ROME – Most people know what it’s like to stay in a relationship too long. What were once small annoyances become huge fights as patience wears thin. And before you know it, promises are broken and doors (or in this case borders) are closing.
That’s kind of how the European Union is behaving at the moment, or at least that’s what recent polls suggest when it comes to whether or not British voters should vote to stay in the EU. European Union on Thursday. It’s as if Europe were saying to the United Kingdom: “OK, then, leave… But if you leave, don’t come back!
And if the UK votes to divorce itself from Europe on Thursday, it’s unclear how nasty the final settlement might be, or even how many other countries will follow the UK’s lead and try to get out. also.
Countries like Sweden are already considering holding their own referendum if the UK votes for bail. One could imagine years of ‘Swexit’, ‘Frexit’ and ‘Italexit‘ sagas unfolding as countries consider the value of remaining in a broken union as popular opinion weighs against it.
Moreover, it sometimes seems that no one outside the UK is really fighting to keep him in the European Union, except the arrogant Eurocrats and the pan-European multinational and British companies who will be directly affected by the British vote.
A recent survey by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation suggests that the majority of Europeans may be in favor of keeping the UK in Europe, but they aren’t exactly asking their friends across the Channel to stay. And some might be inspired to abandon the European project themselves.
Take France, founding member and architect of the European Union. According to the Bertelsmann poll, only 41% of French people think that British voters should vote to stay. Next year, staunch anti-EU campaigner Marine Le Pen will almost certainly dominate the first round of France’s presidential elections, even if, like her father when he was a candidate in 2002, she is ousted in the second round.
Following a Brexit vote, Marine Le Pen’s calls for France to hold its own referendum are sure to gain momentum, and it’s no coincidence that she announced this week that She was very supportive of Britain’s withdrawal.
“I would vote for Brexit, even if I think that France has a thousand more reasons than the United Kingdom to leave,” she said, since the French have to deal with the euro and the opening of borders. from the continent under the Schengen agreement, the two that the British refused to join a long time ago. “Whatever the outcome,” Le Pen said, “it shows that the EU is breaking down, that there are cracks everywhere.”
In Germany, another founding member of the EU, only 54% would like to see their British friends stay in the gang, according to the Bertelsmann poll. Italians and Spaniards are more accommodating, voting 56% and 64% respectively. But other data suggests they could be among the first to follow suit with their own referendums if the EU starts to tear apart.
The same Bertelsmann poll suggests that if Italy held a similar referendum on retaining its membership, it would be a close race, with just 52% of the vote to stay. In another Eurostat survey, 47% of Italians said they had not benefited from EU membership at all, with nearly 10% more responding that they did not know if they had done it or not, implying that they probably don’t. And the fact that Italians voted this weekend to elect the mayors of Rome and Turin from the anti-European Five Star Movement could spell trouble if they prove to be effective leaders.
In the Eurostat survey, 56% of Greeks said they had not benefited from EU membership and 45% of Austrians simply do not see what the EU has done for them.
Interestingly, only 37% of Britons said they had done so do not benefit from EU membership, despite the fact that the Leave campaign garners much higher polls than that.
These data underline the fundamental concern of many European leaders when it comes to organizing a referendum: the vote is likely to reflect short-term emotions driven by current events, not long-term development strategies. In 2005, for example, the French rejected the European constitution that their leaders had been instrumental in drafting. The fundamental reason: the vote had become a de facto referendum on the increasingly unpopular presidency of Jacques Chirac.
When British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged in 2013 to hold the Brexit referendum, he was trying to protect his right flank inside and outside the Conservative Party, and was reasonably certain that Britain would vote to stay. But that was before the onslaught of Islamic State organized and inspired terrorism in neighboring France, and the refugee crisis overwhelming Europe’s southern and eastern borders. These concerns are being exploited by the right across Europe and tend to overshadow the often confusing economic arguments for and against.
Some reports suggest countries like Italy will see up to a 7% drop in exports to the UK, while the Germans could see a 3% drop in their overall growth rate. Yet other reports, like Standard & Poor’s recent Sensitivity Index of the 20 countries most affected by a Brexit – “Who has the most to lose from Brexit?” – suggest that maybe it’s not that bad. Ireland and Malta face the biggest economic risks while Italy and Austria apparently won’t feel much pain. The United States is not even on the list of affected countries.
“Much of the disaffection with the EU among Europeans can be attributed to Brussels’ handling of the refugee issue,” according to a multinational poll by the Pew Research Center in early June.
“The British are not the only ones who have doubts about the European Union”, according to the findings of Pew. “The image and stature of the EU has been on a rollercoaster ride across Europe in recent years.”
Frontline countries facing the influx of refugees and migrants, such as Italy and Greece, obviously see the refugee crisis as a problem for all of Europe to share. Landlocked countries obviously disagree with this concept and have tightened their borders accordingly.
The one thing most EU countries agree on is how well Europe has handled the crisis. “In all the countries studied, overwhelming majorities disapprove of the way Brussels has dealt with the problem. This includes 94% Greeks, 88% Swedes and 77% Italians. The strongest approval of the EU’s handling of the refugee crisis is found in the Netherlands, but this support is only 31%.
If British voters decide to stay, one has to wonder if it will be like the couple staying together ‘for the sake of the children’ where the issues that got them to this point will continue to bubble under the surface. Or, if they leave, will there be a contagion of divorce throughout the neighborhood? Whatever happens on Thursday, a lot of damage has already been done.