After Britain voted for Brexit in 2016, Brussels feared it could trigger a domino effect in several of the bloc’s eurosceptic member states. However, during the European Parliament election campaign last June, it became apparent the populist movements from countries across the bloc that once advocated quitting the EU are now almost all looking to reform it from within. Last month, Italian MEP Antonio Maria Rinaldi told Express.co.uk that his party Lega, headed by Italy’s former Deputy Minister Matteo Salvini, will not be pushing for Italy’s withdrawal from the bloc.
Even eurosceptic figurehead Marine Le Pen, who was one in favour of France leaving the EU, has recently claimed that she now believes right-wing politicians within the bloc have the power to “radically modify” Brussels.
In a 2018 interview with BBC presenter Andrew Marr, though, French President Emmanuel Macron claimed that if the French people were given the opportunity to vote on European membership like Britain, they would probably vote to quit the European club, too.
The French President suggested there is “always a risk” with votes such as Britain’s 2016 EU referendum, when asking the public “just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in a very complicated context”.
Asked whether a Leave or Remain vote in France could have ended with the same result, Mr Macron said: “Yes, probably.
“Probably in a similar context.
“But our context was very different so I don’t want to take any bets.”
Mr Macron, as a committed supporter of European integration, claimed he would fight “very hard” to keep France in the EU if it were to hold a referendum on membership of the bloc.
He added: “It’s a mistake when you just ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’, when you don’t ask people how to improve the situation and to explain how to improve it.”
Offering his interpretation of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, Mr Macron added: “My understanding is that middle-classes and working-classes, and especially the oldest in your country, decided that the recent decades were not in their favour.
“And that the adjustments made by both the EU and globalisation – for me it was a mix of both of them – was not in their favour.
“And second, I think one of the reasons was precisely an organisation of our EU probably which gets too far in terms of freedom without cohesion.
“Towards free market without any rules and any convergence.”
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Also appearing on the show, outgoing Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell claimed he agreed with Mr Macron’s assessment that Brexit was due to a sense that “neoliberalism has alienated people”.
If France has a referendum on EU membership in the future, it would not be the first time that the French vote on an European issue.
At the June 2004 European Council meeting, the governments of the 25 EU member states signed a constitutional treaty for the bloc.
France and the Netherlands held a referendum on the issue in 2005, but it was widely rejected and the “EU Constitution” was never ratified.
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However, in 2009, the bloc agreed to the Lisbon Treaty with, according to analysis at the time by the London think tank Open Europe, 96 percent of the text the same as the Constitutional Treaty.
Following the No votes in France and the Netherlands, former EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker claimed that, in reality, voters had actually supported a deeper European integration.
His remarks were met with outrage by eurosceptics, who suggested that the EU elite was in denial over the public hostility towards the bloc.
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