After four long years, Britain has honoured its decision to leave the European Union, and alongside the continued struggles brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has certainly been a difficult start. For those of us studying or working in Germany, things have felt particularly uncertain, with coronavirus restrictions limiting what little freedom of movement we have been granted after Brexit. 2021 has already proved to be a turbulent year - and this really is only the beginning.
Photo: stux via Pixabay
Brexit and COVID-19: a recipe for disaster
Many of us spending time in Germany chose to come home for Christmas - a decision which was already clouded with risks as Brexit loomed. While a smart plan might have been getting back to Germany before 2021 began, and thus narrowly avoiding any new regulations or paperwork that Brexit might require, this was made impossible by the travel ban which prevented those in the UK from entering Germany after a rise in coronavirus cases. The ban has since been extended multiple times, although some travellers have managed to re-enter Germany by showing their Anmeldung documents, demonstrating proof of residence.
Yet even with the necessary papers, Britons have still run into problems, as border control staff are often unsure what evidence is required to meet the standards of both the travel restrictions and the newly-enforceable Brexit rules. Just weeks into our departure from the EU, then, it seems that no one is quite certain of the rights and freedoms British travellers now possess, and coronavirus restrictions have only added to the chaos.
While the Anmeldung has been a saving grace for many, those hoping to begin their stay in Germany this year are not so lucky. With Britain no longer boasting the privileges of EU membership, many travellers could now be required to obtain a visa if planning to work or study in Germany for more than ninety days. Again, however, coronavirus sweeps in to wreak further havoc, as visa appointments are being cancelled due to lockdown restrictions. It is not impossible to get to Germany, but it certainly feels like it.
Erasmus: now and beyond
But what of Erasmus itself? Entirely separate from fears surrounding new travel and residency regulations in Germany was the uncertain future of the Erasmus+ programme for British students. Fortunately, Brexit will not affect those currently completing study exchanges or receiving Erasmus grants. Similarly, students who already applied for the Erasmus+ programme for travels abroad in 2021/22 will experience no disruption to their plans or funding. In spite of the obstacles we may have encountered so far, Brexit has, in this way at least, been kind to us.
Yet future cohorts will not be so fortunate. Despite the UK Prime Minister’s declaration that Erasmus+ was safe from any Brexit ramifications, EU chief negotiator Michael Barnier confirmed in December that the British government “decided not to participate in the Erasmus exchange programme” after the cost of Britain’s continued membership could not be settled. This will certainly prove to be a devastating encumbrance to young people hoping to spend time abroad in the future. Around 15,000 British university students have participated in Erasmus+ every year since its launch in 1987, and it is difficult to imagine whether the same opportunities will be available after Brexit truly takes hold.
Britain’s answer to an Erasmus replacement is the Turing scheme, which will be rolled out from September 2021 in order to allow British students to continue to study abroad. The government has announced that the scheme will boast £100 million in funding and will target disadvantaged students, creating “life-changing opportunities” for young people nationwide. Precise details of the scheme remain unclear; a lot will have to be done to prevent the invaluable cultural and linguistic experiences of UK undergraduates from being sacrificed to the still-nebulous improvements that Brexit has promised.
As 2020 so kindly showed us, we can never be sure of what is to come. Many of us spending time in Germany have already seen immense disruption and change to our plans thanks to coronavirus, while rules continue to shift as Britain takes further steps into a sombre post-Brexit world.
Further travel restrictions, visa requirements and border control struggles all hover menacingly on the horizon. Britain’s lengthy departure from the EU may have felt arduous, but for those of us just trying to learn a language and experience another culture, there are many more battles yet to fight.