Exclusive: France is the most likely country to follow Britain in voting to quit the European Union amid a ‘bankruptcy of ideas’ about how to tackle its well-placed Eurosceptics, experts say, two months on from Brexit.
Economic woes, terrorist attacks and the re-emergence of Nicolas Sarkozy could all play into the hands of Marine Le Pen at next year’s presidential elections, according to Euroscepticism specialist Simon Usherwood, providing the conditions that could open the door to a referendum similar to that held across the channel in June.
Experts have also ranked The Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Austria as being the most probable countries behind France to push for, or get, a new relationship with Brussels.
But they caution Britain’s particular circumstances are not easily repeatable elsewhere and multiple elements would have to fall into place for a referendum to happen.
Some believe we are more likely to see countries openly ignore EU policy but remain inside the bloc, than pushing for polls on whether to leave.
EU: Je t’aime, moi non plus?
Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National (FN) party, was one of several Eurosceptic leaders to call for similar referendums in the immediate wake of Brexit.
And with reason, it would seem: a TNS Sofres survey released just days after the UK vote revealed 45 percent of those polled wanted a similar EU referendum in France, with 44 percent against.
Le Pen is now hoping to make that a reality by triumphing in the French presidential elections, set for April and May 2017.
“The country where we are going to see the biggest push is France,” Usherwood told Euronews. “We’ve got Marine Le Pen who is looking very well-placed for the presidential elections.
“If you look at the two main parties in France, none of them look in great condition. Hollande has been a very big disappointment for the left, he’s not been able to build on his reputation in the wake of the various terrorist attacks. When the most credible opponent to Le Pen is Sarkozy coming back to re-energise the centre-right, that doesn’t look like new politics.”
History may also boost Le Pen: the French only narrowly approved the Maastricht Treaty in a 1992 referendum (51 percent – 49 percent), while voters rejected establishing a European constitution in 2005.
“While polls suggest she would be defeated in the second-round run-off by a more modest conservative challenger, centre-left voters who are fed-up with austerity, the political establishment and German dominance may yet rally behind her,” said Philippe Legrain, former economic advisor to the president of the European Commission.
The narrative that the FN is likely to be defeated in the final round of polling is repeated by other experts, but Usherwood, a senior lecturer at the University of Surrey, thinks that would not be the end of the story.
“Even if we don’t have an EU referendum coming out of the presidential elections next year, you have to imagine that over the next five to ten years there will be a lot more pressure on countries to go down this path, particularly if the UK looks likes it doing okay [outside the EU],” he said.