Dear British friends,
Nearly nine years ago, I first came to Great Britain to study. Although I never got rid of my distinctly German accent, your country has given me more than I could ever ask for: a taste for earl grey and a full English breakfast, a superb education, and, most importantly, many wonderful friends. The five years that I spent in Britain were truly formative and every year I look for an excuse to come back for a trip down memory lane.
Of course, as a German in Britain thick skin was needed. After a few pints of beer, historical jokes creep into many conversations but to me they only served to illustrate how far we have come; how far Europe has come. Less than eighty years ago our grandparents and great-grandparents fought each other in the deadliest battles of mankind while their mothers, sisters, and children where anxiously waiting at home wondering whether they would ever see them again.
At a time when hate and violence are spreading again across our societies, we need to remember this dark past and build on the achievements of Europe, not undermine them. Yes, the European Union is imperfect. It has a democratic deficit, it forces technocratic rules on its member states and creates social distortions by promoting free markets without protecting the weakest members of society. But it is precisely because of these imperfections that Europe needs you.
Britain always has been at the forefront of positive change in Europe: it brought immense wealth to Europe by fostering the industrial revolution, it remained a shining light for democracy while other European countries plunged into dictatorships in the 1930s and 1940s and its major cities are some of the most multicultural places in the world that embrace diversity and show the rest of us how to live together. For all these reasons Britain’s place is not outside of the EU but it must be at the center of the ambitious European project. Only with your help, can we realise its full potential.
As I (ironically) sit in Brussels and watch the referendum unfolding today, I’m more nervous than I have ever been about any kind of vote. Your choice today will shape the history of Europe and the live of many generations to come. Certainly, I can and will not tell you what is good or bad for your country. Too many people have already pretended that they know the precise facts and numbers even though the consequences of Brexit would be completely uncertain. But for the sake of Europe, I hope that you will choose to stay. Europe needs you more than you realise!
Much love from the continent, Björn