“Thank fuck I’m German!” isn’t something you get to say very often if you’re German, but with June 23 coming up, I bet even the Antideutsche punks in Friedrichshain must be blessing their passports now. Sorry, Brits, they’re probably thinking as they watch you drifting by, looking all bereft, but it sure feels great not being at the mercy of power-grabbing panel-show politicians.
I mean, we have our own problems, but at least none of the people dealing with them is Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage. Anyway, if you happen to be one of the (as of December 2015) 105,965 British citizens officially living in Germany, here are some of the many ways in which those moral-free man-children can screw you over. You actually have a chance of swaying this one, by the way, so definitely vote if you can.
The main thing to be worried about is losing the rights you have as EU citizens. To reassure you, the Brexiteers will talk a lot about the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which means that even if countries cancel treaties it doesn’t affect the rights “acquired” by the treaty (though that means states’ rights, not individuals’ rights).
It’s true that you won’t be kicked out of Germany overnight if Britain votes to leave the EU. If you’re angemeldet and have a job and German health insurance, you’ll probably be alright, because theoretically you’ll be covered by Vienna, and anyway the German government is less likely to kick the economically productive people out.
But if you’re jobless or studying, or you move here after Brexit (which is likely to take two years after the vote), it’s going to be more complicated. Here are three big things that will be up in the air – or in Boris’s hair – if the UK leaves:
Jobs: EU citizens have first crack at jobs in the EU, so theoretically Brits will be at the back of the queue. But then again, it depends on what deal the UK makes with Germany afterwards (how “out” will it want to be?). If Britain decides that Germans are no better than Poles, you might need a work permit, and if you arrive in Germany and want to be self-employed, you might need a visa (or an Aufenthaltserlaubnis).
Social benefits: If you’ve worked in Germany for a year, EU citizen or not, you’ve got the right to German unemployment benefits. But if you come to Germany looking for a job, only EU citizens have the right to Hartz IV – after six months, that is. Labour Minister Andrea Nahles has said she wants to extend this to five years, so maybe Brexit won’t make that much difference. But you still have a better chance of claiming Hartz IV if you’re an EU member. The UK might be able to negotiate a deal that would let British citizens be treated like the Swiss and Norwegians, which gives them the same rights as EU citizens. Again: maybe.
Healthcare: At the moment, if you don’t have a job in Germany but have British health insurance, your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to emergency care here, and even if you have to pay you can get refunded later. After Brexit, you’d better find a way of getting German insurance. The UK Brexiteers are talking about buying back into the EHIC programme, because obviously it’s a really good idea, but hey, we’ll see.
Studying: International students have to pay the crazy expensive international student fees, while EU students are entitled to pay the same EU fees, anywhere in the EU. What if you’re in the middle of your course when Brexit happens? No one knows.
So yes, if I were you, and you’ve been in Germany since at least 2012 (six years till 2018, the earliest Brexit date, and the normal period of German naturalisation if you’re well integrated), I’d apply for citizenship. You’ll be surprised at how good it feels to be German.
Small comfort: At least Britain can still take part in Eurovision.
Listen to Konrad’s German news podcast, News des Nachrichtens, with Drew Portnoy, here: