I've lived in the UK for 15 years - nearly all my adult life. I came here as an 18 year-old student because it was easier to study in my field of choice. I did not plan to stay. But I got used to multiculturalism, queuing, and apologising for everything. I got used to pubs, parks, self-deprecating jokes and endless varieties of tea. I fell in love with London, the only city I can now call home. So I stayed.
Although I've paid taxes here for the past 15 years, and although I'm expecting a half-English little girl who will never have my funny accent, I'm not allowed to vote in this Thursday's referendum. Because of my distinctly Greek last name, if ever I express my views on Brexit in public, I get sarcastic comments about my country's financial state. Never mind that Greece's current predicament is due to its history of corrupt politicians and its membership to the monetary union. The majority of the electorate mistakenly blame Greece's fate on its EU membership.
There's another reason I've been less vocal about my stance on this referendum than I have been on any other major political issue: this time, it's about me. It's people like me who are the subject of the most aggressive debate in recent British history. It's people like me who are seen as a threat to British culture and sovereignty. I'm the problem. It's much harder to speak up to defend myself than it is to defend others.
This is why I'm going to leave immigration out of this. It's true that since 2009, the inflow of EU nationals to the UK has been greater than the outflow of UK nationals to Europe. Although the balance is still much smaller than UKIP and co would have you think, if this is reason enough for you to vote "out" on Thursday, there's nothing I can say about it.
But for me, the EU is much greater than immigration. Politicians will only present that version of the truth that serves their own agenda, leaving out whatever undermines their position. For example, David Cameron gains nothing from telling the public that workers' rights are protected through our EU membership, or that, were it not for EU influence, our climate policy would be non-existent. That's why he waffles incoherently instead of telling the public what's really at stake if we leave Europe.
To me, these are the five most important things we stand to lose:
1. Our fight against climate change: This conservative government has proven to be less than willing to make any real commitments to reducing green house gasses, even going as far as to try to sabotage existing efforts. At the same time, climate and energy specialists agree that our EU membership has greatly benefited the development of green climate and energy policies. Make no mistake: if we do not commit to addressing climate change it will be impossible to control immigration in the face of an ever-increasing influx of environmental refugees.
2. Our scientific research: A 2016 report by the Science and Technology Select Committee found that our EU membership has greatly benefited the UK scientific community. "The ease with which talented researchers can move between EU Member States and the UK, the EU's fertile environment for research collaboration, harmonised regulations and access to EU research facilities (...) make EU membership a highly prized feature of the research ecosystem in the UK." And that's before taking into account the immense financial support that UK research has had from the EU.
3. Our employment rights: UK workers have benefited tremendously from our EU membership. Amongst the employment rights we owe the EU are guaranteed paid annual leave, parental leave, equal pay and set limits on the working week. Who's to say that our rights will be protected if we leave? To those claiming that our Government would protect those rights post Brexit, I ask, why didn't it do so before the EU dictated it?
4. Our economy: Economists overwhelmingly agree that the short-term impact of Brexit on the UK economy will be negative. However, it is the long-term consequences of that outcome that are more worrying. OECD predicts that by 2020, our GDP would be 3% smaller than otherwise and that by 2030, it could further shrink to 5%. Economists also agree that the financial cost of Brexit would greatly outweigh the benefit of cutting our annual contributions to the EU budget.
5. Our joint vision: The EU was created after the end of two catastrophic World Wars in an effort to guarantee future peace. Brexit threatens to become the nail in the coffin of that vision, triggering a rise in nationalist powers across the continent. There has never been a greater need to stay together in the face of a decade-long decline in peace and stability.
It is a lie that our EU membership undermines our democracy. Our MEPs are elected and our country can veto any decision on sensitive topics such as foreign policy and taxation (for example, if the UK doesn't want Turkey to join the EU, it has the power to stop it). By being part of the EU, we guarantee that our rights, our freedoms and our environment are not at the mercy of business lobbies and party politics. There is no doubt that EU institutions need to become a lot more transparent so we can hold our elected representatives into account. We have the power to fight for democratic reform if we remain part of the EU.
For the first time in fifteen years I feel like a foreigner in my chosen home. But it's not about me. If Brexit happens, I will have to do what I've put off for over a decade and face the bureaucratic and financial headache that is applying for British nationality. I'll still have a funny accent at the end of it and I'll always be a foreigner to those who choose to see me as one. It is for the future of this country and for the future of Europe I worry, not mine. This is why I have to speak, even though I'm the problem.Suggest a correction