As Britain Votes on Brexit, Opinions Divided Across Continent
The lead up to the EU referendum has shown just how risky holding such a vote is, with impacts on political, economic and investment decisions even before the vote takes place. So would other countries want to hold referendums too?
In May, Ipsos Mori conducted a poll of 500 to 1,000 people from Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Sweden, asking for their views on whether they would want their own referendum on leaving Europe and how they would vote.
The outcome was mixed with Italians and French saying they wanted a referendum, while Poles were more pro-Europe. Overall, 45 per cent wanted their country to hold a referendum, and a third would vote to leave.
“I think the theme from this is of a divided Europe,” Bobby Duffy, Ipsos Mori’s managing director of social research, told the Epoch Times.
“It’s not that big majorities of people in other European countries are clamouring for a vote or saying that they want to vote out.”
He said it’s more that there is a significant proportion in other European countries who wanted a say – and some wanted out. The results varied across Europe.
Roughly four in ten French and Swedes would vote leave, according to the poll, and almost half of Italians would vote out.
“On the other hand, you’ve got significant proportions that actually want more European integration so it’s a real challenge for the European Union, if they have a very divided and varied population. There is no clear message,” Duffy said.
Almost half the people surveyed thought Britain voting to leave would lead to a “domino effect” across Europe.
But Duffy says there will likely not be an “immediate clamour for votes” in other countries after the referendum if Britain votes out.
“I think wisely people would want to sit and look to see how it works for Britain,” he said. “You’ll definitely see those who are eurosceptic in other countries using it as a point to garner their own support. But among the general public, I think what you’ll see after an exit vote is there a lot of uncertainty in the short term about what the impact is.
“I doubt you’ll see a groundswell of ‘Britain’s done it so let’s do it too’. The domino effect, which is what people are most focused on within Europe, wouldn’t happen immediately. It would take some time, like all of the things around an exit vote would.”
If Britain votes to stay in, it will not likely quell the EU debate, says Duffy.
“If it’s relatively close, even if you’ve got 40 odd per cent voting to leave, then you will see a continued debate on Britain’s place in Europe and particularly freedom of movement,” he said.
“The impact will be on what does Britain do about that and how does that affect European countries. Again, you will see Britain trying to achieve more restrictions on freedom of movement. That would be a very relevant debate as well to other European countries who are also concerned about freedom of movement.”
Studies suggest the main drivers of euroscepticism are immigration and the economy, with countries that have been hit hard by the financial crisis of 2008 – such as Greece, Spain and Italy – losing trust in the EU.
“As the economy is in less bad shape, people get less worried about it. Economy is one of those things that absolutely fills people’s concerns when it’s gone wrong and drops out when it feels better,” said Duffy.
Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center, based in Washington, D.C., released the latest result of a long-term study on eurosceptism in Europe.
“Even though there is diversity in opinion among the 10 countries we surveyed, we found that support for the EU has generally been declining in key European countries over the last 12 years we have been tracking this,” said Jacob Poushter, a Senior Researcher at Pew Research Center in a telephone interview.
Again, 72 per cent of Poles had a favourable view of the European Club, together with 61 per cent of Hungarians, while support from the Greeks was tepid at 27 per cent.
The study found that support for the EU is falling with a median of 42 per cent of the 10 countries surveyed wanting to devolve some powers back to their own countries, 27 per cent support the status quo and just 19 per cent favour giving more power to the EU. And this trend started even before Britain’s referendum, said Poushter.
“We see France is actually a country that has some of the most unfavourable views of the EU,” said Poushter. In 2004, 69 per cent had a favourable view of the EU; now only 38 per cent do.
The Pew Research study found that “much of the disaffection with the EU among Europeans can be attributed to Brussels’ handling of the refugee issue”, with 94 per cent of Greeks, 88 per cent of Swedes, and 77 per cent of Italians disapproving of how the EU has dealt with the problem.
Hussein Kassim, professor of politics at the Centre for Competition Policy at the University of East Anglia, thinks the two most pressing issues for the EU are development of the eurozone and the migrant crisis.
“Those are enormous issues and so far there seems to be a lack of agreement on how to fix either of them, so those won’t go away for a while,” he said in a telephone interview.
Duffy agrees: “The biggest challenge above immigration for the European Union is how to encourage prosperity in citizens in Europe. If we hadn’t had a financial crisis and terrible recession a lot of these debates and focuses on what the value of being in Europe is would be significantly less.
“Can Europe actually get growing again in any way? It’s the biggest single issue.”