Labour MEP for the North West, Afzal Khan, came to the University for an event by the Lancaster University European Culture Society, delivering a speech on what it means to be European and the challenges that currently face the European Union. On Friday of Week 6 Khan, Vice Chair of the European Parliament Security and Defence Committee, spoke to students on issues such as the EU’s role in immigration, the rise of UKIP and the possibility of a referendum on Britain’s staying in the EU.
Khan clearly felt that it was important to educate and engage young people with politics, and particularly to educate them in the role the European Union plays. He stated that he had spent that morning to speaking to students at a school who revealed to him a political apathy felt by many young people. “It worries me that young people already seem to have quite a negative view of politics.”
Moreover, he believed that many people were unaware of the large role played by the European Union, and thus the MEPs who represent people within it. He stressed that being “the biggest economy in the world”, the role played by the EU is far-reaching and of vital importance, creating jobs and trade links that a lot of people might not immediately appreciate. Further, he stressed that the changing structure of international politics reflects the changing world we live in with greater connectivity globally. “We have increased opportunity to travel around the world, but also our technology allows us to communicate. The means to travel and communicate has made a huge impact on our lives.”
Khan stressed the benefits provided by Great Britain’s involvement in the European Union, saying that it provided the country with “3.5 million jobs and gives us a global bargaining power.” He added that were Great Britain to isolate itself from the EU it would make it far harder for it to compete internationally. “If we are not positioning ourselves in the right place, we can’t compete with China, India and Brazil.” The role the EU plays in expanding opportunities for Britain’s industry was also a key topic raised by the MEP. “£80 billion has been given to us by the EU towards technological development. Without that money, where would we be?”
One key issue for many voters ahead of the 2015 general election will be immigration, something which Afzal Khan feels should be looked at in a positive, rather than negative, light. “In the Cheetham ward when I was a Councillor we had 38 different nationalities; I believe there is a direct link between diversity and success.” He went on to point out that while parties such as UKIP are looking negatively upon EU immigration, “the immigrants coming through the EU are actually net contributors.”
This was a point recognized by Darren Mason, Public Relations Officer for LUECS and one of the organisers of the event. He told SCAN: “[Khan’s speech] allowed us to understand the challenges facing the EU with the rise of UKIP from the viewpoint of a elected European representative. As a society we also feel that it allowed people to start understanding that you can be British AND European, rather than them being separate identities which cant coexist.”
Another topic which Khan was questioned on by the audience was the recent plans for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, linking American and European trade. He replied: “I think too much has been said about the trade agreements with the US. I have concerns, such as about healthcare and the NHS – I don’t want to be in the situation where privatization is happening through the back door. At the moment it is too early, I am meeting people of interest, members of unions, but I think it is too early to make a decision as of yet. We need to safeguard some of our key values.”
Mason saw the speech as a triumph: “The event was a overwhelming success, it provided a opportunity for people to directly communicate with a European politician and break down the barriers which people sometimes feel about the EU.”