Yes, let’s start by acknowledging that the EU is not perfect; no human endeavour is. However, in the grand scheme of history, the European Union is a resounding success story. Some Brexit campaigners often use the argument that voting Leave is a patriotic mandate. You might have noticed that the Leave Campaign tends to appeal to raw emotions and feelings, and that they rarely engage coherently with rational arguments. Now let me add an unusual dimension to the debate: that of an academic, and a Remain campaigner, also resorting to “emotional” language.
Brexiters claim that leaving the EU is the patriotic position, and often depict the pro-EU camp as a conglomerate of sell-outs who have betrayed their national identity. I am a Spanish citizen, and have lived in the UK for almost 15 years now. I don’t consider myself a “citizen of the world” or any of those pretentious tags. I am a Spanish national, and I am proud of my origin, just like British people should take pride in their strong senses of national, cultural and community identities. I love the UK for its diverse identity, for its traditions, its culture and its people. The UK’s university system turned me into the person I am today, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities I was given. As an academic, I have been lucky enough to be part of the journey of hundreds of British students who were opening their hearts and minds to the world, often by means of studying and experiencing the languages, the cultures, the histories, the ways of living and thinking of other European nations, and their impact in our world. These talented, enthusiastic, young British people have a deeply endearing and transformational type of enthusiasm. They benefit, like I did, from programmes like Erasmus Plus, of which the UK is the main beneficiary, and from the opportunities that a Europe without borders offers them. Many of them have set up their own business in my own country, Spain, and are contributing to its prosperity, and to their own happiness. Some return to the UK with a global outlook from which the UK itself greatly benefits.
My message is that I want future generations of Brits to have the same opportunities that I had, and that our young students have these days. This is about our wonderfully different nations being able to live and love with each other. This is about being able to continue exploring our continent, our world, to have the freedom to experience a richer, more dynamic, more fulfilling life. The European Union changed my life for the better. It has allowed me to be a proud Spaniard who plays a modest role in the life of a country, the UK, I love. Let’s keep these opportunities open. Let’s not take a step back in history.
Yes, these are challenging times. Our world seems to operate in less humane ways, and it is tempting to retreat into one’s own comfort zone. It is tempting to blame “the others”. But it is not the right answer. In these times of uncertainty, the EU provides a protective shield against the rise of extremism and hatred; it also shelters people like you and I from those inhumane, jungle-law tendencies that try to trade with our values, our lifestyles, our rights as human beings.
The last time our continent went through such stormy waters, there was no European Union to help us out of the downward spiral. Let’s stay together. Let’s be positive about what we have in common, and, crucially, let’s also be positive about what we don’t.