What holds Europe together?
The EU in the wake of Brexit A representative eight-country study by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, conducted by policy matters
The European Union has always been a guarantee for peace, democracy and prosperity for its Member States. It has accordingly always been very attractive: The European Economic Community (EEC) of the six founding members has turned into an EU that since the accession of Croatia in 2013 is now composed of 28 members. Seven more countries are involved in concrete negotiations to accede to the EU, among them a number of Balkan countries and Turkey. Association agreements are being negotiated with three former members of the Community of Independent States (CIS states), including Ukraine.
The last ten years have been characterised less by successes and more by crises, however: financial, economic, Euro, Ukraine and refugee crises. A certain climax, as it were, to this »cruel decade for Europe« – as the new French President Emmanuel Macron put it – was the decision by Great Britain in a referendum to leave the EU. Such an exit is not only a novelty in the history of the EU, which up until that point in time had only had to deal with applications from countries wanting to join the EU. Brexit constitutes a watershed event in the history of the EU, and it above all faces the remaining members with new challenges. Great Britain, the third biggest member and the second biggest net contributor to the EU, is leaving, facing the EU with a budgetary crunch that must be taken seriously. And losing the nuclear power Great Britain means that the EU is also losing a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and hence influence in the world. With Brexit, the question as to the purpose and meaning of European integration is being posed once again in a new light, as the aim and objective as well as basic direction of the process of European integration has been somewhat lost sight of – in the view of French President Macron – in the flurry of efforts to cope with the crisis.
It would appear, however, that preparations for the exit negotiations with the British have already led to a new spirit of togetherness among the remaining Member Countries. But the question remains as to the extent to which they can expect support from their respective populations. This question is of key importance if only because it was British citizens who voted to leave the EU. In the referendum, a slender majority expressed their opinion that EU membership means more disadvantages for Great Britain than advantages. The result was not least a vote against the fundamental principles of the EU such as free movement of workers, and a vote in favour of re-establishing national control, above all over national borders, in order to be able to steer and guide immigration more effectively and more autonomously. These themes have also played a dominant role in other
EU countries in the recent past, as a representative survey carried out in eight EU countries in autumn 2015 upon the commission of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has demonstrated. It therefore appeared to make good sense to repeat this study in order to determine how citizens in other EU states were reacting to the Brexit. To be able to directly register these changes, a large number of the main questions on the EU from the first study were repeated with the same wording. In addition, new questions were included in order to determine whether Brexit was having more of a negative impact on European integration or whether it might even contribute to an improvement in the image of the EU and strengthen the will and resolve to integrate.
The most important results produced by the study are presented in this report. Considerable attention is devoted at the same time to a comparison of findings with the preceding study.
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