France responds to the ‘shock’ of Brexit

The UK's children will have to live with the consequences of the referendum. [Tomek Nacho/Flickr]

The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union will take effect from 2019. For the French, Brexit came as a surprise: a sad one for some, a happy one for others. For some French Europhiles, it is even a breath of fresh air. EURACTIV France reports.

The European Union awoke this morning (24 June) to find its numbers diminished, after the United Kingdom voted on Thursday (23 June) to leave the bloc. Predicted to lose by a narrow margin on the day of the referendum, the Leave campaign managed to collect 51.9% of the vote by the close of polling at 10PM.

The unexpected result plunged the global markets into turmoil. The Tokyo stock exchange closed 8 points down, and the European markets are expected to plummet. According to BNP Paribas, the drop could be as steep as 10 to 15% in the coming days.

“I am in shock. I didn’t believe it was possible. It is a triumph of populism and ignorance,” said Tom Mackenzie, a Scot living in France.

In Paris, just a few yards from the British embassy, a group of Polish builders smiled as they looked into their smartphones. “Now our English bosses are the ones that will need a visa to come and work in France,” they joked.

Rebuilding trust?

But for the majority of French citizens and Brits living in France, the overriding feeling is one of sadness. “The result of this vote fills me with grave concern. Now it is up to us to ensure that this blow to the European project is not fatal,” said Virginie Rozière, a Radical Left MEP (S&D).

Similar views were expressed by Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French minister for foreign affairs. Brexit is “sad for the United Kingdom. Europe will go on, but it must react and rebuild the trust of its people. This is urgent,” the former mayor of Nantes said.

President François Hollande held a meeting with his Secretary of State for European Affairs, Harlem Désir, as well as Ayrault and the Minister for Finance, Michel Sapin. He is expected to announce his position on Brexit soon.

Sarkozy calls for 'new European treaty' after Brexit vote

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy called Tuesday (21 June) for Paris and Berlin to make a joint push for “a new European treaty” following Britain’s vote on whether to leave the bloc.

Other, more philosophical observers, see the split as a welcome end to an unhappy relationship.

In a similar spirit, Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European Parliament’s liberal ALDE group, said Europe had to “move forward with the countries that want to: the countries of the eurozone”.

This point of view is shared by Alain Lamassoure, a Republican MEP (EPP), who told listeners to Classic Radio on Friday morning (24 June) that Europe must now progress towards political union. “What we were unable to do with the Brits, we must do now,” he said.

Senator Chantal Jouanno raised the question of a two-speed Europe.

Is Brussels to blame?

Some French observers, like Cécile Duflot, a Green MP, blame Europe for the result of the referendum. “This is what happens when Europe is confiscated by technocrats and liberals,” she said.

UDI MEP Jean Arthuis (ALDE) used more cautious language to express a similar idea.

“The Brits have sanctioned an inefficient, bureaucratic and distant European Union that is incapable of making decisions. The sham of Europe is over.”

A referendum in France?

On the extreme right, the mood is one of celebration. French Gaullist MP Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and the leader of the National Front Marine Le Pen both hailed a “victory for freedom” and called for the organisation of a referendum on EU membership in France.

Socialist MP Arnaud Montebourg made a similar call two days ago in the New Republic. “I propose that we should confront the EU directly over our interests. We cannot allow ourselves to die quietly. The EU has done enough damage to the French economy, and even to the eurozone,” he said.

Republican MP, and former Secretary of State in charge of European Affairs Bruno Le Maire, who is standing in the 2017 presidential election, said he believes a referendum would be a good thing for France. “I think we should consult the French people on this new orientation for Europe,” he told France Info.

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