Let’s go somewhere nice. Let’s escape the harsh winds of change, the fog of obfuscation and the mighty storm that is brewing in our unsettled political landscape and instead talk about a place in Europe that encapsulates what it is to be a modern European – Valencia. Patricia del Pino Roman sets us on our way.
Recently Guy Verhofstadt called Spain the most pro-European country in Europe and even though other countries could compete for that accolade, Spain really has taken advantage of being in the European Union, especially through freedom of movement. Over the past decade thousands of young Spaniards, often highly qualified, have left their homes in search of jobs in Europe. With an unemployment rate of around 14.7% compared to the EU average of 6.7% and Germany 3.3%,(Eurostat 2018) it is not surprising that the number of Spaniards living abroad has reached 862,286, (Instituto Nacional Estadística 2018) with some choosing to broaden their horizons even further to the USA, as this film shows.
However things are improving. Spain is rising from the ashes of the financial crisis and setting a new path. Take a brief walk around the town featured in this film and you will see sparkling clean children’s play areas and a newly constructed off-road-cycling track, suitable for all ages. It’s a joy to watch the annual cycling day organised by the town council where whole families from Dad, in his weekend racing gear, to toddlers with stabilisers, cycle through town holding up the traffic for the whole morning. But does a mild traffic jam matter? The locals don’t think so because here it seems, they have their priorities right.
Living in this town is a joy. They are investing heavily in its youth, with many schools providing free nursery units within their grounds and the University expanding its primary education programmes. Learning a foreign language begins around four years old, often doing a range of subjects such as Art and Physical education in English. Here there is a sense that the authorities care about how and where its citizens live and that they are guiding them to a positive new future. They say that Valencia is a region of Light and Love and right now you can almost touch it. In fact you can feel the love in their prisons too.
With a youth reoffending rate of only 30% compared to 70% in some UK prisons and a prison occupancy rate at 78% compared to 119%, their penal system must be doing something right.
Indeed we have a lot to learn from modern Spain; a country that has itself had to learn the hard way. It may be seventy years since the Spanish civil war ended but the divisions between families and friends have taken those decades to heal. So what can we learn from this? ‘Love conquers all’? It may be a cliché of extravagant proportions but in the Land of Light and Love perhaps there is a truth in there that we are yet to appreciate.
So just for a moment, let’s ignore the everyday sniping, the acrimony, and the political manoeuvrings of a moribund UK government. For a moment let’s put aside our anger, our frustration and our hate, and rejoice in a region of Europe that seems to have got it right.