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Could Brexit lead to Frexit – or Czexit?

yjmsgi310 May 2016

By Dr Sean Hanley – Senior Lecturer in Comparative Central and East European Politics

This post reproduced with author’s permission

 

A powerful coalition of forces – ranging from the driest of conservatives to Greens and the radical left and taking in big business,  trade unions, churches and universities – has come together to underline the negative economic, social and political consequences of Brexit.

The UK leaving the EU, it is argued, will not only do lasting damage the country’s economic prospects and political influence, but could have wider repercussions and might even  cause the Union to start unravelling.

This is not simply a matter of absorbing a mighty economic shock, the complexities of negotiating the terms of Brexit, or the umpredictable effects of a sharply changed balance of forces within a downsized Union – the greater weight of Eurozone vis-a-via the non-Eurozone, for example – but the new political dynamics that might take hold.

Some have argued that, emboldened by the example of Brexit, eurosceptics across the EU, will start to push for the exit option, triggering a kind of ‘domino effect’.  Writing for France Inter. Bernard Guetta gloomily takes for granted that post-Brexit

… so many politicians and political parties would follow headlong down this route to get a slice of the action. The pressure for similar referendums would arise all over Europe. The defenders of the European ideal would find themselves on the defensive. In such a crisis it would be very difficult to rebuild the EU.

Available evidence does suggest potential for such a process.  Polling by Ipsos Mori shows high public demand for referendums on EU membership in with significant minorities France (41%), Sweden (39%) and Italy (48%). favouring withdrawal. Other polling even suggested that post-Brexit a majority of Swedes would support exiting the EU.

French, Dutch and Danish electorates do have experience of rejecting EU treaties in referendums – with voters in the Netherlands getting further practice in last month’s referendum on EU-Ukraine trade deal, whichsome see a dry run for a Nexit vote.

And demands for exit from the EU – or referendums about it – have been raised by expanding parties of the populist right pushing their way towards power: Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party in Holland advocates Nexit, while French Front National plans to organise a referendum on Frexit within six months of coming to power.

FN leader Marine Le Pen, who relishes the idea of becoming Madame Frexit, also recommends that every EU member should have one (although her offer to visit the UK and help out the Brexit campaign has been abruptly turned down).

The Danish People’s Party, once regarded as on the radical right, but now considered respectable and modernised enough to sit with the British Tories in the European Parliament, is pondering the idea of pushing for a referendum Dexit (Daxit?).

The logic of such exit options among richer states seems to similar the case now being made by UK Brexiteers: that wealthy West European states might be economically strong enough to make it – and perhaps even thrive – in (semi-) detached relationship with (what remains of) the EU, trading economic some losses for sovereignty and the freedom to follow immigration and welfare policies tailored to national requirements.

Domino effect

There even been reports that some Central and East European countries might be in the line to exit the Union they joined little over a decade ago. In February Czech Republic’s deputy minister for European Affairs, Tomáš Prouza, told reporters that Brexit could push Czexit onto the political agenda for his country’s eurosceptic conservatives and hardline  Communists.

And to some extent he has a point.  Czechia’s mercurial President Miloš Zeman, although himself a eurofederalist firmly in favour of EU membership, thinks Czech voters should have their say in a Czexit referendum. The Czech parliament recently voted to discuss a resolution on a Czexit referendum proposed by the populist Dawn grouping (but ran out of parliamentary time to do so).

Despite this Mr Prouza and his boss Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka were probably laying on the Brexopocalypse rhetoric rather too thick. Having flirted with rejection of EU membership in the to accession in 2004, both the conservative Civic Democrats (ODS) and Communists had reconciled themselves to membership of Union, while hoping to steer it in a political direction more in tune with their visions of European integration and Czech statehood some time in the future.

And, while there is plenty of scepticism about the EU across the CEE region – polls, for example, show a majority of Czechs deeply sceptical about the future of the European project and opposed to the adopting the Euro – as in Western Europe ‘hard euroscepticism’ has been the province parties of the radical right and left. It is hard to find any out-and-out outers in the region.

For poorer, economically less robust newer member states EU membership was not only the best option for economic development, but a civilisational choice confirming their ‘Return to Europe’ and status as fully fledged democracies.

And while the Brexit referendum is a contest between two (semi-)plausible futures both of which draw high levels of public support – centring a debate over the trade-offs between economic growth and recovered sovereignty – CEE states have no credible economic options outside the Union.

For this reason, ‘hard’ Eurosceptics in the region have often been big on critique and vision but quiet on concrete proposals for getting their countries out of the Union. Instead their implicit hope seems to be that eurosceptic and anti-federalist coalitions prepared to roll back integration – either between governments or parties – will emerge, or that the European Union would suffer a sudden collapse, leaving CEE societies, as in 1918, to make a break for national independence amid the rubble.

 

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Too complicated to be trusted? Brexit, Europeanisation and Complexity

yjmsgi321 April 2016

By Filipa Figueira

As the Brexit debate rages throughout the UK, British people are clamoring for “facts” to help them decide. Yet neutral facts on the EU referendum seem hard to come by. “All I hear is opinions, but I want facts” scream, tweet and facebook the masses. So why are they not being given those?

Image Brexit FRINGE

The answer is that, when it comes to what will happen after the EU referendum, there are no facts …only forecasts. No-one can predict the future, and therefore no-one can tell what the economic growth rate of the UK will be if it leaves the EU, how many jobs (if any) will be lost, or what will happen to your grocery bill.

Economists will gladly provide you with estimates, but those are, well, estimates. Any minor change in the economic model used can produce a significantly different result, so it is no wonder that radically different numbers are being branded about, depending on the economist’s side of the campaign.

One of the key arguments of pro-Brexit advocates is precisely the difficulty that the average person has in understanding the EU. “Brussels” is seen as a mysterious labyrinth of hidden complexity, which cannot be understood – and therefore, cannot be trusted – by most Brits.

If may be of little comfort for them to hear that the EU labyrinth is hard to understand even for the EU officers who run it and for the EU scholars who study it. The EU is a moving target, a constantly changing animal, an entity forever evolving through what is known as the process of “Europeanisation”.

Europeanisation is any transformation that occurs because of the EU. This includes countries adapting their institutions to better deal with the EU, or to attract more EU funding. It also includes people feeling more European when they cooperate with other European countries – a process to which the UK appears staunchly impervious. And yes, it may include an increase in the scope of policymaking at EU level (reductions in that scope do happen as well, and can be called “de-Europeanisation”).

This is a constant process, and one which is by nature difficult to measure and define. The vast academic literature on Europeanisation struggles with this task, and usually ends up focusing on the more …academic question of defining what they mean by “Europeanisation”. Such a question can be endlessly debated, leaving academics with little time to actually research and clarify Europeanisation itself.

Could the Remain side argue that the undeniable complexity of Europeanisation is a point in its favor? Probably not. The leavers have it on this one. The question becomes, then, whether the added complexity is a worthwhile trade-off for the benefits of EU membership.

The public will not get facts on this – only those pesky forecasts – so they will need to use their brains. Why are all other European countries happy to put themselves through the

ambivalence and immeasurability of the EU labyrinth? Why is the debate about how many jobs will be lost after a Brexit, rather than about how many jobs will be gained?

An assessment based on common sense, rather than “facts”, shows where the trade-off lays. Europeanisation brings with it complexity and a loss of sovereignty on some policy areas. But on the other hand, it offers significantly better economic conditions and geopolitical clout, and spares the British economy from an (impossible to estimate) “uncertainty shock”.

As with any trade-off in life, the solution lies in finding the right balance. Clearly Brits do not wish to give away all their sovereignty, but neither do they wish to ruin their economy or face geopolitical isolation. So here is how things stand.

Image Brexit FRINGE 2

The current trade-off which the EU is offering involves a small loss in sovereignty (Britain retains control over all its key policies and all but a tiny percentage of its finances) in exchange for significant economic gains (being part of, and a key decision-maker within, the Single Market) and geopolitical benefits (being part of the continent’s decision-making, while remaining the United States’ most valued ally cum Trojan horse).

Will continuing Europeanisation disrupt this balance? That seems unlikely. A clear gap has emerged at EU level. On one side are the countries which are members of the Euro currency, and willing to accept deeper integration to guarantee its financial survival. On the other side are those, including the UK, which have decided to stay outside the Eurozone, and are clearly staying out of that process.

The only true result which David Cameron got out of his Brussels “renegotiation” was a guarantee that the UK could stay out of, and be unaffected by, that process (in fact that agreement was being discussed anyway, and would have been achieved with or without a “renegotiation” – but let us leave the Prime Minister’s theatrics out of this important discussion).

Europeanisation is, therefore, clearly moving towards a two-speed rhythm. Fast and bumpy for Eurozone members; slow and comfortable for more independent-minded countries such as the UK.

The trade-off on offer is a positive one for Britain, and about to get even better.

Whatever the result of the EU referendum, academics will carry on forever defining Europeanisation. Let us hope that Britain will still be a part of it.

Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the SSEES Research blog, nor of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, nor of UCL

 

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