Many in Brussels are anxiously looking out for any sign of what has been termed ‘Brexit contagion’ – the idea that the Brits might encourage others towards leaving the EU. The findings of a major Pew survey of European opinion does not point to a rush towards the exit, but it certainly does flag up dissatisfaction with the EU and its handling of many of the most pressing issues facing the continent.
Take, for example, trade policy: should a country set its own alliances or leave it to the EU? This is, in effect, a question about the Customs Union – staying in this union is often taken to define ‘soft Brexit’. But the Pew study shows that most people in almost all of the European countries surveyed wish that their own government, rather than the EU, could set trade policy.
So, a majority of people in Greece, France, Sweden, Hungary and Poland would now like to see their governments decide their own trade agreements.
While the Brexit vote preceded what has undoubtedly led to an increase in popular support for the EU, it has also engendered a desire to follow Britain’s lead in holding a referendum on membership. Indeed, a majority of people in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Sweden and Poland now support holding a referendum on membership of the EU. Even 50% of Germans would like to have their say on the issue.
Senior figures in Brussels might breathe a sigh of relief that Brexit has thus far failed to set off a domino effect which leads to the implosion of the EU. Buout let’s not pretend there isn’t a strong and growing desire among Europeans to disempower Brussels.