Sad­ness and hopes for fu­ture at EU’s post-Brexit cen­tre

Kuwait Times - - Internatio­nal -

GADHEIM: In the tiny vil­lage of Gadheim in north­ern Bavaria, a lov­ingly laid out gar­den marked with re­gional, Ger­man and Euro­pean flags marks the spot that will stand at the ge­o­graphic cen­tre of the Euro­pean Union af­ter Brexit. Wrapped up in a woolly hat and scarf against the Jan­uary cold ly­ing over the bare fields, farmer Karin Kessler says the few dozen in­hab­i­tants have “very mixed feel­ings” about the new dis­tinc­tion.

When she heard in March 2017 that the EU’s cen­tre would shift to Gadheim, she be­lieved it was a far-fetched April Fool’s joke nine months af­ter the Bri­tish voted to quit. But the spot-nine de­grees, 54 min­utes and seven sec­onds east and 49 de­grees, 50 min­utes and 37 sec­onds north-was cal­cu­lated pre­cisely by France’s IGN ge­o­graphic in­sti­tute us­ing a “cen­tre of grav­ity” model tak­ing into ac­count the bloc’s re­main­ing ter­ri­tory.

“My son found the co­or­di­nates and sent me a pic­ture on What­sApp,” Kessler re­mem­bers. “I zoomed in and said, oh, that’s on our neigh­bor’s field. And he replied, no, it’s on our land!” Since then, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and the lo­cal land­scape gardening school have pitched in to help shape the plot mark­ing the new cen­tre, even dur­ing the many months of sus­pense over when Brexit would come-or whether it would at all. “I def­i­nitely fol­lowed the de­bate in Bri­tain, I was al­ways get­ting the news on my phone. It was like a never-end­ing story,” Kessler says.

“I some­times thought, don’t the Bri­tish have any­thing else to do but Brexit? So many peo­ple were demon­strat­ing to stay af­ter all that the out­come seemed re­ally open, we re­ally didn’t know whether it would be for or against the EU.” Bri­tain’s de­par­ture prompted fears for the fu­ture of the EU among lo­cal peo­ple, Kessler says. Her fa­ther, who passed away in 2019, had been a sol­dier in World War II and saw the bloc as a guar­an­tor of peace and sta­bil­ity on the con­ti­nent in the post-war decades. “I think there’s plenty of peo­ple, es­pe­cially those still with us who ex­pe­ri­enced the war, who can iden­tify with that.”

‘Lim­ited time only’

Now a boul­der of lo­cal lime­stone marks the post-Brexit cen­tre, with a tilted red-and-white striped pole point­ing to the pre­vi­ous lo­ca­tion, some 60 kilo­me­ters to the north­west in Western­grund. Brigitte Heim, mayor of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity there, has had an equally “nerve-rack­ing” time watch­ing the backand forth in Bri­tain. But at least “now each coun­try can look to the fu­ture for it­self, and maybe that will bring peo­ple back to­gether a lit­tle in Eng­land,” she hopes. Peo­ple in Western­grund al­ways saw the cen­tre of the EU as a “gift for a lim­ited time,” Heim says. “We see it as part of our his­tory, our story,” al­though “per­haps if the Scots man­age to break free, the cen­tre could come back,” she jokes.

Hope for the fu­ture

Even in Gadheim, “part of us hoped Brexit wouldn’t hap­pen, so we could keep Europe the way we’ve known it,” says Juer­gen Goetz. The mayor of nearby Veit­shoech­heimGad­heim is too small to have a mayor to it­self-Goetz adds that lo­cals are “happy” to be named cen­tre of the EU, talk­ing up the area’s ties to the rest of Europe. Veit­shoech­heim has part­ner cities in Italy, France and the Czech Repub­lic. A blog about its links with Pont L’Eveque proudly dis­plays pic­tures of vis­i­tors from the Nor­man town en­joy­ing recitals from the chil­dren’s choir and a visit to a lo­cal vine­yard in 2017.

And in a ma­jor gas pipe­line and a section of the cen­turies-old pil­grim­age routes to San­ti­ago de Com­postela in Spain, in­fra­struc­ture both an­cient and mod­ern links Veit­shoech­heim to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. Look­ing ahead, “you can’t know what ef­fects Brexit will have for Bri­tain and for the rest of Europe,” Goetz muses. “It’ll de­pend on whether Bri­tain man­ages to profit so much eco­nom­i­cally from leav­ing that there could be im­i­ta­tors. Of course, I hope no-one else leaves.”

One thing is cer­tain for the Gad­heimers: for all their metic­u­lous prepa­ra­tions, the vil­lage-like other spots that have pre­vi­ously marked the EU’s cen­tre-won’t be the cen­tre of the world for­ever. “So far only new coun­tries had joined, there’s some­thing his­toric about the cen­tre of the EU mov­ing be­cause a coun­try is leav­ing,” Goetz says. “I hope the next time it moves, it hap­pens be­cause a new coun­try has joined us again.” —AFP

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