How do other countries view their relationship with the EU now?
On 28th June, in a Post-Brexit speech to the European Parliament, Nigel Farage, the leader of United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), predicted: “The United Kingdom will not be the last Member State to leave the European Union”. Britain’s decision to leave has provoked an array of reactions throughout Europe. An overwhelming majority of economists agreed pre-referendum that the possibility of Brexit would cause uncertainty in the British and European markets and pose many other economic risks. Immediately after the result of the Referendum, the British pound plummeted to a 31 year low. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, has said a second independence referendum for her country is now on the table. The uncertainty of having a non functioning government, no effective political opposition and no plan for Brexit means households and companies have put spending decisions on hold, “prompting a steep downturn” in the economy. With Britain’s economic future continuing to hang in skepticism and its politics in a fragile state, the idea that politicians from other European countries would propose a referendum seems not only absurd but a political suicide. However, against the backdrop of the 2008 world recession, growing frustrations among the young generation because of youth unemployment, increase in migration among other factors has made France, the Netherlands and many other European countries more vocal about their own national exit. Support for their anti-immigration and anti-minority policies is growing, giving them a stronger platform to voice their views, and gather votes.
Europe’s rising far right parties are now more outspoken than ever against anti-immigration and anti-European Union feelings. Pew Research Center polls illustrates, there is “clearly a base of support for anti-immigration appeals in many European Countries”. According to the research, a key factor driving opposition to immigration is the belief that immigrants are an economic burden. Since the recession of 2008, European economy has struggled to recover, and many lost their jobs throughout Europe. Cuts were made in almost every sector, as a direct result of the recession.
Moreover, in the run up to the 2008 recession, According to Europa Statistics, by the first quarter of 2008 youth unemployment rates more than doubled. Since the economic crisis, youth unemployment has taken an upward trend peaking in 23.8% in the first quarter of 2013. 2016 statistics show there are still 4.21 million youth unemployed in the EU. High youth unemployment rates reflect the difficulties faced by qualified young people in finding jobs. The recession highlighted problems within Europe, including the fragility of the the Eurozone leading to a double dip recession, higher unemployment and a painfully slow economic growth. UKIP’s agenda promised, limited and controlled immigration which would create more jobs for British people and work permits would be issued to only fill skills gaps in the UK jobs market. A scenario which appealed to all ages, as a result, such policies gained the party significant support in the run up the referendum.
The fear of immigrants stealing jobs is a growing sentiment in other countries also within Europe. A median of 55% taken from 7 countries want to limit immigration. According to Pew Research Center, 52% of those surveyed say immigrants are a burden because they take jobs and social benefits, 48% complain they want to be distinct from the local society, and 36% say they are to blame for crime. Since 2014, when this research was conducted, factors such as, the migration crisis as a result of the Syrian war have been a prime catalyst in making immigration a “highly politicized issue”.
Since the UK referendum, there has been a surge in reports of hate crime. Immigrants have been a focal point for recession and post-recession anxieties that have been legitimated by politicians who present immigration, and EU migration as a problem that needs to be urgently addressed. Between 22-30 June 2016, there were 258,553 tweets sent from the UK talking about migrants and refugees. A total of of 3,076 incident were recorded across the UK between 16 and 30th June.
While a majority of Germans have volunteered to help refugees, there has been a rise in anti-refugee sentiment that has lifted the support for anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany. European Union’s call for solidarity has been outwardly rejected by many of its Member States. On April 23rd 2015, Member State leaders met to discuss imminent action regarding the refugee crisis. British Prime Minister David Cameron refused outright to take any action towards the refugees, a Polish representative rejected new obligations and many others were unwilling to a make strong statement. According to a survey by ‘Die Zeit’, of the 222 most serious attacks on shelters reported 2015 only 4 were convicted by December of that year. It can be inferred the situation throughout Europe has worsened instead of improving. This has given right-wing parties a wide platform to promote dangerous levels of nationalism, racism and make statement which would normally be considered as a political suicide. Politicians such as Farage, Geert and Le Pen propose that the only way to curb this the rise in unemployment and improve the economy is to leave the European Union and take back more sovereignty. In France, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front and her party speak for protectionist economic policies and promise to clamp down on government benefits for immigrants, including health care and “drastically reduce the number of immigrants allowed into France.” Geert Wilders, the leader of anti EU PVVV party in the Netherlands believes, it’s also time for “Nexit”. In his opinion, the Netherlands should be the next country to follow the Brexit example and take back “control of their own identity, borders and immigration.”
This is a sentiment which more and more people are starting to believe. Demos, Britain’s leading independent think-tank, identified Immigration and sovereignty as one of the three key themes of the digital referendum campaign. The National Front party manifests if elected it would seek to re-negotiate all EU treaties in order to retract national sovereignty and establish primacy of national laws over European Laws. A Pew research survey shows that many Europeans think the EU is out of touch, intrusive and inefficient. A median of 42% of Europeans across the 10 European countries surveyed say that want to reclaim some powers from Brussels. Only 19% were in favour of greater centralization. In the UK 51% of 18-34 year olds and 62% 35-49 year olds surveyed shared this view. In April 2016, the Netherlands, in a nonbinding referendum, overwhelmingly voted to reject a EU trade deal with Ukraine. The result was seen as sign of the “fragility of public support for the EU as it battles economic problems and an acute migration crisis”.
Social media has provided a key platform where politicians can directly reach out to targeted audience. Exacerbating fears related to immigration and a weak economy has allowed political parties to pick and choose facts, exaggerate and understate crucial issues in order to woo the support of citizens. Demos, found that Brexit leave campaigners were much more active than the remain campaigners: “tweeting 97,000 times compared to 13,000 times in the critical days before the vote.” Consequently, parties further down the political spectrum can no longer be disregarded as a minority unable to represent the masses. In fact the popularity of extreme right wing parties is growing by the day, their views and policies swiftly seeping into mainstream politics. According the the New York Times: “Ms. Le Pen is expected to be her party’s candidate in the 2017 presidential election and make it to the second round of voting.” The party was founded by former Nazi collaborators and has a record of inciting racial hatred. The party’s agenda and policies feed of the population’s fear of increasing unemployment and more cuts. Research shows, 53% of French respondents said their national should have a referendum. A poll shows 44% of those asked said they would stay and 33% saying they leave.If these figures reflect the true and accurate feelings of the French citizens, it can be suggested that a referendum in France would be similar to the UK referendum, there is a narrow lead for the remain campaign.
Social media, instant coverage journalism and a better understanding of the economy and politics has, enabled a society which is more actively involved in policy making than ever before. However, it has also created a platform where information can easily be manipulated and still reach a large audience, and have significant impact. Consequently, Immigration and many other pressing issues need to be urgently addressed by the EU, in order to preserve and create harmony. The benefits of centralisation and a united European Union need to shown with just as much rigour and belief as the opposition promote theirs. While anxieties of the younger generation remain and grow steadily, scapegoating issues such as migration is the perfect opportunity for parties to promote national exits. However, it is not yet absolute whether other countries will follow their own national exit just yet. Polls can be helpful in predicting the general public opinion, but they can also be wrong as evident when comparing the prediction and result of the UK referendum.