Brexit – From a German Perspective

Brexit - From a German Perspective
© Pixabay

Granted, the outcome of the referendum on the issue of Great Britain leaving the EU is already a few months old. Still, we thought it might be worthwhile, to sum up, the matter from a German perspective. To be frank, the whole process that led up to the referendum seemed rather absurd to me, and I dare say to the majority of Germans following the news. Figures such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson created a resemblance to the 2016 election campaign in the USA, but maybe that’s due to our typical politician being more of a bland character. Up to the last weeks before the vote, most people I talked to and I guess even most of our political experts did not believe the so-called Brexit could be possible. Boy, were we proven wrong.

If I were to generalize, which I am, I’d say that the majority of Germans tends to be pro-European and pro-EU. While we have our share of euro-sceptical parties, even the biggest of them, the AFD, was not being able to achieve success solely on this issue. Only after turning into an outright right-wing party, the AFD became a lot more successful. Meanwhile, the new party of AFD-Founder Bernd Lucke, still running on the anti-Euro issue, has faded to insignificance.

Back to Brexit

The closer the referendum came, the more German media outlets acknowledged that it could happen and began to speculate on its possible consequences. What would it mean for visiting friends and family in the United Kingdom? Or just for that weekend trip to London? What would the British leaving the EU mean for our economy? For Germany’s role in Europe? In general, there was this fear of Britain just moving into a greater distance, without actually moving at all. Then again, supporters of the European idea were afraid that the Brexit would strengthen Germany’s leading role in the EU even more. A role, that, in their eyes, had not been beneficial for all of Europe but had been somewhat responsible for the economic division of north and south within the union, especially within the Eurozone.

When the votes were finally cast, we were shocked, to say the least – some maybe even angry. European economic experts and scientists had stated that the United Kingdom would suffer terribly under Brexit, while the EU would be damaged, though not severely. European Parliament officials were quick to stand together and pledge the unity of the EU’s remaining members.

As for Britain, I was wondering about the social and political atmosphere it took to allow the referendum to go out the way it did. And, to be honest, I was wondering about the outright stupidity and falseness of some of the claims made by UKIP and other pro-Brexit organizations and individuals – as well as the way they ran the campaigns. Of course, some people were well informed and had made up their mind. Nevertheless, the viral videos of individuals who had no clue whatsoever what they were voting for, or even what the EU was, was heartbreaking. As somebody not living in the UK, I cannot assert that I would know what actually happened.

But taking the British people and the British media into account that inhabit my social bubble, I feel a bit scared because I cannot exclude something like this happening in Germany, one of the very few countries who would most likely survive a collapse of the European Union relatively unharmed.

Brexit - From a German Perspective

What has the EU ever done for us?

© google

Is the European Union (EU) all worth it or is it just a big, costly, sluggish, and bureaucratic super-entity?

For me it’s clear, I can’t think of a single EU regulation that has affected me negatively. I can only think of positive changes that the EU has brought upon us. The EU doesn’t only mean that the European countries have lived in peace for the last 60 years; it also means a lot of regulations that, from my perspective, have changed our lives in Europe for the better.

The Brexit vote in the UK to leave the EU was super shocking for me since I feel like we’ve only ever benefited from the European Union. Why would anyone not want to be part of it?

The Schengen Treaties

One set of rules has changed my daily life and that of many others who live in a border region in the EU. For me it is the German side of where Luxembourg, France and Germany meet. The important set of rules I’m talking about are the Schengen Treaties.

Life before the Schengen Treaties

Life before the Schengen Treaties was good, but also more time-consuming and stressful, more restrictive. To show you what I mean I’m going to take you on a journey of a family trip on a Sunday before the times of the Schengen Treaties.

From Merzig, my hometown in the southwest of Germany, it’s about 5 km to the French border and about 40 km to the Luxembourg border. I’ll take you on a drive to a service station in Luxembourg to get some fuel for our car.

Schengen Agreement and Luxembourg

Fuel has always been cheaper in Luxembourg, so why not kill two birds with one stone, refilling your car while taking out the family? It’s so efficient. And it also brings people together. I know of couples that had their first date going to get some fuel in Luxembourg.

Not in Luxembourg City, the capital of Luxembourg, but in Schengen. Yes, Schengen. The Schengen Agreement, the cornerstone of the Schengen Treaties, was signed on a ship, the MS Marie-Astrid, floating down the river Moselle close to Schengen. Back then in 1985 it was known as Remerschen, then the town was renamed in 2006 to pay tribute to the commune where the agreement was signed.

Schengen is a lovely town located on the Luxembourg side of this triangular border region. The river Moselle functions as a natural border to France on the south side of Schengen and to Germany on the north side of it. It’s a perfect destination for a short Sunday trip, especially since the town is packed with service stations, waiting for Germans and the French to take advantage of what the border region has to offer.

It’s time for the German border control, slowing down, stopping, nodding, and waving might be all there is, if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, you’re on your way to Luxembourg, which is where we are.

You’ll have to queue up. If the Germans are being thorough, it can take an hour or two. The German border control will check outgoing cars to Luxembourg for money that might be smuggled into Luxembourg where fewer taxes had to be paid. After waiting forever, you’ll finally make it to one of the many service stations in Schengen, after another border control on the Luxembourg side.

Awesome! Time to refill the car, then drive back and have the car turned upside down again on the border. Or keep driving along the river on the Luxembourg side to the next town, called Remich, and exit Luxembourg into Germany from there. Don’t worry, you won’t miss out on any border controls, as there are another two waiting for you.

Life after the Schengen Treaties

I still remember the first time we went on the above trip, just after the Schengen Agreement was signed. When we were approaching the first border control, they waved us through! No stopping, no examining, no passports. Just driving through.
It took a bit for everyone to settle in and the signing of another treaty, the Schengen Convention. Slowly but surely, the controls became less frequent and the border control booths disappeared altogether.

Most of them were turned into houses. One even turned into a sausage stall. Right next to it is now my most favourite roundabout in the world.

The roundabout has three exits. If you take the last exit, you’ll stay in Germany. If you take the second exit, you’ll end up in France. If you take the third exit, you’ll end up in Luxembourg, and you’ll be slipping across the border.

Nowadays only a few signs, the change in surface and markings on the road is what makes you realise you’re in a different country.

Germans still drive to Luxembourg on a Sunday, but now they might do it on a Monday too. Or on a Tuesday, or any other day. We still dash to France to surprise our loved ones with a delicious breakfast, but travel times are now cut in half thanks to the Schengen Treaties.

To top it all off, the Euro took over people’s lives in 2002. No need for carrying around several currencies. One currency, one wallet, more time to enjoy Europe.

Daily life after the Schengen Treaties

What has also changed is the daily work life of many Germans and French. We will now cross the border on a daily basis to work in Luxembourg while still residing in Germany or France.

That two of the three official languages in Luxembourg are German and French might help the cultural exchange, as well as the fact that the national language in Luxembourg, Luxembourgish, is understandable by Germans from that region.

All this while the Luxembourgers and French come to Germany for a quick adrenaline drive on the German autobahn and a longer stop at one of the many food discounters like Aldi, which are lined up along the border. Luxembourgers also don’t mind buying property on German soil since property prices won’t set you back as much as in Luxembourg. The French enjoy the German pubs and clubs in the meantime.

People living in the EU have gained much more freedom through the European Union, especially the Schengen Treaties and the Euro.

What’s to come?

But there’s one thing I’ve never liked. I haven’t mentioned the roaming costs that would skyrocket once you stepped across the border. Now, we are finally on our way to having any surcharge scrapped altogether by June 2017.
I can’t wait for the next big step that is going to make life in Europe even more enjoyable. If only the UK would stay, that’d keep it more complete.

If you want to read more about the German language and culture, make sure to check out my blog on The Germanz! Bis bald!