Euroskepticism is not a new phenomenon. If anything, it’s been a consistent factor since the European Union’s inception. However, Brexit has made Euroskepticism more tangible; it was one thing for the Member States to be critical of integration, but actually leaving the EU is unprecedented. So, what does Brexit mean for the future of skeptics?
Euroskepticism, according to EAVI, is “European political doctrine that advocates disengagement from the European Union (EU)”. Euroskeptic states are generally based on (typically) right-wing, populist desires to reduce immigration and increase whatever sovereignty was lost upon entering the EU. Euroskepticism tends to arise from a crisis in the state’s economy and/or identity. Many parties with these characteristics have gained power across the EU in recent years: Germany, Spain, Italy, and Hungary are just a few examples of the Member States that have seen an increase in voter support of Euroskeptic parties. For example, Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right party created in 2013, has quickly gained both voter support and seats in parliament: it is now the third-largest party in the country. AfD has promised to combat Germany’s “invasion of foreigners”, called the Holocaust “just a speck of bird’s muck in more than 1,000 years of successful Germany history”, and of course, was founded as an anti-euro party. It sees Germany as not being “German enough”, clearly ticking the box of an identity crisis. Although Euroskepticism is not new, it is becoming more popular. However, many states that have Euro-critical parties in power are not inclined to follow the lead of the United Kingdom. Instead, they are more likely to remain in the EU while perhaps challenging its rules and still gaining the benefits that come from being a member, specifically the free market. The UK decided that the costs of remaining in the EU outweighed the benefits. Most other states so far have not, and probably will not, decide the same.
The reasons for being a skeptic-remainer are individual to each country. For example, The Financial Times’ Simon Kuper argues that some countries, like Poland and Hungary, ignore the EU’s refugee quotas. Others, like France and Italy, disregard the Eurozone’s budget “while borrowing at 2 percent thanks to their membership”. Kuper says that almost no EU states comply with certain environmental rules like those on plastic bags, and some states (particularly in Eastern Europe), “meddle illegally with their judiciaries”. Poorer or more recent EU member countries might remember their pasts of “standing alone” without the safety net and support of the EU. So, the leaders and citizens of these states will want to remain in the EU to have the benefits it brings, while maintaining the characteristic anti-immigrant, populist and mostly conservative sentiment. Wealthier countries, like Switzerland and its “Swiss People’s Party” or Italy under Matteo Salvini, will stay because of the subsidies and trade benefits they get from being members. The skeptic sentiment stays, but anti-EU action is relatively unlikely.
It’s possible that Brexit will inspire other countries to follow suit but given the overall positives of being part of the EU, it’s a future that seems unrealistic. More likely, states will grow in a nationalist, culture-based ideology that fuels anti-immigrant, right-wing, “us vs them” politics, while still reaping the benefits of the EU’s single-market safety. Euroskeptics can preach populism as much as they want, but the chance of them leaving the EU is slim. However, this growing popularity of Euroskeptic parties is concerning, especially in countries with fascist histories; what these beliefs will mean in terms of immigration, equality and even human rights is unclear and these parties raise red flags. Ideally, we will collectively continue to make social progress, instead of turning away from cooperation and unity in favor of protectionism and fear.