Simon Mordue studied French and German at Aston University and took his placement year at a Germany University.
Since graduating from Aston in 1993, he has gone on to work at the European Commission and was appointed to the Director of Strategy and Turkey in 2014.
There were two main reasons. The subjects I studied at "A" levels were French, German and History and I had really enjoyed the history part of my studies. I was very keen to use languages as a tool for a greater understanding of the countries concerned. The course at Aston provided the perfect vehicle to continue to study history and politics but through the French and German language. It was one of the few Universities at the time that offered what were then considered advanced modern languages courses and the opportunity to really get to understand France and Germany. The course content, for me, was both stimulating and fascinating.
Second, Aston is based in one of Britain's largest cities and right in the city centre and it was at that time also a relatively small compact campus. From the moment I visited Aston I was very keen to benefit from what was the best of both worlds.
Today, if I'm not mistaken, Aston has 13,000-14,000 students but at my time there were around three to four thousand students, so you had a feeling of knowing well many of your fellow students. The atmosphere was friendly, supportive and it had a family feel to it.
I had a year out in Germany, which was both a great experience and a good example of the benefits of Britain being a member of the European Union as I went out there on the Erasmus scheme, supported by the European Union. I spent a year immersed in the culture of a German University and German society.
My studies at Aston was in many ways perfect preparation for a lot of the work I do today, which is in the world of diplomacy. An understanding of other societies, of cultural differences, and the ability to use that knowledge to frame your relationship in a way that is conducive to both sides and at times in complex negotiations allows you to get your message across are all keys to success. So the studies that we did and the way that Modern Languages was taught was very good training for this.
When I look at my job today, I don't think I could imagine a better preparatory degree course.
The first advice I would say is congratulations, you have chosen a great University. It is well regarded, well renowned, and it has a good reputation for producing graduates that are well adapted for the modern labour market.
My second piece of advice would be to do something that you enjoy. Life is too short if you don't feel a passion for what you do. A strong interest can motivate you through the good and difficult times.
It is a huge challenge for the European Union. It brings us equally to complex issues, such as how we define ourselves, the notion of solidarity and the notion of unity.
What is particularly difficult at the moment is we are actually dealing with two challenges that have come together. On the one hand the long term phenomenon of economic migration. It is not going away and there is no easy short-term solution for addressing this issue. We need to better enhance our ability to tackle the root causes that generate poverty, conflict and migratory pressure. I am talking about better using our development aid to promote long term sustainable economic development and opportunities at home.
At the same time, we are currently dealing with the impact of the Syrian conflict which has led to the biggest displacement of people since World War II. This is having a huge impact on the countries around Syria such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey but also on the European Union itself. Last year was a particularly challenging year with the average daily numbers of people irregularly arriving across the Aegean Sea peaking at some 6000 people per day. Lives were being lost on a daily basis as the business model of the smugglers paid little heed to the safety of those travelling and the main aim was to maximise the number of people being transported in ill-suited old and decrepit vessels. Since then, there has been an attempt to enhance the support available to the Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon with quite significant funding from the EU, to replace the disorderly migratory flows with legal migration channels and to effectively put the smugglers out of business. More importantly in the month just ended, there was not a single death and the numbers irregularly arriving across the Aegean were down to less than 50 persons a day.
But in the midst of all this, it is also important to not lose sight as to why the people moved in the first place namely the horrific atrocities being committed on a daily basis in Syria. It really is absolutely essential that an end be brought to this terrible conflict.
Finally, I think one other fall-out of the migration crisis has been a revitalisation of the EU-Turkey relationship across many fronts.
The UK referendum on whether they should stay in Europe or not is being held in June. Do you think Britain should stay in the EU?
I'm naturally biased on this given I am a civil servant in a European Union institution for 20 years, so from a personal point of view I would rather naturally say a resounding yes. I believe firmly that the EU is stronger with the UK as part of it and that the UK is equally much stronger in the EU.
It starts with the economic case where clearly European Union membership makes a decisive and positive difference to the economy of the UK. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has for example estimated that EU membership is worth some £62-78bn annually, which is equivalent to roughly ten times the UK's net EU budget contribution and equivalent to £3000 per household. Different studies estimate that between 3m and 4m UK jobs are linked to the EU's single market. I am not suggesting that all of these would go if UK left – but Nissan, Siemens, Airbus and others have publicly expressed concern over this.
The European Union also contributes to a safer world with the idea of armed conflict between Members of the European Union not imaginable today in contrast with 100 or 70 years ago. If you look at the post-second world war institutional architecture, you have NATO, you have the United Nations, the Breton Woods Institutions and in Europe the EU. Simply put, the post-second world war architecture is based upon people working together in international organisations and achieving more together than they can alone.
In so many different areas, I believe fundamentally that the UK is better able to defend its interests and those of its citizens as part of a European Union of over 500 million people where its voice still very much counts.
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