Is the European Union unravelling? In the wake of Brexit, will more countries start clamouring for referendums of their own? Are we about to witness a “domino effect” across Europe, as Eurosceptic parties in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Poland, and elsewhere force the issue of a vote on independence up the political agenda?
The Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant leader of the National Front party in France, Marine Le Pen, recently spelled it out clearly: “What I’m asking for is a referendum in France. Every EU member should be able to have its say in a referendum.”
Judging from your comments, many of our readers would agree. For example, we had a comment from Hannah arguing that it is self-evident that there is a great deal of unrest and dissatisfaction throughout most of Europe. She believes, therefore, that now Britain has voted to leave, others may follow suit.
To get a response to Hannah, we spoke to Dr. Jan Eichhorn, Chancellor’s Fellow in Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh and Research Director of the think tank d|part. What would he say to Hannah?
Well, I recently conducted a survey with some colleagues at the University of Edinburgh and the think tank d|part, in which we analysed views in six other EU Member States in quite a lot of depth: France, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Poland, and Sweden. So, quite different countries. And what was remarkable is that a lot of people in these countries also have an appetite for a referendum. So, in four of these six countries, there’s actually a plurality of people who say: “Yes, I’d like to have a referendum myself, actually. I’d like to have a similar decision-making process”.
There are countries where more people oppose a referendum. In Ireland, for example, there are more people who oppose having a referendum. Which is interesting, because Ireland is the country of the six with the strongest experience, actually, of constitutional referenda, particularly in recent years. So, it’s not a one-size-fits-all-answer. Different countries would react differently, though there is clearly an appetite for referenda in quite a few places.
The obvious question is: How would people vote if they had the chance? Clearly, this is a bit hypothetical: If this happened, what would you do? But we asked that question and, in all of those six countries, there was always a larger group of people who would want to remain in the EU than would want to leave. However, the extent of support for remaining in the EU varies greatly. So, when we look at Germany, at Spain, at Poland, at Ireland, it’s a clear majority in favour of staying in the European Union. When we look at France and Sweden, however, the margin narrows quite substantially. And what we see there is actually that, although it is a larger group that wants to remain, you have a very substantial minority that is actually saying at this point already, in a hypothetical referendum: “I would vote to leave”…
To get another perspective, we also spoke to Bruce Stokes, Director of Global Economic Attitudes at Pew Research Centre. What did his research find?
We just did a survey in 10 EU countries and, maybe not surprisingly, 65% of the British say they want to bring some power back to London from Brussels. This is what the referendum’s all about; it’s about whether you want more Europe or less Europe. However, what we found also was that 47% of the Swedes, 44% of the Dutch, and 43% of the Germans also said they wanted to bring more power back to their national capitals too.
So, the survey we’ve just completed suggests that there is a significant minority – and in some cases a plurality – of populations in continental European countries who also want less Europe and not more Europe. And Hannah can draw her own conclusions about what that means following the British vote, but it does suggest that this question is not resolved on continental Europe either.
Finally, we spoke to Bojan Pancevski, EU Correspondent for the Sunday Times. As a journalist following the mood in Europe closely, what would he say to Hannah? Will Brexit increase the appetite for referendums in other European countries, such as France and the Netherlands?
Oh, yes, absolutely. Not just in France and the Netherlands, you’ve also got Austria where the biggest political party is asking for a referendum; in Poland there are many forces asking for the same; in Denmark it’s also on the cards. So, I think certainly it will very much encourage populist and anti-EU movements and political parties to push for referenda of their own.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but what’s interesting to note is that EU approval ratings in the polls are actually higher in Britain than in France and the Netherlands at the moment, two of the founding members of the European Union. So, this idea that Britain is overtly Eurosceptic is not true; Statistically speaking, France at the moment is more Eurosceptic than Britain. There was a poll earlier this week that showed that 58% of people surveyed in the Netherlands would vote to leave if they were given the chance.
However, I don’t think there will now be a series of referenda, because legislation is different, and the political situation is certainly much more stable in other countries than it is in Britain, with the Tory party split and so on. So, I don’t necessarily expect a wave of referenda to ensue. But certainly the pressure will be enormous.
Will more EU countries hold referendums? Will there be a domino effect, as popular pressure increases across Europe for votes on independence? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!