In the last half of March 2016, three separate but interrelated events have served to heighten concerns about the European venture: The deaths of young people studying in Spain, the self-serving behaviour of some British politicians, and the horror of the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels.
Young people from across Europe studying in Barcelona through the Erasmus scheme had the opportunity of a visit to the annual Fallas Festival in Valencia, which culminates in a celebration and burning of giant statues. After the excitement they returned to their coaches to travel back to universities in Barcelona. Sadly one of the vehicles overturned, thirteen of the party were killed and many others were injured.
The impact on the families of those who died is devastating, and the effects on survivors will remain with them for the rest of their lives. These students were taking part in a scheme which brings together many different nationalities to help build a stronger society where people learn to understand and appreciate different cultures and perspectives.
It is also sad to see otherwise rational politicians parting company with fact and using the Referendum on UK membership of the EU for political posturing, personal gain and positioning. The only people who will benefit from exiting the single market are the wealthy. Bankers, hedge fund directors and senior professionals can move their base of operations with relative ease. However, referenda are never won on detailed facts, but on gut feel and fear as presented by politicians of all colours.
The workforce employed in large businesses cannot move if their owners decide to leave the UK. Those employed in small local businesses will see diminished returns, as their customers can no longer afford their services. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has estimated job losses of greater than a million and family revenue reductions on average of £5,000 per year. Taxes will diminish and services will have to be cut further. Our current, globally respected higher education system will lose access to collaborative research funds and the attraction of the UK for international students will diminish further.
Last month I was in Brussels for a meeting to discuss the future of Europe with a group of senior politicians, ambassadors, business people, civil servants, students and Alumni of Regent's University London. On the Monday we discussed all of the threats that Europe faces - including the continuing economic crisis and migration issues. On Tuesday 22nd March I was sitting in our hotel conference suite in central Brussels when we were informed by our speaker, a senior British MEP, that he had just heard about the bombings at Zaventem airport and at nearby Maelbeek Metro station.
We were all advised to stay locked-down in the hotel, but I could see people in the street who, moments before had been going about their normal business, suddenly scared and urgently looking for safety and escape. The staff in the hotel tried to reassure us but the fear in their own eyes was clear. The end result - over thirty deaths, with hundreds suffering from life changing injuries - all as a consequence of brutal attacks aimed at creating long-term fear and disruption.
March 2016 has been a sad, bad month for Europe, but we must not let these events overwhelm us. Sadly, tragic accidents, politicians' self-serving behaviour, and terrorism will continue to impact our daily lives. However, we must not let this prevent young people from travelling and learning from other cultures through schemes like Erasmus.
We should all work to stimulate as much debate around the implications of a UK exit from the EU as possible, not just for Britain alone but for the whole European and global economy. We should point out the dangers of BREXIT in our schools and universities, our workplaces, and in conversation with neighbours and friends.
The bombings in Brussels were a terrible event carried out by ignorant, amoral and irreligious people who do not represent Muslims. None of us must give them the satisfaction of giving way to fear and letting our society become disrupted or divided. The driver of the bombed metro at Maelbeek has already returned to work to show that he will not be intimidated. The band who were playing at the time of the awful murders at the Bataclan in Paris last November are also back. These people set the bar as examples of how we must all continue to push forward.
Let us remain strong in the face of tragedy, reject the weasel-words of bad politicians and refute prejudice against others, as demonstrated by the behaviours of the weak and evil.