Now French voters call for FREXIT as Germany faces demands for EU referendum
MORE than half of French voters want their own in-out referendum on European Union (EU) membership, renewing fears in Brussels that a Brexit could topple the 28-country bloc.
By Selina Sykes
March 28, 2016
53 per cent of the French voted in favour of holding a referendum on the country's membership
With Britons set to go to the polls in June, there are increasing signs the UK's referendum is paving the way for other European countries to question their own relationship with Brussels.
It comes after calls for Germany to have their own EU referendum in the aftermath of the migrant crisis .
In a fresh blow to the EU, 53 per cent of the French voted in favour of holding a UK-style referendum on the country's membership.
Such a response from one of the EU's founder members will undoubtedly ruffle feathers in Brussels.
Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen welcomed the poll results in a recent blog post, saying French demands for a referendum were “extremely encouraging”.
A quarter (25 per cent) of French people also want to see an end of free movement throughout Europe after the EU's Schengen zone was heavily criticised in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
Marine Le Pen welcomed the poll results
Alongside Germany, France is considered the central pillar of the European project.
But a struggling economy and a faltering government has fuelled a rising Eurosceptic sentiment in France, as well as an escalating migrant crisis and a surge in popularity for the far-right FN.
And with France's neighbours across the Channel winning negotiations with Brussels, many French voters are asking why their government cannot do the same.
In a University of Edinburgh survey of 8,000 voters in Germany, France, Poland, Ireland, Spain and Sweden, France was the only country where a majority said they would back holding a UK-style EU referendum.
But France is not the first European country where voters are demanding their own chance to leave the EU, with both the Netherlands and the Czech Republic saying they want to follow Britain in holding an in-out referendum.
In a Dutch poll, 53 per cent supported an in-out vote, while the Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka warned a "Czexit" could follow if Britons choose to leave the EU in June.
Anand Menon, a professor of European politics at King's College, said: “The British referendum is a laboratory for other referendums in Europe.
“Such trivialisation could produce devastating effects.”
While a central member of the EU, France, like Britain, has always been traditionally hostile to further European integration.
In 2005 French voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed European Constitution, sending political reverberations throughout the EU.
A third (33 per cent) of French people surveyed would back a so-called Frexit, while 45 per cent would vote to remain and 22 per cent are undecided, according to the University of Edinburgh poll.
Hundreds of migrants evicted from Calais Jungle are now sleeping rough in Paris
Germans are demanding their own EU referendum in the aftermath of the migrant crisis
While France leaving the EU seems unlikely, the “surprising” result from a country “at the heart of the EU” shows other European nations holding referendums after Britain is a real possibility, according to Dr David Lees, a Teaching Fellow in French Studies at the University of Warwick.
Dr Lees told Express.co.uk: “A referendum in France is an absolute possibility. Certainly, if Britain votes to leave the EU in June, I think France will be under increasing pressure to have a referendum.
“Especially because a Brexit would change the entire nature of the EU.
“It's a logical thing to do to keep everything afloat in the EU.”
Dr Lees added: “After Britain's negotiations with the EU, it is only natural for France to look to the UK and say: ‘We contribute more to Europe than the UK does, so why can't we negotiate?'
“I think the French will have to hold a referendum, there's no other way of looking at it. You have to give into that kind of popular demand.”
France and Germany are considered the central pillar of the European project
An increasing Eurosceptic sentiment in France is linked to the country's long-term economic turmoil after the Eurozone crisis and the ongoing migrant crisis in Calais, with many people pinning France's troubles on the EU.
Dr Lees said: ”France is facing a significant crisis, a crisis of migration. There is also a massive dissatisfaction with François Hollande who remains the least popular president of the Fifth Republic.
"The French government doesn't seem to have any sense of improving things economically and I think this explains the dissatisfaction and why some people may be looking to blame the situation on the EU."
Ms Le Pen's FN has capitalised on this widespread dissatisfaction in France, with the Paris attacks and Europe's migrant crisis fuelling a rise of the far-right in France.
Ms Le Pen, who has long campaigned for France to leave the EU, has vowed to hold a referendum if her party wins the presidential elections in 2017.
The FN leader has been highly critical of Angela Merkel's contribution to the EU, accusing François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy of “blindly following” the German Chancellor who has been “a disaster for the EU”.
Ms Le Pen recently said during an interview on French television: “Germany is doing whatever it likes regarding the economy and immigration.
“When Merkel opened wide her arms to migrants, they then came to France.”
In February the far-right leader declared Britain's negotiations with the EU were "the beginning of the end" for the union, saying she was "delighted" the bloc "seems to be backing down".
While an "out" campaign in France does not have the political backing from respected politicians, Dr Lees said the continuing migrant crisis could “lead people to taking more extreme views”.
If a right-wing government headed by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is elected in next year's presidential elections, France is likely to seek to follow Britain's example in renegotiating its relationship with the EU, according to Mr Lees.
Welcoming the news of a potential Frexit, Ms Le Pen said French demands for a EU referendum “confirm what I have increasingly felt while travelling: the French have started a rebellion against the EU.
“The French are thirsty for liberty and sovereignty.”
The FN leader added: “Returning to an expression which amused and intrigued the English press last year, ‘Call me Madame Frexit!' That name suits me more than ever.”
Source: 'Daily Express'