My name is Dan, and I am from Cambridge. I started working in Europe in the mid-nineties. I am an engineer and was working in the car industry, initially with TRW , who make automotive parts. They sent me to work in Koblenz, near Bonn. My father’s family was from Alsace and he was a Biochemistry professor in the University of Bonn, so I would go and have lunch with them every other week from Koblenz. At the time I went to Germany, the UK car industry was not doing very well and Germany was the centre of gravity for design and big projects, so a lot of the highly-skilled jobs were in Germany and Europe, particularly the big projects.
That is what took me out there really.
From Koblenz I was sent to Detroit for a couple of years. I then changed jobs and joined a consultancy firm - PA Consulting. They sent me to Norway to build a car factory and later to Copenhagen to work with Maersk. I lived in Central Copenhagen for 18 months. I moved between, the Netherlands, Eindhoven, and Germany, Munich and Frankfurt. I liked working in Germany but it didn't really excite me to live there. I finally settled for working in Sophia Antipolis, at the time a major tech centre in the South of France, near Nice where I now live. I bought a place and I commute to London. I am in IT start-ups. I would have liked to work in France, but the job market, in my sector, is pretty stagnant and I have to come back to the UK for work. There is not so much mobility in France! People stay in the same job for years on end; the French economic environment is not very vibrant at present.
I do like living in France, I like the relaxed nature of their towns, the fact that you can take three hours for lunch and then work on later. Their attitude to work life balance appeals to me. I am an outdoors person. I climb, sail and ski, so living near mountains is also a great advantage for me. I have made some great friends here; I enjoy being with them and eating good food.
Life can be a bit unpredictable; the French authorities can be inconsistent. I had my bank account closed twice by mistake without any warning and no one took responsibility. That sense of unpredictability can make life interesting but can also be frustrating. I think that is what a lot of English ex pats in France find difficult - the bureaucracy. Their expectations are mixed. They like the country but wish it was run more like England. But you know the education system is so different! French children are taught to think about big ideas and see a bigger vision, so they become quite questioning. When I worked with mixed European teams, not to be too stereotypical, the French always wanted to know Why ? So they could see where their role was and the Germans just said ‘What is required of us?’.
I think the French have a real soft spot for the English in general.
As for engagement with the European Union? I think the English are quite conflicted. In our hearts we like Europe, see ourselves as part of the European family but then we have Brussels! The only thing we hear about Europe is that they take our money and want to tell us how to live! I think people don't understand the separation between the Parliament and the civil service, I worry that we have the perception that there is a class of civil servants with no direct mandate and they are in charge. Surveys show, that Mayors are one of the most popular types of politicians because people vote for them and think they are accountable. Most of us can't grasp the big politics of Europe, can't understand why we need to be together,. Sadly it would probably take a big threat like a war, for them to see why.
I think they could communicate better. Sometimes the European Union is its own worst enemy, discussing the nuances in the standards of free trade to create a level playing field in Europe, when they could be talking about Europe's roles in the world.
I think too we don't understand the different mentalities of people in Europe. The Germans are so exercised by the USA phone tapping of Merkel, as we hear in the Snowden affair. But the British get worked up about energy company profits, - the French would shrug and say that's normal!
It would be good to have a sense of how ordinary people experience Europe, say televised debates or even a Big Brother type show. We do have some discussion on Radio 4 –such as “From Our Own Correspondent”, but that is not everybody's cup of tea. There should also be more openness between the national governments and EU parliament about what they care about, who can do what.