We continue our look at evidence of fragility in other EU member states.
In Germany Frauke Petry is leading the ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) deep into euroscepticism. She says, “The Great Britain decision to leave the EU is a signal to the Brussels Politburo and its bureaucratic attachments. If the EU does not finally leave its wrong path, and the quasi-socialist experiment of deeper political integration, more European Nations will reclaim their sovereignty the way British are. The result would be more exits. At the very least the Brussels bureaucracy must be radically reduced and the centralist regulation craze ended.”
The AfD is doing well in the polls and will present formidable opposition to the ruling coalition at next year’s national elections. Chancellor Merkel is concerned that Brexit may lead to other countries holding referendums or plebiscites and so revealing the widespread opposition to the way the EU is running.
According to a recent poll in Germany, nearly one-third of Germans believe that their country should leave the EU. Only 54% would vote to remain, if there were a referendum, with the balance undecided. Part of the discontent comes from the reaction to the massive immigration of asylum-seekers from North Africa and the Middle East; some comes from the feeling that Germany is expected to bail out Greece for it profligacy and so echo the North-South controversy that divides the eurozone.
The AfD have promised to call their own vote if they get into power in Germany’s general election in autumn next year. After the Brexit victory in June, AfD chairman Bjorn Hocke said: “I know the German people want to be free of EU slavery.” The European policy spokesman for the party said: “Next year the AfD will enter the German parliament and Dexit will be top on our agenda.”
The Left Party leader Sahra Wagenknech has also called for Germany to hold its own referendums on key EU decisions such as trade deals. “I believe that it’s right to give the people the chance to vote on important issues like the planned free trade TTIP deal, or other European agreements,” she told Die Welt newspaper.
Paul Schmidt, Secretary General of the Austrian Society for European Politics, currently resident at the London School of Economics, gives an interesting overview of changing sentiment in Austria towards the EU:
Like most academics he is a Remainer but his analysis of the changing situation in Austria is fair. For example, he “states that while there remains a consistent majority among Austrian citizens for staying in the EU, criticism of European policymaking has increased substantially since the early 2000s. Nevertheless, survey evidence indicates that there was an immediate reduction in the number of Austrian citizens who support leaving the EU following the UK’s referendum, and a so called ‘Auxit’ remains an extremely unlikely prospect in the near future.”
“In 2000, bilateral measures were imposed by EU states against Austria as a reaction to the participation of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in government, casting a shadow over the relationship between the country and its EU partners.”
“Price increases in sensitive areas following the introduction of the euro, as well as the Eastern enlargement of the European Union, further raised concerns about national sovereignty, increased competition and the economic benefits of membership. Discontent surrounding EU bureaucracy, imperfect democratic procedures at the EU level and – finally, but importantly – Austria’s status as a net contributor to the EU budget.”
“The perception that European integration is exacerbating rather than managing the downsides of globalisation has ultimately created a space for increasing Euroscepticsm.”
“The loss of confidence in the common currency was particularly alarming because the euro was widely regarded as key to stability in Austria, and an important element in facilitating the growth of a European identity.”
“The question of more direct democracy is an additional ever-recurring element in Austrian EU debates. From the government’s perspective, the Brexit referendum, alongside other cases such as the Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement earlier this year, demonstrate the peril that can arise from direct democracy, with referendums on complex issues quickly transforming into generalised protest rather than a limited evaluation of the issue at hand.”
“The multitude of problems the EU is confronted with has clearly damaged trust in politics, both at the national and European levels.”
The general value of this analysis is that most of the issues listed exist in most EU member states and are likewise contributing to the union-wide increase in scepticism with regard to the EU’s fundamentals and performance against expectations.
Polls suggest that 50% of Greeks believe that their country has not benefited from membership of the EU. Parties of both right and left are eurosceptic and Alexis Tsipras, leader of the governing Syriza party has said that he wishes to reverse the austerity regime that, he says, was imposed on Greece by the EU.
Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s finance minister in 2015 argues that Europe is disintegrating. “The great fear is that the disintegration of the European Union — whatever you may think about the European Union — is going to come at a very, very large human cost. … “That kind of Europe is one that breeds monsters. It is not the kind of Europe that the world needs,” he said.
Varoufakis has also criticized the EU’s handling of refugees. Earlier in 2016 Varoufakis launched the pan-European agency, DiEM25, to try to make European institutions more democratic and transparent.
Around one-quarter of the adult population in Greece is without work, with unemployment seen averaging 24.7 percent in 2016, according to the European Commission. Public debt as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) is predicted to rise to 182.8 percent this year.
Swedish parties from both right and left express a preference that the country should leave the EU.
The Sweden Democrats – Sweden’s right-wing anti-immigration party – have renewed calls for a UK-style referendum on EU membership. Mattias Karlsson, who leads the party in the Swedish parliament, has said: “With Brexit, I think the tide has turned. … We can see that a larger proportion of the Swedish population are increasingly Eurosceptic and in favour of leaving the European Union.”
Göran von Sydow, deputy director of the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies, said Sweden’s Left Party was also pushing for EU reform and renegotiation. He said: “The Left Party is also Eurosceptic but slightly less explicit about asking for a referendum and less advocating a Swedish exit.”
A founding member of the EU’s predecessor communities, the Netherlands has traditionally been a strong supporter of the EU. However, in recent years the country rejected the European Constitution in 2005 and has complained about the cost of membership and the democratic deficit, among other issues. Dutch voters rejected an EU partnership deal to remove trade barriers with Ukraine during a referendum in April this year.
The Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders, has pressed for the Netherlands to leave the EU. He has said that if his party wins the election next year, and he becomes prime minister, there will be a referendum on leaving the European Union. Mr Wilders and his party have been leading in several polls ahead of the next parliamentary elections in the Netherlands in March.
Other Eurosceptic Dutch politicians are also pushing for a Nexit – or Netherlands exit – from the EU in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Political expert Tom-Jan Meeus said euroscepticism is booming in the traditionally liberal country and predicted that right-wing candidate Geert Wilders could become its next leader.
The fourth freedom, movement of people, is having the opposite effect in Lithuania from that experienced in Britain. Since Lithuania joined the EU in 2004 some 370,000 people, from a population of 2.6 million, have opted to move abroad to work. Perhaps 150,000 of the movers landed in Britain. This is the fastest population reduction in the EU and is attributed to EU policy.
A protest party, the Peasants and Green Union Party, recently won the national election in Lithuania, to almost everyone’s surprise. If the party is able to form a coalition government – it has the largest number of seats but not a majority in the Lithuanian Parliament – then it will seek to reverse the emigration trend and this will bring it face-to-face with the sacrosanct fourth freedom.
The European Union
In a letter to EU leaders, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, said it would be “a fatal error” to assume that the UK vote was a specifically British issue, describing it as “a desperate attempt to answer the questions that millions of Europeans ask themselves daily” about security, cultural heritage and way of life.
This view is found across EU institutions. “Brexit is a symptom of broader issues,” one EU diplomat said. “It is not as such the decisive factor, it is a wakeup call.”
Many Brussels insiders see little chance of repairing the bloc while France and Germany are preoccupied with elections in 2017.