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Six ways EU states responded to Brexit

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Six ways EU states responded to Brexit

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Britain’s referendum decision to leave the European Union sent shockwaves across the country and other member states.

Reactions from elsewhere in Europe spanned the gamut of emotions: from joy to anger, confusion to worry.

The EU is a big club, so we’ve helpfully summarised reactions under six main headings.

Hoping to spread the Eurosceptic contagion

One of the most-publicised interventions in the aftermath of Britain’s EU referendum was from Netherland’s far-right firebrand Geert Wilders, who called for a poll on Nexit to be held in his country.

A Maurice de Hond opinion poll showed 47 percent of Dutch voters wanted a poll on EU membership.

Brexit also prompted anti-immigration party Sweden Democrats, the Danish People’s Party, Finland’s Finns and France’s Front Nationale to call for a similar referendum in their countries.


In Austria, Norbert Hofer, who could yet become the European Union’s first far-right head of state, has threatened to hold a Brexit-style referendum, if Brussels pushes towards political ‘centralisation’.

“The founding fathers (of the EU) wanted to ensure closer economic cooperation because states that cooperate economically do not wage war against each other,” he said. “That worked very well until the political union was founded.”

Brexit shows the EU needs to reform

One of the strongest calls for reform of how the European Union operates came from Italy.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told the Italian parliament reforms the country had put forward to its European partners now had a great chance of success.

“More growth and more investment, less austerity and less bureaucracy, this is the line we have proposed for two years, at the beginning in isolation,” Renzi told the Chamber of Deputies. “Allow me to say that Brexit can be a great opportunity for Europe.”

Sweden’s prime minister Stefan Löfven struck a similar chord. He said the EU needs to do a better job of showing how it benefits people.

“It’s not possible to press snooze without acting,” he said following the meeting. “We need a Europe that works and delivers and focuses on issues where people expect us to deliver results. That includes, among other things, joint responsibility for refugees and, not least, to create jobs and do it with decent wages and conditions.”

Portugal President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa made a similar point, albeit in a softer way. He said the departure of the UK would not finish the bloc but would instead serve as a chance to rethink and strengthen key values.

Luxembourg’s finance minister, meanwhile, said the EU is losing momentum and it must work out why.

Pierre Gramegna told CNBC: “[The EU] has delivered prosperity, high social standards … but nevertheless it seems that the population and the people are not always getting all the benefits, so we have to explain more.”

Slovenia, who joined the EU in 2004, remains committed to the bloc, but also believes reform is necessary. Its prime minister, Miro Cerar, said: “I am convinced that the decision will, after a brief period of relative uncertainty on the international markets, result in additional strengthening of the Union and incentives to carry out its reform that will allow us to face similar challenges more effectively, with a greater measure of solidarity and determination, and in a closer partnership.”

Meanwhile Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras has blamed the Brexit outcome on the “chronic deficiencies” of European leaders and their insistence on austerity policies that fed populism and nationalism.

Hoping the UK economy plummets

French president Francois Hollande is keen for the UK to leave as soon as possible amid the hope that a struggling British economy would help socialists fend off the challenge from Le Pen in the 2017 presidential elections.

He said: “Those people, including the populists and extremists, calling for their countries to quit the EU, should know they are consequences for the people themselves (if they do leave).”

Netherland’s Liberal PM Mark Rutte, perhaps keen to emphasise the threats of leaving the EU to ward off Euroscepticism on his own shores, said: “England has collapsed politically, monetarily, constitutionally and economically.”

UK: Don’t think you can cherry pick the EU

In Germany Angela Merkel has said Britain cannot cherry-pick the parts of the European Union it wants, such as the single market.

She is however believed to be looking at how to secure the EU’s foundations among growing Euroscepticism.

The Sunday Times reports she is keen to oust Jean-Claude Juncker, in a bid to react to Brexit.

Belgium’s PM Charles Michel has reiterated his country’s position as a staunch defender of the European project.

He said Britain’s new PM should not expect to have access to the EU’s single market if it decides to begin the process for leaving the bloc.

He said: “You cannot send a message where it would be possible to be out of Europe, without all the inconvenience, and at the same time with all the advantages,. You can’t say, ‘I divorce you, but I’ll live with you for a few days a year’.”

Meanwhile Bulgaria’s prime minister Boiko Borissov said Brexit said there should be no talks with the UK about a special status, because that would break the EU.

Put a brake on further integration

Slovakia has joined Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in calling for more powers to be repatriated from Brussels.

The country’s foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak said: “There’s a feeling among member states that sometimes they agree something and then the Commission comes up with proposals that don’t reflect that.

“If our citizens understand less and less what the EU is doing, it’s because there is too much institutions and too little member states.”

But voices in Poland have given a more radical reaction to Brexit.

“We need a new European treaty,” said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of ruling party Law and Justice (PiS). “We need a positive reaction, and not persistent movement in the same direction, a direction which has led to crisis.”

The Czech Republic’s foreign minister Lubomir Zaoralek wrote in the Financial Times that Brexit was “a symptom of a wider crisis of trust and the collapse of the EU’s political capital” and that the European Commission should forget about any more integration.

Forget the UK, what will be the impact of Brexit in our own countries?

Spain, with a worried eye on its own independence movement in Catalonia, is seemingly more concerned about the possibility of Scotland leaving the UK, than of the UK quitting the European Union.

Acting Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said he was against the EU negotiating potential membership for Scotland, which as a region voted overwhelmingly in favour of staying within the bloc.

Ireland is also concerned about domestic issues.

They centre its border with Northern Ireland, which, before the last two decades of relative peace, was a flashpoint for sectarian violence.

However, since both Ireland and Northern Ireland (via the United Kingdom) have been in the European Union, there has been no need for a frontier.

Brexit puts this in doubt and has seen people that want Ireland to be a unified republic call for a referendum on the matter.

Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban, whose country was one of the worst impacted by the EU’s refugee crisis, has been talking about the impact of migration on Brexit.

“The important question is what lessons to draw from what happened, for us Europeans who are still members of the European Union and want to stay in,” he said. “If the EU cannot solve the migration situation then such challenges as we saw in the case of the United Kingdom will increase.”

There is concern in Croatia that Brexit would put a brake on the enlargement process of the EU, which Balkan states see as their route to prosperity.

Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are all at various stages of joining the union.

Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac said: “We also want stability in southeastern Europe and we will work so that Brexit does not have too much effect on the enlargement process.”

Estonian prime minister Taavi Roivas said Britain would be a great loss to the EU, but that the bloc must maintain unity, while its Baltic neighbours, Latvia, said it work to protect its nationals already in the UK, amid reports of increased hate speech, post-Brexit.

In Lithuania there is concern about the will in the EU to combat the influence of Russia, without the UK. Lithuanian politician Linas Linkevicius, quoted by AFP news agency, said: “The voice of those that take a firm position (on Russia) will be weakened.”

Joseph Muscat, prime minister of Malta says the country has lost an important ally in opposing deepening federalism of the European Union.

Muscat, ruling out a similar referendum in his country, said Brexit could allow Malta to capitalise, offering UK firms a gateway to Europe.

Every story can be told in many ways: see the perspectives from Euronews journalists in our other language teams.

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