A wave of anti-EU sentiment is spreading across the European Continent, says Peter Lyon. Hungarians, Italians and many others are turning their backs on EU elites and expressing sympathy for Britain as we forge a path out of the EU.
The recent re-election of Viktor Orban as the Hungarian Prime Minister represents a threat to the current EU leaders. Orban’s Eurosceptic, anti-immigration Fidesz party won a landslide victory earlier this month.
Orban, together with leaders from other Member States, including Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, has sought to fight back against ever increasing EU interference. They are defending their sovereign right to control their own borders and to determine their own domestic agenda.
The nationalist attitude of these governments was the target of French President Emmanuel Macron’s in a speech he gave in the European Parliament this week. The refusal of the Poles and Hungarians to bow to Brussels’ demands are unsettling for Euro-federalists like Macron.
Due to its high trade surplus with Britain, analysts anticipate Hungary will be supportive of Britain during the negotiations over the future UK-EU trading relationship. This is reflected in the Hungarian Government’s call for “uninterrupted” trade with the EU after Brexit. Orban has also suggested Brexit will “result in a better position” for Britain, leading to the possibility of other countries following the UK out of the EU.
Just last month, the Italian election resulted in a combined majority of seats for the two leading populist, Eurosceptic parties: the Five Star Movement and Lega. The Five Star Movement – which sits in the same grouping as UKIP in the European Parliament – has voiced sympathy for Britain’s decision to Leave the EU. Its leader, Luigi di Maio, expressed concerns at Brussels’ aggressive approach towards the UK in the Brexit negotiations, urging EU negotiators not to “punish the British people”. Similarly, the Lega leader, Matteo Salvini, spoke of the need to “maintain completely open trade” with Britain after Brexit.
It remains to be seen if these two anti-EU parties will form a coalition Government in the near future. Negotiations are ongoing. However, it seems likely the next Italian Government will be more Eurosceptic and sympathetic to Britain than the last.
Last year’s Austrian election resulted in the formation of a right-wing nationalist government, involving leaders who have strongly criticised the EU’s record, particularly on immigration.
In addition, anti-EU opposition parties in France and Germany are heavily scrutinising the Euro-federalist goals of President Macron and Chancellor Merkel. Europhile Heads of Government can no longer advocate far-reaching European integration without confronting fierce critics in domestic Parliaments.
Greece is still struggling to recover from the Eurozone crisis. Laden with debt, the country’s crippled economy means that one in five Greeks of working age are unemployed. For the country’s youth the situation is even worse: one in two are out of work. A generation of Greeks is bitter about the savage spending cuts imposed on their country by the EU. Although, as net recipients from the EU budget, less influential countries like Greece are sometimes unable or unwilling to challenge the European Commission, the widespread anti-EU feeling should not be underestimated.
The rise of Euroscepticism across the continent is clear for all to see, although EU leaders do not want to acknowledge it. We can assume national leaders such as Orban and Salvini will impose blocks on pro-EU politicians’ plans for a United States of Europe by 2025. If tensions increase between the bullying EU and nationalist governments, it is possible one or more Member States will leave the EU in the near future.
In the UK, as we Get Britain Out of the EU, we want to agree a mutually beneficial free trade agreement with the EU. As talks move onto the future trading relationship, national governments, which are reliant on British trade and sceptical of EU elites, may be the key to Britain striking a good Brexit trade deal.