Politics & The World

Since the Brexit vote in the UK there has been a lot of speculation concerning the next countries to leave the European Union. France is being repeatedly named in those lists. There are several reasons why France is not likely to leave the EU any time soon. 

While British politicians are fairly unpopular in Brussels, French MEPs make up the core of the political groups and their messages, especially those who have pushed political integration and centralization. Joining the EU bureaucracy is considered to be a capstone to a successful political career, and a chance to be considered a “real” statesmen.The French political class is quite committed to the EU project. 

Moreover, there is substantial evidence that the French population overall  has a relatively high opinion of the EU and its institutions. Polling conducted after the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom backs this up: in a Paris-Match/iTELE poll in June of this year, only 35% of the surveyed people supported the idea of France leaving the European Union. A similar TNS poll only found 33% supporting the same. This trend is also confirmed by the current lead and importance of 2017 presidential candidate Alain Juppé, a former prime minister, running on the platform of being  “a European” while favoring political integration in the EU. The pro-EU Juppé is the current leader of the field in his primary with 42% (with only 28% going to his chief rival, former president Nicolas Sarkozy), and therefore the most likely to become the next president.

The French May Be More Easily Bullied than the British 

The Brexit reactions from EU officials only prove what the general trend of the European Union is: join our club or we will bully you. After creating a single market and restricting trade policies of its members, the EU then forces those who do not give in to accept all the edicts of the European commission — or else. If some sectors of the French population begin to push for separation, the EU will again get the fear machine rolling to prevent other countries from leaving.

This can be seen in the very language used by the pro-EU side, and leaving the EU is routinely described as “leaving Europe” as if being in the EU is synonymous with being European. Obviously, Europe as a continent (physical) is quite different from the European Union (political), but equating the two makes every potentially defecting country feel the effect of physically drifting away. It’s the playground bully telling his friends not to play with one particular kid so that he obeys the rules.

Perhaps the biggest factor in applying pressure against separatists is the press. While the British press has been, to put it quite frankly, enormously critical of the EU at times, the French press doesn’t feel this need at all. In the UK, the press pushes the parties, in France the parties push the press. News sources are either state-run or affiliated to one of the two main parties, of which both praise the European Union above all else.

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the editorial of the major newspaper Le Monde wrote:  “We believe … that ‘Brexit’ will release some of the darkest forces working European views today: regressive nationalism, a rise in far-right protests, and — here and there — threats to democracy.” Le Monde’s conservative rival publisher Le Figaro expressed its worries that the UK vote would trigger a referendum in France: “The risk is great as other countries rush into the breach opened by the United Kingdom.” The left-wing Libération seemed content with the result, because the UK had been in the way of further integration, of a ‘common project.’ Les Echos started the day by titling that the day of the referendum would remain a black day for Europe.” (Source) The state-broadcaster France Télévision was visibly in shock, then followed its own anti-Brexit agenda for weeks by showing the “plummeting British stock market.” The influential political radio station Europe 1 blasted the Brexit vote by inviting (of all people) Tony Blair on the air, reassuring listeners that “it is possible to find a deal for the UK to remain part of the European Union.”

France’s Earlier Referendum 

In 2005 the French electorate said “No” to the EU constitution. The reason for that was that French voters feared that the EU would impose “a neoliberal economic model” and reduce the standards of social security in the member states. In response, then-president Nicolas Sarkozy teamed with other European leaders a backroom deal called the Treaty of Lisbon, but made it quite clear that there would not be a vote on this new treaty at all. The Dutch and French failures to pass treaties through the referenda process taught the EU a lesson: referenda shouldn’t be allowed.

The EU is Insurance for the French Regime

This is by far the most important part of this argument that absolutely needs to be made: France was a strong voice for solidarity in the Irish and Greek bailouts, with support from the public, because the EU and its central bank will be France’s best insurance policy in the next crisis.

French politicians have learned from the legacy of François Mitterrand. In the early years of his administration, Mitterrand set to work implementing a variety of hard-left policies. These policies so crippled the French economy that Mitterrand was forced to take a hard pro-market turn just a few years later. Many French politicians today still believe Mitterrand compromised far too much. 

For this new breed of pro-EU leftist politicians, the strategy is clear: it’s full speed ahead. No reforms, no apologies. Should hard left policies appear to fail this time around, well, the European Central Bank can just step in. Since the European Central Bank must deal with the consequences of France’s drain on the euro, the rest of the continent will have to bailout the République, where even outside of a crisis, the French debt level is among the highest in Europe at almost 100% of GDP

Politics & The World

by Lisa Hermanns

The Brexit was surprising. Not only for Europe, not only for David Cameron, it also surprised many Out-Voters. The irony of this decision that apparently nobody took seriously, and only few in Europe had hoped for, is its arbitrariness. Nobody seems to know what will happen now. The Treaty of the European Union states in Article 50 that each Member State is free to leave the Union in accordance with its national constitution and that the conditions for such a case need to be negotiated with the Union. Yet, the way out of the EU is not laid down in detail. It is for Great Britain to submit its request to leave now, yet since Cameron and other government persons responsible do not hurry, uncertainty remains for the other Member States as well.

If the results of the referendum had been differently, everybody would have known what was to happen. It is surprising that a state would leave the EU anyways, and its founders did not envision such a situation. Indeed, Article 50 providing for such a case was only introduced in the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. Seven years after the ratification of this treaty, the scenario often depicted as a deathblow to European integration, could now occur.

On the global stage without Great Britain

And what exactly does the possibly leave of Great Britain mean for the EU and its Member States? Does the Brexit say more about the EU and its condition than about Great Britain? This is at least what Brendan Simms, Professor at Cambridge University, stated during a lecture at Maastricht University. The lack of transparency is often criticized about the EU, as well as it being alien to its citizens. The EU is pictured as an inefficient module of bureaucracy, to whom the curvature of cucumbers is more important than actual political problems. Internationally, the EU is often not respected as a partner in negotiations. These views and accusation do, however, not take into account that the Union is constraint by the way it shares competencies with the Member States. The latter try to keep their say in as many areas as possible. This behaviour is an explanation especially for the EU’s weakness on the international stage, as the 28 national representatives of the Member States always side-line the EU.

But while these states are worried to see their interests undermined if they were represented together with 27 others, European heads of states and governments do not seem to realise that their individual national interests do not matter extinctly on the international stage.If the interest of 500 million Europeans was represented unitarily, the international influence would be much more substantial compared to one voice speaking for 83 million Germans, another one for 9 millions Swedes, one for 60 million Italians and so on.

European Future

It is self-evidently not realistic to think that the interests of European states always converge. Otherwise no one would think it necessary to represent their national interests independently. Yet, the existence of the EU proves the ability of Member States to agree on common aims. Why should they do so only internally and not in global matters? For Great Britain, a state enjoying international recognition in global affairs, the EU has always mainly served economic purposes. Even EU-critical prime minister Margaret Thatcher was in favour of more European integration in the Single European Act of 1987, which completed the single market. If the EU concerned itself with topics non-related to trade, however, Great Britain was less enthusiastic. That is just why their leave is a chance for the Union to progress. Member States can risk more integration and reform the EU’s competences in a way to make its working more effective.

A reform does, however, not necessitate new competences for the EU. One step towards more efficiency would be to change the decision-making procedures in a way that would allow faster decisions. For instance, legislation by the Council of the European Union (national ministers) and the European Parliament could be designed more constructively: consultations on the intentions of both institutions could take place already before the European Commission brings forward a proposal.

If Council and Parliament likewise had the right to initiate legislation, the possibility to contribute common proposals could reduce the lengthy bargaining that usually follows a Commission proposal. Of course, these internal reforms would hardly alternate the EU’s global position. Yet, Great Britain’s possibly leave should encourage the Member States to reflect on the EU’s global meaning, and it should help them realise the Union’s value. If Barack Obama tells a nation like Great-Britain to get to the back of the line as an individual state, what does this even mean for other European states?


This article has also been published in German at firstlife.

Politics & The World

On June 23rd, the UK will decide whether to stay in the European Union. From a European perspective, what is frightening about this debate is not the xenophobic and often racist rhetoric used by parts of the anti-EU camp, but the nerveless arguments put forward by the EU-supporters.

There is a very simple and often entertaining way to get a glimpse of what many Brits have to deal with in the current Brexit debate. One merely has to go to a supermarket or local newspaper kiosk and read the headlines of The Daily Mail or the Sunday Express. With one hundred percent certainty (!) one will find the word “migrant” on the first page. Begging, stealing and raping their way through the island, Brits have to be careful because wherever they go, there will be a sneaky Syrian behind the next corner, ready to take their job and infect their children with what-have-you.

While this might seem quite irritating, strangely familiar to some extent and possibly ridiculous, what is actually scary from a European perspective is not the overt racism of the far-right but the ambitionless, unemotional conduct of the supporters of Britain in Europe.

The main part of the Brexit debate in the UK centres on the economic costs or benefits of staying in or leaving. While the Vote Leave campaign claims that the UK pays about £350 million to the EU each week – a number that ignores the vast economic benefits and subsidies the UK gets in return – the pro-EU camp spends a lot of effort refusing these claims and pointing to the economic benefits of staying. As a result, their arguments have pejoratively been labelled ‘Project Fear’. Boris Johnson and his fellows make repeated emotional appeals to British citizens that hardly contain any argumentative power. Comparing the European Union to Hitler was but the last expression of this trend.

Emotional arguments are often used in political debates and not necessarily condemnable. They can help creating a feeling of collectivity and shared interests as opposed to the political antagonist. As such they are essential for democratic discussion. It is therefore all the more frustrating to see the pro-EU side’s reluctance to appeal to emotions and ideals. The project of European integration is a great ideal and an emotional issue. Bringing 28 member states together in shared supranational institutions is a difficult task that cannot solely be dealt with in a technical manner. Mutual understanding of the historic importance of this unique enterprise is necessary as well as a shared vision for future development. The lack of emotional support that is currently spreading all over the Union and normally inherent to Euro-sceptics, seems to also have befallen the British Europhiles.

Tony Blair in March has criticised the EU supporters for not showing enough passion. He noticed a lack of enthusiasm among those campaigning to remain, and he is right. The Brexit debate is too self-centred on the advantages and disadvantages that the decision taken on June 23rd would have for the UK. When asked at a Brexit debate at the London School of Economics and Political Science why the pro-side so significantly lacked passion and an emotional appeal, the author and journalist Hugo Dixon said that Brits simply were “pragmatic” and that the debate should therefore focus on “practical things” rather than “ideals”.

Leaving the rhetoric power of emotional appeals entirely to the anti-EU side is a problematic and possibly dangerous endeavour. What is at stake is not just “a matter of economic realism”, to use Tony Blair’s words again, but also “a matter of political idealism”. The EU supporters should finally appeal to the great narrative of a united Europe that is crucial for maintaining peace and allowing its members a strong, united voice in the international sphere, rather than allow their opponents to nail them down on the economic, self-interested narrative.


Image by Gwydlon M. Williams.

Career & EducationPolitics & The World

As David Cameron got re-elected last month, he had no choice but to give in to pressure from UKIP: in 2017, or maybe even earlier, the British population will vote on the membership of Britain in the EU. In case of a ‘Brexit’, this referendum would have major consequences; not only for businesses, farmers and travellers, but also for students. If Britain backs out of the European Union, many study abroad benefits will be lost; for British students as well as those from other EU countries. Following is an overview of how lucky we are exactly – and what a huge setback a ‘Brexit‘ would be for ambitious students who want to broaden their horizon.

EU students studying in the UK – the luring appeal of ‘Oxbridge’

The United Kingdom offers many top-notch universities. The THE World University Rankings put the University of Oxford in 3rd place, Cambridge in 5th and Imperial College London in 9th. In contrast, the first non-UK EU universities on this list are the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (13th) and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (19th). This makes the United Kingdom a popular destination for international students; in 2013/2014, 125,300 EU students were studying in the UK.

Many students are profiting from Article 18 of the TFEU, which says that all member states are prohibited to discriminate on the basis of nationality within the EU. This means that any EU student pays the same tuition fees as the resident students of this country. This may seem obvious, but it actually isn’t: right now, UK and EU students pay £9,000 for one year of studying in Oxford or Cambridge; for non-EU students, this could be up to £30,000/year! Therefore, the tuition fees of EU students studying in the UK could increase significantly if the British universities are no longer bound by this non-discriminatory clause.

Other than this, chances are that the UK will also withdraw from the Schengen Treaty, which allows free movement of people and goods within the EU. In practice, this means that after a ‘Brexit’ students would have to get a ‘Tier 4 student visa’ in order to be able to study in the UK. Besides the £322 visa itself, you will also have to pay a ‘healthcare surcharge’, which, currently, for a US national is £525. There are also several eligibility requirements, such as sufficient knowledge of the English language and a guaranteed certificate of enrolment – plus,  students hvs to prove that they are able to sustain themselves and pay for their university and their stay. Free movement of people makes for a great opportunity, and taking this away is costly for students and makes for a lot of red tape.

UK students going to a EU country – cheap and fun

But not only do EU students enjoy the UK; ‘the continent’ is also a promising world of different cultures and a vibrant student life for English students. In 2013/2014, 10,414 UK students were studying in continental Europe. One of the most appealing aspects is the significantly lower tuition fees of most universities. In the Netherlands, most programmes cost around £1,500/year, and in Denmark and Sweden it costs absolutely nothing. This provides a great opportunity for the less wealthy students or those who do not want to be carrying the burden of staggering student loans. However, the same rule applies as for the UK tuition fees; without the non-discriminatory clause, English students will likely pay the same fees as non-EU/EEA residents, which usually lies at around €10,000. This rise in tuition fees will increase the burden on UK students to study abroad and the number of outgoing students will decline. At the same time, they will also have to acquire a visa from the country they want to study in, leading to the same complications that EU students run into when applying to study in the UK in a post-EU Britain.

Even larger benefits are derived from the Erasmus programme, which allows EU students to study abroad within the EU. UK students profit from this budget as well, with 14,651 English participants in 2012/2013. This programme as a whole would be taken away.

Why does this matter?

From the look of it, for students the most important impact will be in the study abroad-section. However, this is very important, since an increasing number of students study abroad for a certain period of time and the benefits of this are huge. Study abroad students are twice as likely to land a job within 12 months, their starting salaries are 25% higher (on average), 80% of study abroad students reported that they felt they were better able to adapt to different work environments, and 59% of employers said having studied abroad would be a valuable asset for an individual in their later career within an organization. These are all reasons why studying abroad should be encouraged, and one of the major sponsors in this field is the EU. Losing this support would mean decreasing chances for students to go abroad.

For EU students, this is a shame; but after all, they could still go to Paris, Berlin, Rome or Warsaw. UK students, however, would struggle with the increased difficulty of organizing this experience in all European countries. Thus, the home students would be disadvantaged most. There is only one thing to do: English students, vote pro-Europe!


Louise Bicknese, *1996, is a first-year student at University College Maastricht with a dream to become a journalist and a special interest in the European Union.


Image by Kosala Bandara.