as a European, I remember the history of the EU, founded after two World Wars pillaged our fragile continent and set the world on fire, founded to make sure that never did we turn on each other again, to those who survived the wars, the Union was a hope that we could, as Churchill put it, “regain the simple joys and hopes that make life worth living”. What next for the EU in this century? With issues like climate change, the constant threat of terrorism, not to mention the high levels of poverty that still exist in the world, I have a feeling we will need the EU more than ever before.

James’ blog originally appeared on Public Policy @ Southampton’s blog page, Views on Europe.

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