Blog: How Brexit made the EU stronger – The New European

What’s the opposite of a trendsetter? Be it out of touch or out of style, Brexiteers have fallen into this category. 

Since 2016, support for leaving the European Union has decreased, in some cases dramatically, in member states across the rest of the bloc, according to data from a major pan-European survey. The European Social Survey (ESS), led by City University of London, has been conducted in 30 European countries every two years since 2001. It found that respondents were less likely to vote to leave the EU for every member state that took part. 

Support declined the most in Finland. When asked in 2016-17, 28.6% of respondents answered that they would vote to leave if a Brexit-style referendum was held. When asked again in 2020-22, pro-leave sentiment had declined by 13.2 percentage points with only 15.4% saying they would be in favour of voting leave. 

A steep drop in support between 2016 and 2022 was also reported in the Netherlands (from 23% to 13.5%), Portugal (15.7% to 6.6%), Austria (26% to 16.1%) and France (24.3% to 16%).

But, the Leavers’ cause remained most popular in the Czech Republic (29.2%), Italy (20.1%) and Sweden (19.3%). Even in these countries, however, there was a noticeable decline. In the Czech Republic leaving the bloc was less popular by 4.5 percentage points, and in Italy and Sweden by 9.1 points and 4.6 points. 

After the UK’s fraught negotiations with the EU and uncertain times domestically, with five prime ministers in six years, the drop in support was inevitable. Experts say the political situation in Britain in the wake of Brexit was a deterrent for other member states.  

This decline also comes at the same time as the Covid pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which experts further believe has made membership appear more favourable to EU citizens. As well as this, Italy and France’s anti-EU parties have neglected their plans for Frexit and Italexit for plans to reform the EU from within in light of the current tumultuous political environment across the continent.

Interestingly, the EES survey further found an increase in emotional attachment to the EU. In Finland, strong emotional attachment rose to 58.7% from 46%. Perhaps most curious of all, in Hungary (a country engaged in a bitter dispute with Brussels) it increased from 60% to 70.3%. 

Brexit has achieved the opposite of its aim. In hoping to delegitimise the EU as an institution and hasten its break-up, it merely increased its popularity with its remaining members in the same way that when Brexiteers pledged to make Britain more prosperous and globally respected in leaving the EU, the reverse happened.

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