'Protest against elites' prompts French to turn against the EU

A pan-European survey shows that 61pc of French voters have an unfavourable view of the EU, compared to 48pc in the UK.

Published: 08th June 2016 07:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th June 2016 07:52 AM   |  A+A-

LONDON: France has turned even more viscerally eurosceptic than Britain over recent months, profoundly altering the political geography of Europe and making it impossible to judge how Paris might respond to a Brexit.

The intractable economic crisis that has eaten away at the legitimacy of the French governing elites for much of this decade has now combined with a collapse in the credibility of the -government and mounting anger over immigration.

A pan-European survey by the Pew Research Center shows that 61pc of French voters have an "unfavourable" view of the EU, compared to 48pc in the UK. 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 Prof Brigitte Granville, a French economist at Queen Mary University of London. "There are 5,000 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 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 upset in Austria last month.

"The EU policy elites are in panic," said Giles Merritt, head of the Friends of Europe think-tank in Brussels. "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."

Mr Merritt said it is an error to suppose that the EU would carry on as before 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.

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