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Tonight at the stroke of midnight the UK will officially leave the European Union. In the past days we have already said goodbye to the many British people working in the EU institutions. With intense sadness and many tears, and with the feeling that Brexit is just a big, tragic mistake. An unnecessary break up due to lies and misunderstandings.
In my European years I have witnessed the arrival of sixteen member states, many from the former Soviet block. We felt joy and excitement about working together to make Europe a better place for all of us. Europe as a beacon of freedom, security, prosperity.
I have also witnessed the European Parliament changing from a fairly invisible advisory body into the main political arena of European parliamentary democracy.
In past decades we have made Europe the best continent in the world. Is everything perfect in Europe? Absolutely not. But Europe gets many things right. The notion of solidarity, equality and protection. Care for the environment and future generations. Citizens rights, equality for men and women, and LGBTI people. Workers rights. Economic prosperity. We have the best public health, education and social security systems in the world. The European Union is a success story and envied by many in the world. After all, there is a reason that so many young people around the world dream of working or living in the EU one day. The United Kingdom played no small part in that success story. There is a strange paradox in the popular myth that Britain was ruled by Brussels, whereas in reality Britain ruled in Brussels. It was a very influential member state, and the driving force behind the internal market, enlargement of the Union, security cooperation and so much more. That influence is now lost.
Brexit leaves both the UK and the EU worse off. There is a big bad world out there, and we are living in turbulent times with big and rapid changes. Trump, China, climate change, migration flows, a digital revolution and more. New threats as well as new opportunities. We cannot predict the future. But one thing is certain: these times call for unity and joining forces, not for division. A strong, united Europe is much better able to face the challenges and seize the opportunities.
Tonight is the saddest night in all my years in Europe. But starting tomorrow I will be back on the barricades, building a better, stronger Europe! And who knows, maybe one day in the future the UK will decide to #Breturn.