The people’s uprising shaking Europe’s rulers

Growing anger: Pew published a survey of people in 10 countries earlier this month.

Distrust of the EU has flared in Britain. Many fear it is sparking a chain reaction among discontented masses elsewhere. Will the effect of our referendum change the continent permanently?

First came the prospect of Grexit. Now it may be Brexit. Then… Frexit.

Today, the UK will choose whether to remain in, or leave, the EU. Polls suggest the outcome will be close, and leaders across Europe will be watching keenly.

Several know their people may soon demand the same choice. And nowhere is that more likely than France.

The number of French people who view the EU favourably has fallen from 69% to 38% since 2004. It has dropped 17% in the last year alone. Polls even suggest anti-EU nationalist Marine Le Pen, who has promised to hold a referendum within six months, could become president next year.

More people in Spain now view the EU unfavourably than favourably. Greeks are particularly hostile. Left- and right-wing parties which reject the EU have gained support.

‘It’s no longer just about the UK,’ says Katya Adler, the BBC‘s Europe editor. ’Across the EU, I have never known the mood more eurosceptic than it is now. People want change.’

The cause is partly economic. Several eurozone countries were hit by debt crises after the global financial crash of 2008 and required humiliating bailouts. Greece received three, and has endured heavy public spending cuts as a result. Almost one in four Greeks are now unemployed; youth unemployment is nearly 50%.

There are similar statistics in Spain and the deals have stoked anger in Germany, which has paid much of the bill. Many people are now questioning Europe’s currency union.

And surveys suggest widespread disapproval of the EU’s handling of the migration crisis, which has seen hundreds of thousands of people arriving in southern Europe and travelling across the continent and others drowning in the Mediterranean.

The EU has never faced such antipathy before. Now, European citizens are revolting against its integrationist, expansionist ethos. Adler says senior EU officials realise they are losing trust. German and French leaders, who face pressure from nationalist populists before elections next year, ‘know they have to listen more to their people’.

Will this be the moment Europe changes forever?

Next exit

Yes, say some. Europe’s leaders have no option but to listen to the people. They must realise an out-of-touch, federalist elite has tried to force together peoples with very different political, cultural and economic backgrounds — and created misery in the process. If they ignore that message, they will be thrown out.

No, others reply. The EU will survive and be run by the same people who offered the UK minimal reform earlier this year. And when the current problems pass, people will realise European integration and cooperation are noble ideas. The alternative is economic misery and social division.

You Decide

  1. Are you encouraged or concerned when people reject those who make the rules?
  2. Will Britain’s referendum change Europe permanently?

Activities

  1. Write five questions which you would like to ask Katya Adler, the BBC‘s Europe editor, about the mood in Europe at the moment. At least three of your questions should begin with ’Why...?’
  2. Work in teams of three. Prepare for a debate with another team on the following title: ‘This house believes the EU will not exist in 2030’.

Some People Say...

“The best way to deal with a crisis is to let it pass.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I live in the UK. Isn’t this for other Europeans to worry about?
If the UK votes to remain in the EU but other countries leave, it may make it harder to trade with them — which could make you poorer — or travel to them. But if you feel the EU is not listening to your concerns, you may be encouraged that not only British people think this, as it makes change more likely. And if the EU changes, the debate over the UK’s place in it may be reignited.
Would I notice if the EU fell apart?
Almost certainly yes — but it is tough to predict how. There would probably, at least at first, be a lot less cooperation, so it would be harder for you to travel or get a job abroad, for example. But perhaps this would change and something else would eventually replace the EU, giving you other opportunities.

Word Watch

Grexit
Greece’s departure from the euro, which nearly happened in 2015.
Fallen
According to Pew.
Left- and right-wing
In the UK, Italy and the Netherlands, the right is more anti-EU. But in Spain, Sweden and Greece, the left is more opposed.
Never
Adler has reported on European politics since 1996.
Unemployed
According to Eurostat data published in April 2016.
Disapproval
The disapproval rate is 94% in Greece, where many migrants land. In Germany, where more than a million people arrived in 2015, support for far-right parties has risen.
Integrationist
The European Economic Community (EEC), created as a trading bloc in 1957, has developed its focus on political as well as economic union, forming the EU in 1993 and introducing the euro in 2002.
Expansionist
Six countries formed the EEC in 1957. The EU now includes 28 nations. Others could join; none have ever left.
Officials
Such as Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.
Federalist
A system in which states share power with an overarching form of government.

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