Whether the UK’s “Brexit” referendum wins or loses in June, plenty of continental politicians are looking at the package of concessions that the British government won from Brussels beforehand and thinking, “we gotta get us some of that.” The latest example comes from Denmark. Reuters reports:
Denmark should consider holding a referendum on its relations with the European Union, a key ally of the country’s minority government said on Monday, as Britain prepares to vote on June 23 on whether to leave the 28-nation bloc.Like Britain, Denmark has negotiated several exemptions from EU laws, most notably from having to join the euro currency.The British referendum comes after Prime Minister David Cameron renegotiated some terms of Britain’s EU membership, including curbs on EU migrants’ access to some welfare benefits.Denmark should try to win similar concessions from the EU if Britons vote to stay in the bloc, said Kristian Thulesen Dahl, leader of the populist Danish People’s Party, the largest of the three parties supporting the minority government in Copenhagen.If the Danish parliament is unable to agree on the matter, “then why not ask the Danes to decide on the matter via a referendum,” Thulesen Dahl said in a blog.
This is something that Brussels has feared from the start of the British negotiations: a rolling, never-ending string of referenda. Now it seems that at least the political preconditions for it in many nations are there. Will any French, Spanish, or Swedish politicians take advantage?If they do, a large range of outcomes are possible. The optimistic case: this process could produce a progressive loosening of the European rules, mixed with popular approval, resulting in an EU that was closer to providing what the peoples of Europe want and more possessed of popular legitimacy. But the dark side: Brussels may have hit the sour spot, where it granted just enough to Britain to encourage other national aspirations, but not enough to keep the Brits in. Either way, we don’t expect this to be the last post on referendum-chicken.
The EU right now is suffering from a major crisis not just of democratic legitimacy, but of vision. It’s mired in a series of crises, from the euro to the refugees, and none of its leaders have enunciated a positive narrative for how to get out and move forward. So, like a sailboat caught “in irons”, the European project is currently vulnerable to shifting tides in public opinion, and will be until it gets some headway again—if it’s not dashed upon the shoals first.