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Brussels on Edge as British EU Referendum Result Looms

  • Henry Ridgwell

The mood in Brussels is one of nervousness with just hours to go before the result of the British referendum on EU membership is known.

If Britons vote to remain in the bloc, the EU would have overcome one of its major crises. If Britain votes to leave, the machinery of the European Union institutions enters crisis mode – but no one really knows what the withdrawal process will look like.

French Member of the European Parliament Sylvie Goulard said the EU is finally waking up to the political storm that could be headed its way. “Now, there is some nervousness. After a long sleep,” she told VOA.

A vote for a British exit from the EU – or so-called Brexit – would shake the union to its core.

“It will be a huge change, we should not underestimate,” said Goulard. “It could have severe consequences; but of course part of the answer at this stage is impossible to give because it will depend also on the way the institutions and the governments react. I would just underline that from 1950 to 1975, we survived without the UK, so we will try to survive again.”

On the surface it is business as usual at the European Parliament Thursday – with debates scheduled on renewable energy and the Panama Papers, among others. In reality, all eyes are on what’s happening in Britain. Emergency sessions are planned for Friday morning among the heads of the various EU institutions, when Brussels will have its first response to the outcome of the referendum

A vote 'Leave' poster is seen in a window in Chelsea, London, June 23, 2016.

A vote 'Leave' poster is seen in a window in Chelsea, London, June 23, 2016.

'28 on a plate'

Outside parliament on the eve of the vote, an event was staged to celebrate the different cuisine of the EU’s 28 members – '28 on a plate.’

The British stall offered shortbread biscuits and a cup of tea. Danielle Seeley of the firm ‘Wonderfoods’ imports these foods into Belgium, and fears a Brexit would mean barriers and trade tariffs.

“Which means our prices go up, which means we can’t sell at the same prices as we are now, otherwise we’re at a loss and that’s not the point of a business. And I think a lot of other businesses will suffer the same things.”

Others take a more philosophical view. Aldo Morelli, a 62-year-old Italian civil servant, was enjoying the wines on display from his home country.

“I don’t think it is a drama. One must accept the response of democracy. We should reflect for a some minutes, but after, we should turn the page,” he said.

A British exit would take considerably longer than that with analysts estimating anywhere from two 2 to 10 years. The EU would lose one of its biggest powers – and the future of the regional grouping itself would be in doubt.

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