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Students’ Portraits: Lina Berg – “Brexit? You Must Be Joking!”

2018-08-20 The 23rd June 2016 saw Lina Berg lost for words: almost 52 percent of British electors voted in favour of Brexit. In order to better understand the background of that vote, she went to London for an internship at the European Commission and came back with a Master's thesis topic.

“They must be off their rocker” - this is Lina Berg's first thought after the Brexit decision “My generation is growing up with Europe. For me, it is incomprehensible why a state would want to leave the Union,” says the 27-year-old. She holds a Bachelor's degree in European Studies from the University of Magdeburg and is now studying Political Science at the Graduate School. Lina Berg is enthusiastic about Europe: “It’s a peace project.”

In Britain, however, many Brexiteers do not see it as such, so it seems. “For them, the EU is an economy-based union. They believe that Britain’s economy would be more successful without EU regulations and taxes,” reports Lina Berg. She spent three months researching the points of view and general feeling on behalf of the European Commission in London. These representations exist in every EU country. “The information we gather in the political section will be passed on to Brussels.” A demanding task – especially for an intern: “I was thrown at the deep end,” recalls Lina Berg. Not only detailed knowledge about parliament was expected, but right on her first days of internship she was sent to a debate with Brexiteers, that is to say EU opponents. “That’s where I hid my documents from the European Commission under my pad,” recalls Lina Berg. In the end, however, she was surprised by the often very respectful debate culture: “These are not all populists. Many feel more connected to the Commonwealth than to the EU through Britain’s history.”

800 Euro for a shared apartment room

Applicants wait for one of these highly sought-after internship places for around one year. Lina Berg was no exception. “I'm glad everything worked out so well. After all, I organised the internship myself.” In addition to her place at the European Commission, she also had to look after accommodation. From a purely financial point of view, only one shared accommodation came into question. “It was a very expensive internship. The shared apartment room alone cost 700 pounds a month. That's almost 800 euros.” Since Lina Berg had been working as an assistant student at the Graduate School for some time, however, she was able to put aside a little sum.

For her, the new experiences were priceless anyway. “Stepping for the first time into the Houses of Parliament triggered a feeling beyond compare,” recalls Lina Berg. The European Commission’s offices are located in Europa House, a Victorian town villa in the heart of Westminster. Every morning, Lina Berg heard Big Ben chime, and walked past the many Bobbies protecting the government district. She attended committee meetings, listened to the ideas of scientific think tanks on Britain's future outside the EU, or went to universities to capture moods. “In principle, most people in London are EU supporters.” And they draw attention to the problematic consequences of Brexit. “I only realised there that everything will be affected by Britain’s departure: from shampoo imports to the Northern Irish border.” Lina Berg is particularly moved by this topic: “The Good Friday Agreement did not solve the Northern Ireland conflict; it merely put it on hold. By this decision reached in 1998, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Northern Irish parties ended the Troubles. If UK leaves the EU, the Northern Ireland border becomes the EU's external border. “How will this affect peace there?” asks Lina Berg.

“London has me gripped.”

The Good Friday Agreement recognises the right of the citizens of Ulster to hold dual Irish and British citizenship. That should solve people's identity conflicts. Dual citizenship means being a citizen not only of a non-EU country after Brexit, but also an EU citizen. In her Master’s thesis, Lina Berg wants to explore the relationship of the People of Ulster to citizenship. Has the forthcoming Brexit changed this? Especially in view of the fact that, in Northern Ireland, the majority voted against Brexit.

But Lina Berg has not only brought a subject for her thesis from England, she has also become a fan of Great Britain. “London has me gripped. A great city! And I like British humour. For example, the Northern Ireland border has its own Twitter account where it reports on its Brexit concerns from a first-person perspective.” When Lina Berg has her Master's degree in her pocket, she would very much like to work on an EU project – preferably in London. Like many of her colleagues at the European Commission, she is therefore still hoping for an exit from Brexit. 

Author: Marietta Hülsmann. Translated by Beatrice Goutfer