For a master class in international unity step into Janet Asiliskender’s English class at Blackpool and The Fylde College’s Bennett Avenue campus.
The cream of Europe, old and new, is assembled among 200 students from around the world, keen to make a life in the UK or give themselves a head start back home by mastering English as a second language.
Most are too young to remember when Britain joined the European Economic Community 40 years ago when there were nine member states. Today there are 27 and nine more on the road to membership.
British politicians who recently claimed younger voters have little interest in the EU haven’t met students at this campus - or the even younger pupils at Rossall School who are passionate about the politics of Europe.
Given a referendum – of the sort David Cameron has offered British voters on condition he returns to power – would they opt in or out of the EU?
Andrea Machucova, 28, from Slovakia, moved to England three years ago to make a better life for her daughter, now seven.
She said: “I lost a lot of money when we joined the Euro and wasn’t happy. It’s difficult to get a job there. You earn about 400 Euros a month even when employed. It’s not a good life. In England everything is better. For my country it would be better to come out – but for me personally, for my daughter, I would stay in.”
Milena Lilroua, 38, from Bulgaria, has lived here three years. “I came to give my son, who is 18 and studying criminology, a better education. For younger people it is very difficult. I am happy to stay here and happy EU membership gives my son that opportunity.”
Agnieszka Stepien, 34, and Ryszard Kozac, 36, from Poland, say it is “too late” to leave the EU but feel more stringent safeguards would protect the economies of older member states. “Stay in but work out the problems,” says Ryszard.
Stefano Rizzi, from Italy, calls for “stronger leadership to get back to what Europe should be about.” Federica Nesci, 24, also from Italy, wants out. “Things are bad. We are taxed heavily, there is a big debit, we earn far less there than we do here. It is difficult now for my family. We had two cars, we now have one, all the bills go up. It is hard to find work.”
Rossall School boarders include students from more than 40 countries, including Britain with 50 per cent of the school’s pupil population made up of local children. Many were quick to offer their take on the Eurozone crisis, open borders, overseas study and their own countries’ membership of the EU. Italian International Baccalaureate student Matteo Ghisoni, 18, of Milan, says: “Britain needs to decide whether it really wants to be in or out, because in Italy we have a view the UK does what it wants and that’s not what the EU is supposed to be about. I believe in the principles of the EU but don’t think monetary union has been good. We’ve suffered because of the Euro and it hasn’t been helped by our own politicians who don’t seem capable of getting us out of the mess. If Mr Berlusconi gets re-elected again I think it will be difficult for us wether we’re in the EU or not.”
Konstantin Capatini, 18, born in Bonn, Germany, of Romanian parents, sees two sides of the EU debate, Germany’s pivotal role and Romania’s fledgling status. “It might surprise people in Britain but if Germans had a vote they would probably vote to pull out. Younger voters see our standards of living dropping while Germany ploughs billions into the EU to prop up other economies. It’s also a waste because if you take Romania as an example the country hasn’t seen any benefit from EU funds because the money isn’t getting to where it’s needed which is why so many Romanians want to leave. I don’t think the UK needs Europe as much as Europe needs it.”
Ben Hennicot, 16, from Luxembourg, has real insight as his grandmother, the first woman president of Luxembourg’s parliament in 1989, became an MEP in 2004 and now serves on the equivalent to our House of Lords.
“My grandmother believes the UK has a central role to play which is why I think the UK should stay in and get more involved, rather than being on the sidelines. I’m glad it’s part of the EU as it’s made it easier for overseas students like me to come here to study. For us the EU is the critical platform for trade, prosperity, cultural exchange and security in Europe. The Eurozone is not perhaps a great success story but to scrap the Euro now would be a mistake.”
And Rossall School’s captain Ben Coulburn, 17, of Thornton, concludes: “Lots of my friends and peer group take an interest and I think our place in Europe is important. It is fatuous to say younger people don’t care. David Cameron’s offer of a referendum is only a bargaining tool to get what he wants. If we had a vote tomorrow I’d vote to stay in. We need to be inside the EU for trade and security. It’s been good for the UK and I think my age group will benefit more if we’re part of Europe.”