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Goodbye. Hello: New MEPs join parliament after Brexit

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Brussels (AFP)

For many in the EU, Brexit is goodbye. But for the MEPs elected to replace the Britons leaving the European Parliament, it is a new beginning.

The mandate of the 73 British MEPs ends on Friday night when Britain quits the bloc, but as the EU is getting smaller so too is the parliament -- dropping from 751 to 705 members -- and so 27 representatives from 14 member states will take their place.

France and Spain take the lion's share of the new intake with five members each, followed by the Italians and the Dutch with three, then two Irish and, among others, one Romanian, one Austrian, one Polish, one Croatian, one Swede and one Estonian.

"I've been living these last few months in a state of emotion and uncertainty. Then Brexit was postponed again and the British held new elections," new MEP 45-year-old Spanish socialist Marcos Ros Sempere told AFP.

Sempere, an architect and university professor, plans to pick up his accreditation in Brussels on Monday.

Although their term of office theoretically starts on February 1, most newcomers will not take over their offices until February 7, and they will be officially introduced at the parliamentary session in Strasbourg starting three days later.

The months of waiting were less of a drag for retired Estonian General Riho Terras, 52, who continued working for his company, which develops unmanned vehicles for the military and industry.

He will join the ranks of the centre-right EPP group.

Frenchwoman Ilana Cicurel, 47, a member of the centrist Renew Europe group, said the delay gave her time to prepare herself, but now she is "impatient and proud" to be able to start.

To help her in her new role, she will employ the Belgian parliamentary assistant of a British Liberal Democrat MEP.

For 52-year-old Irishman Barry Andrews starting the new job after eight months in "cold storage" brings mixed feelings.

"I suppose the overwhelming sense is of regret," the veteran politician of the centre-right Fianna Fail party told AFP.

"I don't want to trot out cliches but there's a lot of real strong bonds of friendship that are being broken now."

The excitement of taking up his seat mingles with regret. "That's a tricky kind of paradox for me to try to express," he said.

"There won't be any cartwheeling down the centre of Brussels. I think we have to have respect for the many millions of UK citizens that voted against leaving the European Union," he added.

- English lessons -

But there was no sentimentality about Brexit for Frenchman Jean-Lin Lacapelle, elected for the far-right National Rally party.

"Finally, the people are respected," he said, recalling that the referendum on Brexit was held more than three years ago, in June 2016.

"The European Parliament did everything it could to thwart the departure of the British," he said.

For his part, 62-year-old French ecologist Claude Gruffat has prepared for his mandate by visiting Brussels and Strasbourg "at least twice a month".

From the start of the European election campaign he resigned as president of the Biocoop network of organic shops, considering his work "incompatible" with his "commitment in the political sphere".

For Gruffat, Brexit is "a weakening of Europe and the British.... We, the newcomers, are facing a political landscape in disarray."

He hopes to help "make the Union stronger". And, aware that English will remain the main working language in Brussels despite Brexit, he has decided to take lessons to brush up.

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