As my train accelerated away from Berlin this morning, heading onwards towards Hannover, Köln, Brussels and eventually  Bruges, the grey-green of the Brandenburg fields streaked by outside the window under a leaden sky. My destination: the College of Europe in Bruges, to teach the next generation about how the EU works.

It has been like this way for the six of so years I have lived in Berlin, and so it will ever be thus.

This is my life, my city, my Europe that I criss-cross regularly for work and pleasure.

Yet as I logged onto social media this morning the posts from friends were filled with sadness. I changed my nationality listed at my job one wrote. From now on I will be listed as Belgian and not British. On Twitter MEPs posted pictures, among them one of the MEP I used to work for more than a decade ago (and who always asked me to tone down pro-European sentiment in her speeches and letters), sad about what has happened.

But I cannot bring myself to feel sad.

This feels like the end of a very long break up.

It feels the same to me as at the end of relationship, when you know it really is over.

That there is no way back.

The roots of my unease in this started a long time ago. When I realised the party I had long been a member of, the party the MEP mentioned above represented, the party I had long hoped offered a better future for the UK, took a nationalistic turn for the worse. British jobs for British workers. Turning up late to sign the Treaty of Lisbon. The Ed Stone. That mug.

When I moved to Berlin I moved on, politically. From the Labour Party to the German Grüne. “I feel I have been steadily moving away from Labour for some time” I wrote then.

Then came Cameron’s 2015 General Election win, and the promise of the referendum, and I was still in denial. I did my bit to help get Brits living in Germany to register to vote in the referendum, but I did not really fear what might happen. I did not fight for the future of the UK and for its place in the EU to the extent I should have done, perhaps partly because of this unease I had long been feeling.

And then the referendum vote came.

And then, sometimes frantically and sometimes methodologically, came a three year period of intense activity to do what I could to save things. Blogging. Campaigning. Analysing. Diagramming. Tactical voting. It’s like that period of a relationship where you try manically to patch things up, to see if it can actually be saved.

Millions of people marching with EU flags! A 2017 election where the Conservatives took a hit! Some more convinced pro-Europeans in some of the parties! And, with the dawning realisation among more thoughtful observers that this whole Brexit endeavour was a bad idea, maybe it could all be saved after all?

No.

The General Election result was the kind of final slam of the door, the definitive step.

This week is the bit when you sort out your mutual belongings, you make the final bank transfer, and it all ends formally.

So here I stand, the same person, the same European, with the same commitment to EU federalism, to democratising the EU as such, to multilateralism, with the same unshakeable determination that we only solve cross-border problems by working together through common institutions.

For me the UK is not leaving the EU this week. It feels instead like the UK is leaving me, with this week the final formal step. I look back on all those years with a mixture of joy and frustration, of what ifs and if onlys. But it is not not sadness I feel, in the same way as I cannot look back on any past relationship with sadness as my predominant emotion. We shared good times.

But now that is all over now.

All I feel is empty.

11 Comments

  1. MARK STURDY

    I have enjoyed your passion and commitment to European institutions but have rarely agreed with your uncritical stance of their policies, actions and pronouncements. Your face value assessment of their negotiating positions seems absurd to me. There have always been passionate Brits more comfortable abroad – good luck with your new devotion to Germany or Europe. How long before they disappoint I wonder? First it was the trains…

    • Then you have not been paying much attention, either to what I have written about the EU over the years, or indeed what I have written about Germany. The EU has played Brexit right until now, but it gets a lot wrong (I presume you managed to skip my annoyance at von der Leyen’s appointment as Commission President, just to give a recent example), and will continue to get a lot wrong. But it’s still better that it exists and the EU still ought to be a part of it.

  2. Elio PENNISI

    Why Scandinavian and Benelux Countries advance integration at a faster pace than the Eurozone itself?
    After a decade my Belgian driving licence has been converted to Italian. Will it be re-converted when I move to France? Are we rowing backward?

  3. Elizabeth Cudd

    Those with #EU passports I envy you well done! This is a travesty that at my age I may not see reversed. It was a con trick and a move to make us poorer and insulated . Can EU open a membership for those Brits who wish to be a member 30 million paying £100 year would surely be welcome. Any help appreciates. Simple hey?

  4. Elio PENNISI

    Jon, I realize that your working/living geography coincides +- with mine. Dull skies may be but the sense of belonging to this geographical “patch” means “EU freedom” to me.

  5. chris swart

    Thanks Jon, for all your work, both on the Euroblog and elsewhere.

  6. Margaret Bluman

    Thank you for your company over the past year. Your blogs and diagrams gave me hope of the possibility of a different outcome. But we are where we are now and must look to what the future brings. I now have dual German citizenship (through my father’s escape in 1939) so will hope to continue to read your news from your side of the narrow water that divides us.

  7. Rosemary

    I know that feeling only too well. From now on I’ll be travelling with my German passport and the British one can gather dust in the junk drawer. Good luck, Jon, and thanks for keeping us all well-informed these past few years.

  8. S Briggs

    Best wishes Jon & thanks for all you’ve done. I think I feel something similar, am a UK citizen living in Marseille for 5 yrs 4 months. Adrift.

  9. Niall Martin

    Very best wishes. Hope all goes well for you.

    • clodagh hourigan

      Sadly there has been a sense of inevitability about this day, very best wishes.
      Clodagh

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