EU's 'capital' prepares for life after UK's referendum
Published 24/06/2016 | 02:30
European officials and UK natives were nervous last night as they geared up for the result of Britain's in/out referendum on its EU membership.
In Brussels, the self-styled capital of Europe, there are few who overtly support a British exit, beyond a handful of Ukip MEPs, and most feel relieved by the shift to Remain in the polls.
"The mood has changed over the last few weeks," said a senior EU official, who did not wish to be named.
"The (Jo Cox) tragedy brought a focus to a debate that had gone out of control."
The British in Brussels were gathering in a pub in the EU quarter to hear the referendum results, which were due to start rolling in some time after 12.30am GMT.
Many of them have already applied for Irish, Belgian or other EU passports as a Brexit contingency plan.
Ten minutes down the road, in the European Parliament, MEPs were busy drafting press statements and working out their next steps.
"If it's Remain, there will obviously be relief and a sense of moving on, while trying to reflect the concerns that people have," Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said.
"If it's Leave, there will be a sense of trying to do a deal with Britain as soon as possible," he added. "Ireland will be in the vanguard there - we won't want a protracted negotiation."
While the choreography for the next few days is clear - once the results are in, the heads of the EU institutions will meet to co-ordinate a response, while EU leaders will reunite for a summit on Tuesday - it is unclear how the EU will react to the results, particularly if the vote is for Brexit.
"All tentative agenda plans will be out the window if there is a Brexit," one senior official told the Irish Independent. "It will be a crisis like we've never known before."
The European Commission has steered relatively clear of the referendum campaign - bar a few speeches by British commissioner Jonathan Hill and Ireland's Phil Hogan - but its president, Jean-Claude Juncker, set the tone this week by warning the UK that it will get no special deal if it opts to leave.
"Out is out," he said.
The campaign has frustrated EU lawmakers, who have had to temporarily shelve sensitive legislation - on financial services, the environment or the EU budget, for instance - until the referendum is over.
"There is a sense of absolute and total fatigue with this," said one official, "to the point that it's now boring."