However, on this day I hope you’ll indulge an additional personal perspective. Tomorrow, along with millions of others, I will involuntarily lose my EU citizenship. In time perhaps I’ll require a visa to visit my friends and colleagues in Brussels, Berlin or Barcelona. Perhaps arrivals from the UK will be asked to join a different queue at passport control. None of these little barriers will prevent me from travelling, collaborating or indeed identifying as European. Nevertheless, I shall grieve these subtle changes. Twenty years ago, I invoked my right to freedom of movement as an EU citizen to live in Hamburg, to learn (and subsequently verlernen) German. I cherished that freedom and the opportunities it gave me. It seems likely my own children will be denied these.
The point where the personal and professional converge is in the fact that collaboration is about human relationships. Removing the barriers of national sovereignty encourages connections – whether those are international trading relationships or the Erasmus exchanges that foster a lifelong affinity with the culture and language of another country (and in some cases a lifelong fear of British food). Many times a year I find myself somewhere in Europe surrounded by professionals, more often than not talking about sustainability in packaging. I don’t believe a single one of us pauses to consider that we represent multiple nationalities. I don’t think anyone feels like a foreigner. Often, we even start to forget we’re representing separate (and sometimes competing) businesses. And I doubt that we would have achieved quite this sense of being the same, and working to a common purpose if forces of cooperation hadn’t propelled the EU into existence.
Whatever the turbulent politics of the next decade brings, it’s vital that we retain and build upon this spirit of cross-border collaboration, not just within Europe, but throughout the world. As a species, we are facing our greatest ever challenges, and we can only overcome them together. The present signs suggest that as a whole we’re struggling with the opposite impulse. All the more reason for those of us in the packaging community to work harder than ever to collaborate and support the institutions that break down barriers. As an international voice within the industry, Packaging Europe will strive to support that goal. And so, on this eve of Brexit, I’d like to end by saying thank you to the EU for everything it has done both for me personally and to construct the world I live and work in. I hope we’ll be back someday.