OPINION: Bonjour tristesse

I write to you from Leipzig, a city I first visited 30 years ago when it lay behind the Iron Curtain. Back then, I needed a visa to visit, which took months to obtain. I could never have dreamt that Leipzig would one day lie within the European Community of which my country was already a member or that my country would vote to leave that community.

For anyone who has lived a life in Europe, Brexit is a devastating blow. For this magazine, whose raison d’être has been to promote a single market for investment funds in Europe. For your business, whether you sell from the UK or into the UK or simply appreciate the unique contribution that the UK has made to financial services in Europe. For the 27 countries now left to make the union work without the awkward squad.

Above all, as is now apparent, the Brexit vote was a colossal act of self-harm. As everyone in the fund industry knows, no country has benefited more from the single market in financial services than the UK. No country has been more active in selling its fund management expertise across borders than the UK. And what is the plan for the future of the UK fund industry? There isn’t one. Just as there isn’t a plan for the future of the UK.

Anyone who imagines that it will be a simple matter for UK funds to access a European passport post-Brexit is living in la-la land. Take a look at this month’s Swiss asset management feature if you don’t believe me. Yes, the Swiss have made their unique position outside the EU and the EEA work for them, but it’s harder for them, and you have to wonder how many refuseniks one economic community can support.

Crucially, the Swiss fund managers I spoke to saw the country’s 2014 vote to curb immigration, yet to be implemented, as a threat to their future business.

Of Asset Management Initiative Switzerland, launched in 2012 with the aim of bringing new asset managers to Switzerland, the Swiss Bankers Associations says: “The implementation of the mass immigration initiative […] which has still not been defined, is creating increased legal uncertainty and makes it more difficult for foreign asset managers to opt for relocation to Switzerland.”

How the UK is going to marry the xenophobia that led to the Brexit vote with a vibrant financial services sector is anyone’s guess. For not only are curbs on the free movement of labour from EU countries a threat to business and a bit of an insult to our (erstwhile) European partners, they rather go against the zeitgeist.

Leafing through an in-flight magazine on the plane to Berlin, I came across an article about roamers – people, mainly in their 20s and 30s, who are of no fixed abode in a good way. To be frank, they sound quite annoying, but their champion, CM Patha, author of Roaming: Living and Working Abroad in the 21st Century, sums up the kind of attitude to nationality that we need to make the EU work. 

“Expat and immigrant are 20th-century concepts for 20th-century ways of living,” says Patha. “The 21st century is giving rise to an entirely new lifestyle. Roamers make a choice to live internationally.”

Brexit is a tragic outcome for anyone, who, like myself, believed in a less achingly trendy version of that Europhilia – a Europhilia that for me began with reading Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan in school and led to a career interpreting European trends.

Passing through border control in Germany on my way to Leipzig, I wondered not so much about passporting funds as about passporting myself. How long before I can no longer join the queue for EU citizens?

When I first visited Leipzig 30 years ago, people used to occasionally offer me money for my passport. This time, I felt like offering them money for theirs.

Fiona Rintoul is editorial director at Funds Europe

©2016 funds europe



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