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'Brexit' Vote Worries Britons Living In Germany


Let's talk about economic growth in Berlin, the capital of Germany, Europe's largest economy. Its startup scene attracts young people from all over Europe. It has an active arts scene as well. And compared to cities like London, the cost of living is really cheap. Today, more than 10,000 British people live in Berlin. As the referendum vote to stay or leave the European Union approaches, many of those expats are concerned about their future. Esme Nicholson has the story.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: It's early evening, and office workers pile into a bar in central Berlin. The regulars gather at tables reserved with little iron signs that bear the name of their groups. One group, meeting for only the second time tonight, uses a small flag to mark its drinking territory. Its members are all British. But the flag on the table is not the Union Jack, but the golden stars of the European Union. And the atmosphere at their table is significantly more sober than their neighbors. Everybody who's come in tonight lives and works in Germany. And they are here to discuss their concerns about the forthcoming British referendum on its EU membership.

JOHN WORTH: We've had conversations about people with professional qualifications - lawyers, accountants, things like that. Would their qualifications they gained in the U.K. then no longer be valid in Germany? We still don't have a clear answer on that point.

NICHOLSON: John Worth is a political adviser originally from the U.K. The 35-year-old has spent most of his adult life working in EU countries other than Britain. He's apprehensive about what effect a leave vote could have on his life and career.

WORTH: If Britain wanted to reassert its sovereignty, that could have a direct impact on the British living overseas, and would therefore be of a greater worry to the British living in Berlin.

NICHOLSON: About 2 million U.K. citizens live in continental Europe. Josef Janning from the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations says they could find themselves having to apply for visas.

JOSEF JANNING: Were Britain to leave the European Union, living and working in the EU for Brits would be like it is for Swiss or Turks or Americans. It's possible, but may need a bit more effort - a few more applications, a few more permissions. But it won't be impossible.

NICHOLSON: But it's not just the British in Germany who are worried. German lawmakers from across the political spectrum share their angst. Annalena Baerbock is a Green MP on the Bundestag's Committee for European Affairs.

ANNALENA BAERBOC: Everybody in the committee is really concerned. And we understand that it's, like, internal British affairs. But actually - yeah, the U.K. asked for special treatment. And it's really the worry that other countries would follow. And if everybody just proceeds in cherry picking, this would be really problematic for the whole union.

NICHOLSON: Back at the bar, 62-year-old Paul Semgengo-Turner, also from Britain, says it's not his generation with the most at stake.

PAUL SEMGENGO-TURNER: It would be extraordinary if the U.K. was to decide to leave, and extraordinarily sad, because I like to think that my children will have the same access to work, to languages, to culture that I myself have had.

NICHOLSON: Semgengo-Turner, who's lived in Berlin for over 20 years and also worked in Paris, Milan and Brussels, says if the leave campaign wins, he may apply for German citizenship to safeguard his European identity. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.