The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union is unprecedented. Not only did it come as a surprise to many European countries, it upset the fundamental unity the EU has been projecting to the rest of the world since its foundation in 1993. With a member state stepping so drastically away from the Union and its goals, the future of the EU and the remaining countries’ dynamic can be rightfully questioned. Was the UK a pioneer in leaving the sinking ship, an example for others to follow? Or is the UK an isolated incident with no other consequences to the remaining members?
When thinking about the United Kingdom’s example, one should never forget the tremendous advantages the UK had in leaving the Union. For starters, the UK is in a unique situation, where apart from the Irish border it has no physical contact with any parts of the European Union, something which would make it difficult for any mainland European country to detach from the EU. Equipped with the cosmopolitan city of London, the UK economy has been more independent from the rest of the EU, while other European markets are much more integrated.
The biggest and most developed economies, such as Germany or France, all cater to the European market and would only lose from severing ties with the rest of Europe. Germany famously outsources its labour to developing EU members to help boost their economy, but also to make use of the cheap labour and transport. Additionally, if the two-speed Europe initiative becomes a reality, these developed countries would lead the integration, getting an even larger influence over shaping the economic and political future of the EU - a privilege they would lose were they to leave. Less developed countries on the other hand, including Poland, Hungary, and Romania, rely on EU funds and projects to finance investments in infrastructure, as well as take part in international trade deals negotiated with the European Union’s support behind them.
The lack of any economic incentive to leave, however, does not mean that there is no criticism of the EU. Euroscepticism has been a huge part of late 2010s EU politics, and continues to be a part of the discussion even today. Amongst the critiques the EU faces are its complicated bureaucracy, its reluctance to properly address the 2015 migration crisis along with its future consequences and the problems which arose with the centralised Eurozone.
One of the loudest Eurosceptics has been Greece, who even proposed a 'Grexit' scenario in the midst of the Greek government-debt crisis, where Greece would leave the Eurozone and return to their original currency of the Drachma. Although 'Grexit' ultimately did not happen, the reevaluation of the European Union is still at the heart of Greek politics today; the Greek economy has not yet recovered from the almost 10-year long debt crisis, and strict European regulations make restoration attempts more and more difficult. However, only the Communist Party of Greece (who hold 5.6% of the vote) talk about dismantling the European project as a whole, whilst every other Eurosceptic favours soft-Euroscepticism or reforming the EU from the inside.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his party Fidesz have been very vocal about the shortcomings of the EU as well, going as far as to launch a “Stop Brussels” campaign at the time of immigration talks in 2017. Ever since the 2015 migrant crisis, the governing party has been very hostile to the European Union and its various institutions, but even after Fidesz got suspended from the European People’s Party - the largest party in the European Parliament -, their rhetoric has not shifted from Eurosceptic to “leave”, supposedly due to the immense EU funds the Hungarian economy relies on. Public opinion is critical too, yet not rejective of the EU, with the grand majority of Hungarians seeing their future in the union.
In many cases, Euroscepticism has been used as a tool by populist speakers, such as Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini, or Jarosław Kaczyński. So far, the rhetoric of these politicians has been critical, but not separatist - the idea of leaving is not yet on the table. While the future direction of the EU is still not clear, it is more profitable for states to stay instead of taking on the risks and difficulties of leaving. However, whether Brexit will benefit or hurt the UK once the dust has settled, will definitely have an impact on the countries' view on leaving the EU.
Image: Unsplash// Rocco Dipoppa