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Brexit: Everything Is Not Lost

With Europe still reeling from Britain's dramatically tight vote to leave the Union, I am witnessing disbelief, sadness and uncertainty among my British friends in Berlin. Not one of them agrees with what the majority of the motherland population has decided for them. Not one of them is ready to leave this beautiful city that has become their home. Not one of them can stomach the immediate aftermath: the racist acts, the ruined relationships, the tumbling Sterling and the terrifying power vacuum left by their Prime Minister.

But everything is not lost.

President of the EU Council Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may have urged Britain to act quickly and invoke the infamous Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty as soon as possible. In reality, it remains entirely up to Britain as to when they will actually set the process in motion. Neither David Cameron nor Boris Johnson, former favorite to follow in Cameron's footsteps, have uttered any statements demonstrating an intent to accomplish this in a hurry. To the contrary: Cameron has explicitly stated that he will pass over the loaded gun to his successor, and it is likely that his successor would seem far from hasty to pull the trigger. Since his plan for the UK to remain in the single market without having to comply with the EU rulebook has been heavily attacked by multiple diplomats as well as the German BDI, Johnson's interest in a speedy retreat most likely shrank even further. The idea that a Leave-vote would put the UK in a strong negotiating position with the EU has proven to be painfully incorrect. Not one European nation has shown to be open to pre-Article 50 informal discussions. In fact several European leaders have made abundantly clear that the exit negotiations would not be the "cherry-picking exercise" the Leavers had been hoping for.

Even though Leave-campaigners praised democracy as soon as it became apparent that the votes had been in their favor, subsequently acting upon the voice of the people seems to be a whole different ballgame. At the end of the day, this referendum—voted for without proportionate representation, which left Remain-voters in London, Scotland and Northern-Ireland wondering about what democracy actually means—is not legally binding. In this context, the premise that British citizens have won back control of their country seems somewhat ironic.

After Article 50 has been invoked through a formal notification to the European Council, the process of the UK extricating itself from the European Union would take a minimum of two years. But we are far off from starting the clock. Several British politicians have doubted the democratic legitimacy of the first referendum and pleaded for a second, and Scotland's Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to be committed to exploring every option to keep Scotland in the EU.

Yes, the damage has been done, the relationship between the EU countries and institutions has undoubtedly irreversibly changed, but nonetheless, the divorce is not yet final—even though the 27 block is already picking up the silverware.

In the meantime, we—the regular folk—have important work to do. We need to start the healing process following the bleak, divisive, injurious referendum campaign and the result it has inflicted upon us all, not just in Britain but in Europe. The knee-jerk responses of anger, fear and finger-pointing are understandable, but now it's time to take a deep breath and open our eyes and ears. Painting those who voted Leave as idiots who, in the aftermath of the win, frantically started googling "what is the EU?" and wishing they could change their votes is anything but helpful, as well as inaccurate. All it does is over-simplify root issues, demonizing and dividing, when what we need now more than ever is understanding and unity.

We on a societal level need to not fall into the political trap of treating Brexit like an acrimonious divorce, but instead heeding this as a symptom of a deep-rooted, worldwide change we can only effectively tackle by working together.

We should condemn the terrible acts of racism in Britain being enacted in the name of a perverted idea of sovereignty and democracy, as well as the short-tempered responses of Europeans telling their British peers to just get out.

We are all worried, we are all confused, we are all unsure about what the future holds. We all have common ground there. So here it is:

To my British friends who I would love to stay in Berlin, I will reiterate: everything is not lost. And if waiting in suspense about your fate isn't quite your thing, perhaps you can remain a European citizen even if/when Brexit materializes, to spare yourself the hassle of needing a Visa later on:

a. Marriage
Bad news: marrying a European doesn't automatically solve your problem. Being joined in holy matrimony will usually make naturalization possible at an earlier stage (after 3 years in Germany), but it does not automatically give you a right to become a citizen of your spouse's country.

b. Investment
Half a dozen countries are pretty much selling citizenships. Even though the European Commission doesn't love the idea, countries like Cyprus and the Netherlands will grant you citizenship if you invest (a large sum, we're talking millions) into their countries.

c. Ancestors
In Europe ius sanguine is the general guideline for citizenship. This means that the question whether you have any European ancestors is key. If you have a European parent or grandparent, check out the rules for naturalization in their country to see if you are eligible.

But be aware: According to the Irish government, their application processing system has already been put under substantial strain. Also, in some countries you are allowed to hold two nationalities, in some you are not.

d. German Citizenship by Naturalization
If you’ve lived in Germany for at least eight years, or seven years but have completed an integration course, then you are eligible for naturalization. As mentioned above, if you're married to a German citizen, you are eligible after three years. You should be able to speak German (fluency is not required: the Federal Ministry of the Interior only requires a “sufficient command”), and you may not rely on benefits (except in situations out of your control). You need to renounce your existing nationality, or you will lose this upon naturalization, and at the time of application you should be an EU citizen (so move fast) or have been granted a permanent right of residence. Your local naturalization authority can assist you further.

By Else Vanderberg
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