This is a rather odd post given the more usual New Zealand tech focus of the Wharf42 blog. Its origins go back some 37 years.

I was 22 years’ old when I was awarded the Medaille d’Argent Robert Schuman Award in Montigny-les-Metz, France. The citation read;

‘en reconnaissance de la contribution qu’il a personnellement apportee a la preparation de l’unification europeene, en faisant prendre concsience aux peoples d’Europe, et particulierement aux jeunes de son pays, de la solidarite qui les unit.’

Robert Schuman Award

Robert Schuman Award

At the time, I was Vice Chairman of the European Democrat Students and my contemporaries included Nicholas Giscard d’Estaing, Carl Bildt and Rudolf Henke. They went on to become great Europeans. The values we collectively shared back in the late 1970’s remain today. It’s fair to say that throughout the recent UK EU Referendum, I was an enthusiastic member of the ‘Remain’ camp.

Based in Tauranga however, I had no voice and I had no vote. I do still have a British passport, but it has just lost a little bit of its charm. The question I am focusing on today is New Zealand’s political and trading relationship with both the UK & the European Union going forward.

The best immediate reaction to the vote is Stay Calm. There is little that we as a country can do to influence the short to medium term outcomes of the Brexit vote. These will be played out over the coming weeks and months. Individual New Zealanders however, with direct connections to the UK and the wider European Union, should offer support to their friends and contacts in the region.

Over the weekend, I spoke to family, friends and contemporaries back in Europe. Whilst the conversations were tempered by some anxiety and concern about the immediate future, most were stoic, indeed resilient. Before last week’s vote, I had had no immediate plans to visit the UK. The vote has changed that and I am now looking at when best to return to meet up with said family, friends and contemporaries.

Back in 1979, we were young and perhaps a little naïve with our vision for a united Europe. Times were of course different and the Common Market as it was then, had not developed the complex and malfunctioning bureaucracy that dominates the EU today. There was a real belief amongst people that closer European cooperation was a good thing.

I believe that remains the case today. The EU must learn how to reconnect with its own people. The same applies to the UK. History will not reflect well on the country’s polititans if they fail to take heed of the very strong message delivered by the electorate. My view is that this was not just a referendum on Europe. It was a siren call to the political establishment.

It is a sad time for people like me who advocated for a united Europe so long ago. The legacy of last Thursday’s Brexit vote will take time to resolve. In the meantime, all we can do in New Zealand is stay calm, provide support and then work on the opportunities that will inevitably emerge from the current turmoil.