UK Vote Comes Amid Growing Anti-EU Sentiment Across Europe, Partly Driven by Refugee Crisis

By James Carstensen | June 21, 2016 | 12:26 AM EDT

British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media after an E.U. summit in Brussels (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)

Berlin ( – On the eve of the momentous British referendum Thursday on whether or not to remain in the European Union, euroskepticism is on the rise in many countries, including Germany, where critical voices have been gaining traction.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble admitted that Britain’s exit – dubbed “Brexit” – could have dramatic consequences for the rest of the E.U., while Chancellor Angela Merkel said Britain staying in Europe would be “the best and most desirable thing for us all.”

The non-profit German Institute for Economic Research warned that a Brexit could have economic consequences for Germany, weakening its exports and reducing economic growth by one percent.  The Munich-based Institute of Economic Research speculated that Germany's long-term growth could decrease by three percent as a result.

The big question however is whether a Brexit would cause a further rise in euroskepticism.

Schäuble has mused about the possibility that Britain leaving could prompt others to follow suit.

“You can’t rule it out,” he told Der Spiegel earlier this month. “How would the Netherlands, which has traditionally been very closely allied with Britain, react, for example?”

A survey last April by Swedish polling firm TNS Sifo found that if the British voted to leave the E.U., 36 per cent of Swedes would also want to leave, while 32 per cent said they would want to stay.

In Denmark, where the euroskeptic Danish People’s Party is the second largest in parliament, spokesperson Kenneth Kristensen Berth said a Brexit would “force Denmark to reconsider its own membership.”

In France, Marine Le Pen of the National Front has also said if it her party took power she would hold a referendum on E.U. membership.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center earlier this month reflected increasingly divided sentiment, reporting that favorable views towards the E.U. have been declining since 2004.

The survey involved 10,491 respondents from 10 countries which account for 80 percent of the E.U.’s population and 82 percent of its GDP.

Overall 41 per cent of survey participants held unfavorable views of the 28-member union, with the number in Germany rising to 50 per cent.

A major driver of skepticism has been Europe’s refugee crisis. The Pew study found that every country surveyed had overwhelming majorities disapproving Brussels’ handling of the crisis.

“Much of the disaffection with the EU among Europeans can be attributed to Brussels’ handling of the refugee issue,” it said.

Germany, being at the heart of the refugee crisis, has in particular seen backlash resulting in a surge in support for the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The Pew study showed that only one-third of German AfD supporters favored the E.U.

Germany has also seen a spike in attacks on refugees. Crime statistics released by Germany’s Interior Ministry last month revealed that of 38,981 politically-motivated crimes registered in 2015, 22,690 were committed by far-right radicals.

The issue of skepticism raises questions here about whether Germany could to a return to nationalism.

Germany’s relationship with the principle of an integrated Europe differs from Britain, since the formation of the E.U. was in itself a means to contain German nationalism, and the dangers of nationalism in general.

Germany’s central role in the E.U. economy and its vision of itself as a country of open borders has been an important symbolic step for modern-day Germany, a move that distinguishes itself from its wartime history.

Merkel has already warned of the dangers of re-closing the borders, calling it a “risk [of] falling back into nationalism.”

President Joachim Gauck said in an ARD interview on Sunday that German democracy was in no danger from right-wing populism. But he agreed that the E.U. needed to address the concerns of euroskeptics, and to “bring along those citizens who have reservations.”

Despite the potential economic and political consequences, the German government has yet made no plans to address the event of a British exit. It is expected that Merkel would initially call for a “pause for reflection.”

She would then join a meeting of E.U. heads of government next week which, should Britain exit, will discuss a roadmap for the future.

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