‘I hope no one else leaves’: Sadness and hopes at EU’s post-Brexit centre in German village

In the tiny village of Gadheim in northern Bavaria, a lovingly laid out garden marked with regional, German and European flags marks the spot that will stand at the geographic centre of the European Union after Brexit.

'I hope no one else leaves': Sadness and hopes at EU's post-Brexit centre in German village
Veitshöchheim Jürgen Götz (4th from left) stands with villagers in the EU's new centre of Gadheim, pointing to an EU flag. Photo: DPA

Wrapped up in a woolly hat and scarf against the January cold lying over the bare fields, farmer Karin Kessler says the few dozen inhabitants have “very mixed feelings” about the new distinction.

When she heard in March 2017 that the EU's centre would shift to Gadheim, she believed it was a far-fetched April Fool's joke nine months after the British voted to quit.

READ ALSO: Brexit puts tiny German village at centre of Euroverse

But the spot — nine degrees, 54 minutes and seven seconds east and 49 degrees, 50 minutes and 37 seconds north — was calculated precisely by France's IGN geographic institute using a “centre of gravity” model taking into account the bloc's remaining territory.

The new geographical centre of Europe. Photo: DPA

“My son found the coordinates and sent me a picture on WhatsApp,” Kessler remembers.

“I zoomed in and said, oh, that's on our neighbour's field. And he replied, no, it's on our land!”

Since then, the municipality and the local landscape gardening school have pitched in to help shape the plot marking the new centre, even during the many
months of suspense over when Brexit would come — or whether it would at all.

READ ALSO: Brexit will shift the EU's new geographic centre to a German village of 80

“I definitely followed the debate in Britain, I was always getting the news on my phone. It was like a never-ending story,” Kessler says.

“I sometimes thought, don't the British have anything else to do but Brexit? So many people were demonstrating to stay after all that the outcome seemed really open, we really didn't know whether it would be for or against the EU.”

Britain's departure prompted fears for the future of the EU among local people, Kessler says.

Her father, who passed away in 2019, had been a soldier in World War II and saw the bloc as a guarantor of peace and stability on the continent in the post-war decades.

“I think there's plenty of people, especially those still with us who experienced the war, who can identify with that.”

'Limited time only'

Now a boulder of local limestone marks the post-Brexit centre, with a tilted red-and-white striped pole pointing to the previous location, some 60 kilometres to the northwest in Westerngrund.

Brigitte Heim, mayor of the municipality there, has had an equally “nerve-racking” time watching the back-and forth in Britain.

But at least “now each country can look to the future for itself, and maybe that will bring people back together a little in England,” she hopes.

People in Westerngrund always saw the centre of the EU as a “gift for a limited time,” Heim says.

“We see it as part of our history, our story,” although “perhaps if the Scots manage to break free, the centre could come back,” she jokes.

READ ALSO: Germans in Scotland: How Brexit has changed their view of the UK

Hope for the future

Even in Gadheim, “part of us hoped Brexit wouldn't happen, so we could keep Europe the way we've known it,” says Jürgen Götz.

The mayor of nearby Veitshöchheim — Gadheim is too small to have a mayor to itself — Götz adds that locals are “happy” to be named centre of the EU, talking up the area's ties to the rest of Europe.

Veitshöchheim has partner cities in Italy, France and the Czech Republic.

A blog about its links with Pont L'Eveque proudly displays pictures of visitors from the Norman town enjoying recitals from the children's choir and a visit to a local vineyard in 2017.

A car drives past a sign for Gadheim in March 2017. Photo: DPA

And in a major gas pipeline and a section of the centuries-old pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, infrastructure both ancient and modern links Veitshöchheim to neighbouring countries.

Looking ahead, “you can't know what effects Brexit will have for Britain and for the rest of Europe,” Götz muses.

“It'll depend on whether Britain manages to profit so much economically from leaving that there could be imitators. Of course, I hope no-one else leaves.”

One thing is certain for the Gadheimers: for all their meticulous preparations, the village — like other spots that have previously marked the EU's centre — won't be the centre of the world forever.

“So far only new countries had joined, there's something historic about the
centre of the EU moving because a country is leaving,” Götz says.

“I hope the next time it moves, it happens because a new country has joined
us again.”

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How roaming charges will hit travellers between the UK and EU in 2022

Trips between Europe and the UK and vice versa may well become more expensive for many travellers in 2022 as UK mobile operators bring back roaming charges. However there is some good news for all EU residents.

People look at their mobile phones.
How travellers between the EU and UK could be hit by roaming charges in 2022 (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

EU ‘roams like at home’ at least until 2032

First the good news. The European Union is set to decide to extend free roaming until 2032, so if you have your phone contract registered in an EU country you don’t have to worry about extra charges.

In addition to waiving the charges, the new regulation aims to ensure that travellers benefit of the same quality of service they have at home when travelling within the EU. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G through the EU if possible. 

Under new rules, travellers should be given information about access to emergency services, including for people with disabilities.

Consumers should also be protected from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes.

The final text of the new regulation was provisionally agreed in December. The European Parliament and Council will formally endorse it in the coming weeks.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges this year

And now the bad news for travellers to the EU from the UK

Customers of UK mobile phone operators face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some companies are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded during temporary stays in the EU.

This is one of the many consequences of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. Because of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which was designed to avoid shocking bills after holidays or business trips abroad.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their regular plans at no extra cost. Switzerland is not part of the scheme, although some mobile phone providers offer roaming deals or special prices to cover travel in Switzerland.

Under EU rules, if the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is also capped at €0.032 per minute of voice call, €0.01 per SMS and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded in 2022 (it was €3 + VAT in 2021). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is capped too.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on June 30th 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. This time, however, the UK will not be covered. 

Which UK companies are reintroducing charges?

Three major UK network operators this year will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in the EU.

As of January 6th 2022, Vodafone UK will charge customers with monthly plans started after August 11th 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

From March 3rd 2022, EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from July 7th 2021. Alternatively, EE offers the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10. 

Another operator that announced a £2 daily fee to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, is Three UK. The charge will apply from May 23rd 2022 for plans started or upgraded since October 1st 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad is also capped at 12 gigabytes. 

O2 already introduced in August last year a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other mobile operators said they have no intention to bring back roaming charges in the short term, but if won’t be surprising if they do so in the future. 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer organisation Which? was disappointed at the changes and urged the UK and EU to “strike a deal on roaming charges” to stop companies “chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to” and “prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter.” 

By law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month and consumers can only continue data roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending. 

What about EU residents travelling to the UK?

In the EU, most mobile phone operators seem keen to continue free roaming for travels to the UK, but some have announced changes too.

In Sweden, Telenor aligned UK’s prices to those of non-EEA countries on May 1st 2021 while still allowing free roaming for some plans. 

Another Swedish operator, Telia, ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on September 13th 2021 giving customers the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day. People travelling to the UK can also buy a weekly pass allowing to make calls, send texts and download 1 GB of data. 

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have extended current conditions for the UK until at least the end of 2022. However companies may keep other options open depending on negotiations with roaming partners. 

A1 Telekom Austria brought roaming charges back for the UK last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.