Luxembourg was the second-to-last capital Italian national Chiara Ginestra and Brit Alexander Colling visited on their six-month European odyssey, which has taken them over 7,000 kilometres through 24 EU countries as well as Serbia.
“We know that we've no power to stop it by cycling around Europe but it’s a symbolic protest, and a way for us to enjoy our free movement while we have it because it may not last,” Ginestra told Delano on Wednesday.
The couple, who met and lived in Edinburgh, took a break from their jobs in the social sector and set out in April, 2018, a year before the scheduled Brexit deadline. They crossed countless borders often without noticing, thanks to the seamless system introduced in the Schengen agreement.
They were able to access the European healthcare system when, during the summer heatwave, Ginestra contracted heat stroke and was hospitalised. And, while feeling the sting of phone bills when travelling through Serbia, they appreciated the benefits the EU had brought in scrapping roaming charges.
Photo: pictureofeu.com. The couple said they crossed many borders without even realising
What is more, when the couple rode along the former iron curtain it prompted them to reflect on the foundations of peace and solidarity on which the EU was founded and which are being tested all over the continent. Most disturbing for them in the entire journey was the lack of awareness among some of the people they met about the implications of Brexit on the policies of other countries.
“The concern may be other countries are going the same way, because migrants are being criminalised,” Ginestra said, adding that if other governments assume that line, then the peace and cooperation on which the EU was founded may falter.
Colling suggested the best defence in this instance was for people to act. “It doesn’t have to be a big campaign,” he said. It could be as simple as explaining to a relative who voted for Brexit the value of the EU or informing oneself about the advantages it brings to member states.
Returning to Brexit Britain
The couple depart Thursday for the final country on their ride, the Netherlands, after which they will return to the UK to “figure out what we’re going to do with our lives.” Colling said: “We are both European and had ideas about going to live elsewhere in Europe. Now that’s perhaps not possible.”
If she decides to stay, Ginestra will be expected to register as a resident but what that means for her after the Brexit deadline remains unclear and depends on whether a deal can be struck. “For me, no deal means I become an illegal immigrant and maybe as an illegal immigrant I could see my bank account frozen. They could return me to my country, even though I’ve not lived there for nine years and I’ve no career prospects there. Everything I know and have built in the UK is under threat,” she said.