The world is waiting with baited breath for 23 June. This is the day when a referendum in Great Britain will decide the question of its membership in the European Union. If the country remains a member of the EU, then the process of financial and economic entropy will continue and a global crisis will be postponed to a much later date. If Britain votes to leave the EU, however, then this could disturb the delicate international equilibrium and the referendum could become the trigger that immediately sparks a global crisis. If it happens, Brexit could prompt the collapse of the world’s post-war political, economic and financial architecture.
Experts believe that the main threat posed by Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is the collapse of the European Union itself. But not even the most intrepid daredevils are prepared to calculate the global political, economic and financial consequences of the European Union’s collapse. For several years now, the European Union has been at death’s door and it all started with the 2007-2009 financial crisis. While the US and many other countries managed to drag themselves out of the crisis (for a while at least), it became a chronic disease for the countries of the EU and is now being called a ‘debt crisis’.
The depth of this crisis varies widely from country to country. According to the IMF, the relative level of public debt in 2015 (% of GDP) was: Greece – 178; Italy – 124; Portugal – 124; France – 95; and Spain – 94. The external debt picture for EU countries is even more impressive (% of GDP, 2014): Great Britain – 322; France – 236; Greece – 234; Germany – 159; Italy – 144; and Spain – 136. As can be seen, even Greece, which everyone has gotten used to considering the most inveterate debtor in the European Union, comes second to Britain and France in terms of the relative size of its external debt.
It is still Greece that is considered the weakest link in the European alliance, however. Calls have begun to be heard both within Greece and beyond its borders for the country’s withdrawal first from the eurozone and then from the European Union. Events like the crisis in Ukraine, the economic sanctions against Russia, talks with Washington on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and the mass migration of refugees have started to split ‘United Europe’ apart and it has divided into Euro-optimists and Eurosceptics.
The former advocate for the preservation of the European Union and even for the further deepening of integration, the dismantling of the remnants of state sovereignty, and the accession of new members. The latter stand for the restoration of individual governments’ lost sovereignty either through radical reform of the EU or its dismantling (or the country’s withdrawal from the EU). Britain’s Eurosceptics are now being looked at with hope by like-minded people in other countries of old Europe. In 2017, general parliamentary elections will be held in Germany, France and also the Netherlands, where Eurosceptics are gaining momentum. A vote by Britain in favour of leaving the European Union will cause a chain reaction of similar initiatives in a number of other countries.
At present, the media are regularly publishing opinion poll findings that reveal what the Brits think of the European Union. It is interesting that at the beginning of the year, the number of those in support of Britain staying in the EU was noticeably higher than those in favour of leaving, in April and May the gap began to narrow and now, at the beginning of June, those in support of leaving have started to outnumber those who wish to stay. Despite a split in the British government on the Brexit issue, it is still strongly influenced by Prime Minister David Cameron who, as is well known, is an ardent supporter of the country retaining its EU membership. The effect of the ‘Cameron factor’ on British public sentiment began to weaken in June, however.
Brexit was one of the key issues at the annual Bilderberg Group meeting held on 9-12 June in Dresden. According to unofficial data, the meeting’s participants (130 people from 20 countries) were extremely concerned about the outcome of the forthcoming referendum, and the heads of major corporations and banks taking part in the discussion have committed themselves to doing everything possible to stop those in favour of Britain leaving the EU from winning the referendum.
In the meantime, scepticism about the EU has also increased noticeably in a number of other European countries. On 8 June, the results of a poll conducted in ten EU countries by the Pew Research Center, a US think tank, were made public. They show that even in Germany, only 50 percent of those surveyed have a favourable view of the EU. Last year, the EU had the trust of 58 percent of Germans. And if a referendum on EU membership were to be held in other countries right now, they would probably choose to leave the Union. The results of the survey also show that the level of trust in the EU has fallen over the last year in France from 55 to 38 percent. And there is no point even talking about Greece, where scepticism about the EU had already begun to dominate last year. Today, just 27 percent of Greeks are in favour of EU membership. The European Union only enjoys a higher reputation in the countries that are more recent EU members, for example in Poland (72 percent) and Hungary (61 percent).
Significantly, even many of those in Europe who are currently in favour of remaining a member of the EU are dissatisfied with Brussels’ policies. This concerns the EU’s economic, monetary and financial policies and, over the last year, its migration policy as well. The fewest people unhappy with the policies being carried out by Brussels were in Germany (38 percent), but the percentages in other EU countries are as follows: France – 66, Italy – 68, and Greece – 92. In addition, 67 percent of Germans, 77 percent of Italians, 88 percent of Swedes and 94 percent of Greeks expressed their dissatisfaction at Brussels’ migration policy. And many of those who disapprove or are dissatisfied could soon join those in favour of their country leaving the European Union. This will be inevitable if those voting for Brexit secure a victory in the referendum on 23 June.
It seems that European Parliament President Martin Schultz can be regarded as a Eurosceptic now as well. In an interview last month, Schultz admitted that, «the European Union is in a dismal state».
Whatever the outcome of the vote in the British Isles, the Eurosceptics in Germany, France and the Netherlands, who are expecting to improve their position in the 2017 elections, are determined to achieve similar referendums in their own countries.