Britain’s referendum on European Union membership may be paving the way for other European countries to question their own relationship with Brussels, as increasing numbers of Europeans are asking themselves whether their country too would be better off going it alone.
In Denmark, calls are already being made for a similar referendum, by politicians who point out that the Danish people haven’t had a say on membership of the bloc for a generation – precisely the same argument that was used to great effect in the UK.
33 per cent of Danes now say they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum were held tomorrow, up from 25 per cent in 2013, the Express has reported. Amid this backdrop of growing Euroscepticism, cross-party organisation The People’s Movement Against the EU has launched a petition calling on the government to call a referendum on the matter.
They argue that the European Union has changed beyond all recognition from the free trade area which was sold to the Danish people 40 years ago, and that it is now time that a new generation was allowed to have its own say – similar to the grounds on which British politicians successfully argued for a referendum.
Rina Ronja Kari, a Movement supporting Member of the European Parliament who sits with the Nordic Green group in the Parliament said: “When you compare today’s EU with the EU the Danes joined over 40 years ago, there has been a drastic change from trade cooperation to a European Union that interferes in virtually every part of our society.
“So we think it is fair enough to ask: ‘was this actually what you wanted? Or would you rather leave the EU?’”
Current polling on support for EU membership within the country shows that most Danes – 56 per cent – would opt to remain in, against the 33 per cent who would vote to leave, and 11 per cent who are undecided.
There are suggestions, however, that those numbers could shift in favour of leave campaigners; election researcher Kasper Møller Hansen said: “Although there is a majority to remain in the EU, there is wind in the sails for Eurosceptic voices.”
Nonetheless, Danish leaders are resisting referendum calls, insisting that now is not the time to call a referendum.
“We have a British referendum in a few months, which will largely determine which way the EU cooperation will take. We must wait and see [how that vote goes],” said Kenneth Kristensen Berth, EU spokesman for the Danish People’s Party.
And in France too, where the National Front is using the British renegotiation and referendum as a template, polls show that the majority of citizens support the idea of holding a referendum on a ‘Frexit’.
A survey conducted by the University of Edinburgh looked at public attitudes to Britain’s referendum on EU membership in six countries — Germany, France, Poland, Spain, Ireland, and Sweden — and found significant support for a referendum of their own in every country.
The French were the only people to show an absolute majority of 53 per cent in favour of a referendum on EU membership, but they were closely followed by the Swedes on 49 per cent, Spaniards on 47 per cent and Germans on 45 per cent.
In February, French National Front leader Marine le Pen laid out her ambitions for a new European deal for France, saying “We will enter into negotiations with the European Union over the euro and Schengen. That’s exactly what Great Britain is doing.”
Ireland and Poland were less keen, but in each country more than a third of citizens wanted to vote in their own referendum.
“The British referendum is a laboratory for other referendums in Europe,” commented Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London.
“Such a triviality could produce devastating effects,” he told Le Monde.
However, the study of 8,000 people shows that the British people are more likely than those of other nations to actually vote to leave the EU. 45 per cent of French voters want to remain within the EU, against 33 per cent who want to leave, while 22 per cent remain undecided.
In Germany the figure is even lower – just 27 per cent would vote to leave, despite the turmoil caused by Europe’s open borders agreement.