Steven Blockmans and Stefani Weiss (Centre for European Policy Studies)
Following the announcement of the results of the British referendum, in which almost 52 percent of the participating voters were in favor of the UK leaving the EU, the predictions that anticipated negative consequences of a possible Brexit have now become a reality. Besides the economic consequences, such as a sharp drop in the value of the sterling, the Brexit has also caused a strong polarization of the British society. Sinn Fein party has called for a reunification of Northern Ireland and Ireland and prominent Scottish leaders have immediately after the announcement of the results called very loudly for another referendum on the issue Scotland’s withdrawal from the United Kingdom. And what implications will Brexit have on the Union itself?
The British society is not the only one that is divided in its view of the EU. In many other countries, such as France or the Netherlands, there are growing anti-EU sentiments and also popularity of anti-European parties, which perceive Brexit as an opportunity to call referenda on the withdrawal of their respective countries from the Union. A recent sociological survey conducted by the Pew Research Center among more than 10,000 respondents from 10 EU member countries revealed that on average 47 percent of Europeans perceive the EU negatively. Moreover, in some countries, such as France, the rise of the anti-European sentiment in recent years has been really striking. This trend is ever more worrying in the light of the upcoming French presidential elections in April-May next year
The results of the referendum have not only pointed to the failure of the British government to face the lies and half-truths that had been disseminated by tabloid media and some politicians calling for Britain’s exit from the EU, but also the inability of the leading representatives to communicate to the citizens in a comprehensible manner all the positives that the UK membership in the EU brings. Even that is, however, not enough. The Union must promote a realistic approach that does not create distorted illusions about what the EU and the governments of Member States can achieve together.
The British referendum is a warning sign for the further direction of the EU. The Union must focus more on the cooperation in those areas where the member countries share a common view and on those issues that bring tangible positives for EU citizens. Reducing the cost of roaming, creating favorable conditions for a study abroad or consumer protection may be concrete examples. Another important point should be a strict adherence to the principle of subsidiarity.
(The study can be downloaded here:https://www.ceps.eu/publications/estrangement-day-implications-brexit-eu)