Brussels: Grim wake-up call as Brexit hits heart of Europe

  • AFP, Brussels
  • Updated: Jun 24, 2016 23:04 IST
(From L) EU Parliament leader Martin Schulz, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, Juncker's Head of Cabinet, Martin Selmayr and President of the European Council, Donald Tusk are pictured during a meeting at the EU Headquarters in Brussels. (AFP)

Brussels awoke to a grim dawn after Britain voted to leave the EU, with people in the heart of Europe left stunned and sometimes emotional by a decision which will affect many personally.

“I can only say that today I am profoundly sad,” one of thousands of British nationals who work in the European Union district told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Like all European civil servants he was subjected to strict rules on speaking to journalists, especially on a topic as sensitive as Brexit.

One of his colleagues was in tears. Though German, she spent all her university years in Britain and cannot help pointing the blame -- anonymously -- at the pro-Brexit campaigners.

Tears were not in short supply on a damp, grey Brussels day after one of the biggest electrical storms to hit the city in years -- which came just as the polls were closing in the British vote.

“I was really in tears” for British colleagues who face being out of a job, said Rebecca Harms, leader of the Greens group in the European Parliament.

“This is not going to be pretty, but no reason to panic,” another European diplomat added hopefully.

Even the eurosceptics were in a state of shock as they gathered for a hastily organised breakfast at a hotel near European Parliament.

Leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists Syed Kamall of Britain speaks in Brussels on Friday. (AP)

“I was surprised. I was not expecting that result,” said Syed Kamall, head of the European Conservatives and Reformists group and an MEP from London.

“It’s a strong signal for Europe,” said Kamall, who supported the Leave side in the referendum.

But he added: “I hope we maintain good relations” with Europe.

‘Great day!’

At the colossal European Parliament building, the hallways early Friday remained almost empty.

“Now it’s Denmark’s turn,” shouted out a smartly dressed Dane as he walked briskly through the hallways.

A group of Germans gathered further down the corridor.

“There’ll be a referendum in Scotland of course. And Northern Ireland. Maybe even Wales. That’s how I see things,” one said.

A Frenchman added: “It’s a great day for French-speakers!”

“German speakers more like,” snapped back another.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker is pictured during a meeting with the EU Parliament leader, the President of the European Council, and the Dutch Prime Minister at the EU Headquarters in Brussels. (AFP)

On everyone’s lips is a possible resignation by Jean-Claude Juncker, the grizzled veteran of European politics who heads the EU Commission.

Despite the historic day, few MEP’s in the end trickled into the parliament, perhaps because of the general strike that has blocked public transport in Brussels.

Huddled in their offices were senior MEP figures such as parliament president Martin Schulz and liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt.

The influential German MEP, Manfred Weber pointed the finger at the Brits as he brainstormed the best way forward.

“The biggest problem for the moment is for Great Britain. The pound has lost a lot, and not the euro,” said Weber who leads the right-centre EPP group, the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Bavarian then launched into a series of “what ifs” and to-do lists for Europe.

But even in the heart of the European capital, no one is really sure what comes next.

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