My name is Ricky Lawton, I am from Liverpool originally. I am now doing a PhD in Environmental Economics at York University. I worked in Madrid for 3 years teaching people English with International House, teaching legal English and doing translations. It's not a job I would have done in the UK. I had just finished my Masters at Liverpool; all my friends were migrating to London. I didn't want to go to London and I met a Spanish girl and decided to move to Spain.
At first it was completely alien. I walked into an extended family so I was immediately involved in the Spanish way of life, socialising was very different! The city (Madrid) felt more egalitarian, it had/s a broader demographic. Unlike the UK the city centre is not a loutish ghetto late at night. There is certainly more of a generational mix.
When my friends came, they found Spain a bit 'backward' in some things. They were surprised about customer service, the fact that you could not pay by card everywhere. They definitely thought it backwards in terms of technology but I think it does have most of the standard 21st Century things going on there. They did feel there was a different atmosphere, the streets as busy at 3.00am as 3.00 in the afternoon, a lot of people living in flats not houses.
I did find the civil service and the banking system very different. It took me the longest time to get my NIE (National Insurance and Identity number) though it is actually easier for English people than others.
Being from Liverpool I am an economic migrant, so even London is a different country. The thing about living in the country of your birth is that you cannot ignore the negatives, you can not disown the elements you don't like, as you can when you live in another member state. I could live permanently in Spain but felt my career options would be limited by the fact that Spanish is not my mother tongue. If you want to really make progress you might have to do it in your own language. I still go back twice a year. I do think the economic crisis has made it a bit more edgy: more tension between the generations.
I came back because I got the funding for my PhD. I would live overseas again, maybe in South America. I like the cultural differences, the way the city was. The close family life and good social networks as well as being somewhere beautiful and picturesque. The quality of life felt good, good weather although winter in Madrid is cold. Learning about a different country, its language. It is a huge enigma, it is about constant discovery, and perhaps greater romance: walking through Gran Via in Madrid is not like walking down the Walworth Road.
The English attitude to Europe is more separatist, even though we owe Europe a lot in terms of legislation like the environmental laws.
I think Europe generally is a good thing. I am quite liberal by English standards, but I too am unsure about Europe sometimes and its efforts at centralised control which are doomed to fail because of human bias and erroneous judgements. Although, if it worked well, it would allow more decentralisation in nation states . How can the EU engage better with citizens? Maybe it needs de mystifying. It appears to be an elite of regulatory experts, and normal people don't have a loud voice. Is it better elsewhere in other member states? I am not sure. There is no purchase at a local level at all; there are not even any spokespersons at national level. They aspire to showing usefulness through process but that doesn't really work. Maybe they could have more popular appeal with a figurehead - a president, say, but that has its own problems
I am aware of discussions about the referendum and think that it could be a good learning process. It is not a debate that we have ever had. The pro-Europeans would have to come out and make their case. The UKIP position is unhelpful. This anti-EU feeling is the English disease (you don’t tend to hear such sentiment in Scotland). I am not sure the other countries in the UK share it. The more fragile your identity, the more likely you are to be worried by Europe.
The EU does need to change the way it relates to ordinary people. People might be encouraged through better online engagement. The organs of EU government are seen as being peopled by technocrats; only a small proportion of those involved are voted for, and the rest is a self-supporting bureaucracy. The EU is actually pretty transparent but its information is very dry. They have lots on line but need to be more imaginative. The EU needs to introduce innovation to the parliamentary democracy system and do more to engage in different ways online. We need more innovation in e-government. The US has done really well with this, and of course it has much lower transaction costs by sharing one language.