How the Brexit chaos extinguished Euroscepticism elsewhere

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Sian Norris took the temperature of Euroscepticism in EU countries and found that Brexit did not inspire imitators across the continent

“I think Brexit silenced Eurosceptic voices for a long time,” insists Budapest-based journalist Ivett Korosi. “Seeing the UK-EU struggle trying to come to a final deal has made other countries very cautious.”

In early 2020, just 48 hours before the UK officially left the EU, Nigel Farage told the European Parliament that Brexit was a ‘hammer blow’ for Europe and that other countries would soon follow suit. not with their own exits.

But, with this week’s border crisis providing a disturbing dress rehearsal for the consequences of a ‘no deal’ Brexit – and the UK government floundering in the fish in final negotiations – the rest of Europe is claiming. really to join the much anticipated sunny highlands outside the EU?


Italexit?

In his speech, Farage named Italy and Poland as the member states most likely to follow in Britain’s footsteps.

In some ways he was right. Italy has the lowest support for the EU among the four largest economies in Europe. A poll commissioned by Euronews found that 45% of those polled supported Italy’s exit from the EU if Brexit was successful. France was next at 38%, followed by Spain at 37% and Germany at 30%. Meanwhile, during the summer launch of the Italexit political party, Gianluigi Paragone promised to free Italy “from the cage of the European Union and the single currency”.

Paragone is not the only Italian populist leader to attack the EU. Matteo Salvini de la Lega described traditional Italian values ​​around marriage and “family” as being attacked by “the West” – citing the extremist right-wing religious organization, the World Congress of Families, as “Europe that we would like to see “, on the EU.

In this regard, Italy’s disenchantment with the EU is shared by the Polish political class. Members of the ruling Law and Justice party also accuse the EU of imposing foreign values ​​on conservative Poland, just like in Italy. After the EU berated Poland for its restrictive abortion laws, for example, its Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek told Polish television that “in Europe we have reached a worse level than the Soviet Union and Communism ”.

Polish women fight backAgainst anti-abortion lawsNeed support from Europe

According to political scientist Phillip Pollack, who studied in Budapest but now lives in Athens, this reflects how Euroscepticism in the former Eastern Bloc countries is closely linked to questions of sovereignty and their recent totalitarian past.

“You have to keep in mind that the countries of the Eastern bloc had only been liberal self-determined states for 14 years when they joined,” he explains. “They never thought they were joining the EU to give up the apparatus or the sovereignty of their state.”

But, while Poland’s political leaders are hostile to the EU in order to advance its populist and authoritarian agenda and are supported by the right Do weekly Rzeczy with calls for a Polexit, the majority of Polish citizens are in favor of EU membership. In fact, 81% would vote to stay in the Union in a referendum on the issue, according to a new opinion poll.

Meanwhile, in Romania, the entry into parliament of the far-right AUR party could be a sign of rampant Euroscepticism. Its founder George Simion calls the AUR a “Christian Party, a nationalist and patriotic party” which strongly opposes the values ​​of the EU – echoing Salvini and Law and Justice.


Defeat populism

After his far-right colleagues in Poland, Romania and Italy, comes Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. He too portrays the EU as imposing its values ​​on the country, in defiance of Hungarian traditions. This is especially true when it comes to migration policy, but also the rights of women and LGBTIQ people.

“The ‘protection’ of the Hungarian people and their interests against the ‘hostile forces’ has been at the center of the Prime Minister’s communication strategy for years,” Korosi explains. “The government has spent a huge amount of taxpayer money on anti-migration communication campaigns, George Soros or Brussels.”

But, just like in Poland, the majority of Hungarian citizens are in favor of joining the EU. The Standard Eurobarometer, which assesses the number of Hungarians who find EU membership useful, almost tripled between 2009 and 2019. This is in part due to freedom of movement, Korosi explains, because “many Hungarians have siblings, children and grandchildren living in other EU states. This means that even the older generation has firsthand experience of the benefits of membership. “

The EU is also seen as an ally by many to challenge Orban’s increasingly authoritarian regime. More liberal Hungarians and the left-wing opposition are keen to maintain their membership in order to use his apparatus to weaken Orban’s power. And while Orban does everything he can to undermine the authority of the EU, the economic and social benefits of membership make a Hungrexit unlikely.

HungaryHomophobia, hypocrisy& Authoritarian personality


Conditional and cautious

Much of the antagonism towards the EU from Italy resulted from monetary policy following the 2008 economic crisis, while in Hungary migration was used by the ruling party to fuel anger against The union. Both issues had an impact on Greece, which in 2015 faced a double whammy of the migrant crisis and the eurozone.

But talking about a Grexit has never been so much an exit from the EU as an exit from the single currency, according to journalist Yiannis Baboulias.

“In Greece, you still have this major distinction between anti-EU and anti-euro,” explains Baboulias. “The anti-euro stance is entirely linked to the crisis and the inability to resolve it within the European monetary system. This showed that it was impossible for small countries to exit this cycle if they did not have their own currency.

For Baboulias, Grexit shared some of the same sovereignty concerns that Brexiters did.

“When you have a German finance minister deciding the terms of a Greece bailout, a Greek voter will have to ask ‘wait, I didn’t vote for you – how do you have so much power over it of our national parliament? ? “he explains.” How can I vote you? I can’t! It’s not a problem when things are going well, but when there is a crisis… ”

Descent of Great BritainSupremacy not sovereigntyhas always been the dark heart of Brexit

The 2015 Greek crisis “was the first vital sign of the EU’s democratic deficit,” Pollack said. However, he believes that as long as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis “succeeds in attracting foreign investment and economic diversification of the country and making it more accessible to European countries”, the Greek people will continue to support EU membership.

Baboulias agrees with Pollack that the Greeks are generally in favor of joining the Union. But he calls for caution, especially in foreign policy. He cites the recent arms sales to Turkey by Germany at a time when Turkey has become increasingly optimistic about its Greek neighbors as a source of euroscepticism.

“Greece wants to be part of the EU, but not unconditionally,” he explains. “If you look now, Germany is selling advanced weapon systems to Turkey. Turkey threatens Greece with war. Greece asks: what are you doing? Some countries only judge the geopolitical and financial challenges from their own position, as if the Union is just one thing that allows them to sell cars, not an entity sharing borders and a central bank. This is the contradiction.

Suddenly, Greece “wants to be part of this collective. But it is not unconditional. And the way it’s going, it’s going to break ”.

Back in Hungary, Korosi believes the political situation in the UK has made “Hungarians more pro-EU than they already were”.

“Perhaps the hardest part is yet to come for the UK,” she said. “So I think even Eurosceptics will watch quietly.”


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