A new survey has found that France are on the brink of leaving Europe, as anti-EU sentiment sweeps the continent ahead of a likely Brexit vote in the UK later this month.
The pan-European survey by the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of French voters have indicated they would leave Europe.
A clear majority is opposed to “ever closer union” and wants powers returned to the French parliament, a finding that sits badly with the insistence by President Francois Hollande that “more Europe” is the answer to the EU’s woes.
“It is a protest against the elites,” said Professor Brigitte Granville, a French economist at Queen Mary University of London. “There are 5000 people in charge of everything in France. They are all linked by school and marriage, and they are tight.”
Prof Granville said the mechanisms of monetary union have upset the Franco-German strategic marriage, wounding the French psyche. “The EU was sold to the French people as a `partnership’ of equals with Germany. But it has been very clear since 2010 that this is not the case. Everybody could see that Germany decided everything in Greece,” she said.
The death of the Monnet dream in the EU’s anchor state poses an existential threat to the European project and is running in parallel to what is happening in Britain.
The Front National’s Marine Le Pen is leading the polls for the presidential elections in 2017 with vows to restore the French franc and smash the EU edifice. While it has long been assumed that she could never win an outright majority, nobody is quite so sure after the anti-incumbent upset in Austria last month.
“The Front National is making hay from the Brexit debate,” said Giles Merritt, head of the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels.
“The EU policy elites are in panic. If the British vote to leave the shock will be so ghastly that they will finally wake up and realize that they can no longer ignore demands for democratic reform,” he said.
“They may have to dissolve the EU as it is and try to reinvent it, both in order to bring the Brits back and because they fear that the whole political order will be swept away unless they do,” he said.
Mr Merritt said it is an error to suppose that the EU would carry on as a monolithic bloc able to dictate terms after a Brexit vote. “The British would have pricked the bubble. The Germans are deeply alarmed at how suddenly the mood is shifting everywhere,” he said.
The Pew survey shows that dissatisfaction with the EU has risen to 49pc in Spain and 48pc in Germany, two countries normally seen as pro-European. This is roughly the same as in Britain, though different in character and less intense.