Hostility toward continental integration had been snowballing among the French – who, after the Greeks, are the Europeans most likely to hold an unfavourable opinion of the EU – well before Britain’s June 23 referendum. Ever since French voters rejected the idea of a European Constitution in a 2005 referendum – a constitution whose main tenets ended up being adopted by the French parliament anyway a few years later in the Treaty of Lisbon – the sense that the country has been slowly losing its sovereignty to Brussels has stuck in the national craw.
The hit to the collective amour de soi has been palpable. Tack on a frighteningly real terrorist threat – seen to have been exacerbated by open borders, immigration and a migrant crisis – and you have an inkling of the popular anxiety that the far-right National Front has gleefully stoked. And make no mistake, the nativists in the National Front make Britain’s UKIP xenophobes look like pussycats.
The French far left, meanwhile, has been equally hostile toward the EU for imposing fiscal austerity on countries within the euro zone, such as France, that can no longer resort to the shock absorber of devaluation to stimulate their economies. The flight of voters from the centre-left Socialists to more extreme left-wing formations has further fed the anti-EU mood.
“In France, if you add up the extremes, we could have an anti-European majority,” former prime minister Alain Juppé this week told Le Monde.