The international media is constantly speculating about a possible impending break-up of the European Union (EU), due to the momentum of the Brexit and Trump populist victories. The opposite is true: Trump and Brexit are actually strengthening the EU.
The media point to three ‘crucial’ elections in 2017 – that of the Netherlands, France and Germany – that may end up derailing the EU, because anti-EU parties are poised to gain power. Not really. In both the Netherlands and Germany, anti-EU parties could increase the number of their parliament seats, but that is all. In France, Le Pen of the Front National (FN) may get the biggest vote in the first round of the French presidential election, where five main parties (and some minor ones) have candidates. But in the second round, with only the two top candidates left to fight it out, Le Pen will lose, since the supporters of all the other parties will vote for whoever stands against her. This has happened once before, when Le Pen’s father (Jean Marie Le Pen) also won in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections, but got trounced in the second round.
There is very little chance that any country will opt to leave the EU, other than the UK.
The people in EU countries are well aware of the economic and political mess Brexit is bringing to the UK. Even before the UK triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (which will formally start the process of leaving the EU); the negative economic effects of Brexit have started to take effect: the British Pound devaluated by more than 10%, foreign companies are preparing to move their Europe headquarter offices out of London, inflation is rising, etc. To add to the UK’s woes, Scotland will most likely leave it and join the EU. Far from being an inspiration for other countries to also leave the EU, Brexit is showing everyone the horrors of leaving the EU. Recent opinion polls in the EU show a rise of pro-EU sentiment because of Brexit.
Brexit is the logical end result of years of UK government policies. Various British Prime Ministers, with David Cameron as the last, had regularly threatened to take the UK out of the EU if its demands were not met. Just before the Brexit vote, the EU gave in to most of the UK’s demands for a special deal, including with regards to EU citizens working in the UK. Before that, the UK had succeeded in opting out of the Euro single currency and the Schengen Agreement (for free travel within most of the EU, plus Norway and Switzerland), and other EU-wide arrangements. The UK had long had one foot outside the EU; Brexit is the natural continuation of this trend.
The UK was alone in this unique position; other EU countries, with both feet in EU, are not likely to follow the UK’s lead.
Ironically, the presidency of Donald Trump is having the effect of strengthening the EU. Trump’s open disdain for the EU, and his wish that it breaks apart, has mobilized latent anti-American feelings among many EU citizens which have been channeled into pro-EU sentiments.
Trump is widely perceived as being supportive of Europe’s far-right parties. These parties, e.g. France’s FN, have thrived on their anti-immigrant platform. Now, the Trump victory has pushed them to take a more pronounced anti-EU position. As a result, these parties have backed themselves into a corner. Being anti-EU is effectively being pro-Trump; and since Trump is unpopular in Europe, the far right parties are losing support.
Another thing about the Trump victory in the US is that it shows how wrong elections could go, and that it does matter that people vote. When before, many people (especially young people) would not vote, because “the result will be the same anyway”; now they know how bad a bad result could be. Not voting could result in a Trump or Brexit-like victory. Because of Trump and Brexit, younger voters are now more likely to vote in future elections; and most of them tend to be pro-EU.
While the EU faces all kinds of problems today e.g. the Greek debt crisis or the floodof migrants from Africa and elsewhere, these are far from existential. The EU will overcome them, just as it has done for the last 58 years.