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.