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Following the release of our latest polling on the EU referendum in the UK last week, we are starting a new series of thought pieces, from the perspective of different European nations, specifically France, Germany and the UK on ‘Brexit’ and the effect it is having on these nations.

Last week we found that the Leave camp held a slight lead at 36% ahead of Remain on 34%; with 23% still undecided and 7% telling us they do not intend to vote. Interestingly however, our poll found that while Leave maintained a lead in voting intention, when asked what they thought the actual outcome would be, nearly two fifths (38%) believed that the UK would remain part of the EU and 34% said they didn’t know what the final outcome would be.

Having looked at our data, we asked three of our experts from TNS Public Affairs - one from each nation - to give their views on what this means for the UK, France and Germany respectively.


The UK perspective…

While the implications of the renegotiation are continuing to dominate news headlines, it is worth bearing in mind that the majority of those who have already made up their mind on how to vote in the referendum hold deeply entrenched views which are unlikely to change regardless of the renegotiation, or even the of individual opinions of politicians.

It would seem the campaigns need instead to focus on undecided voters; and in this regard the outcome of the referendum is still all to play for with a quarter of the public yet to make up their mind. While among decided voters there is currently a slender lead for “leave” our most recent poll indicates that the undecided tend to lean slightly more towards voting for “remain”. However, these are voters for many of whom Europe is not such an important issue and who are less politically engaged so the challenge remains in how to best reach them.

There is also a clear generational divide with younger people holding the most favourable views towards the European Union. The challenge for the “remain” campaign may therefore prove to be in galvanising this support and getting young people to turn out in a high number at the referendum. This could prove to be a considerable challenge with the recent change to voter registration disproportionately affecting this group and the fact that turnout among this group has tended to be low over the last 25 years. It isn’t since the 1992 General Election that over two-thirds of those aged 18-24 turned out in a General Election*.

It is also important to note that as seen in Scotland in 2014, holding a referendum doesn’t necessarily put an issue to rest. Whatever the outcome of the referendum a large proportion of the country are likely to be displeased and this may lead to many more years of political challenge.

* Sources: British Election Study (re-analysis of datasets) House of Commons Library Research Paper 03/59

Desiree Lopez, CEO of TNS BMRB


The French perspective…

The British referendum on EU membership, and the results of our survey will certainly remind French voters of their stormy electoral history with Europe. Everyone will remember the 2005 referendum which saw the French reject the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. At that time, France almost surprised itself unveiling a near equal divide between those - the most wealthy and educated half of voters - who wanted to continue to believe in a positive Europe and the others - the majority -  who choose to send a strong signal to an overly complex and inefficient Europe.

Such an equal split is certainly something Marine Le Pen, President of extreme right Front National , is keen to rekindle ahead of the upcoming 2017 presidential election. After the regional elections in December 2015, where her party dominated in the first round but was systematically defeated in the second because of its isolation (in that, it has no natural political allies to ensure the 50% of the vote required) , she clearly stated that French voters would have to choose whether to side with France’s “real patriots’”  or the “pro-EU and globalists” [sic]. Therefore, a Brexit could grease the skids of those in France who believe that leaving Europe is both possible and not that dramatic – as now seen in Madame LePen’s comments this weekend calling for a ‘Frexit’

Beyond French politics, as the refugees crisis undermines some of the EU’s fundamental principles, the French people will also begin to wonder how the outcome of the British referendum could impact a Europe increasingly torn between nations that would fight for an ever closer union, and others that could choose to leave it.

Finally, the average French pupil in a European classroom will probably ask himself how to consider both the generous, but questioned - German teacher and their brilliant, but troublemaking British classmate; the latter threatening to storm out unless concessions to the rules are made, all the while distracting and disrupting the rest of the class.

Edouard Lecerf, Director of Political and Opinion





The German perspective…

Although the refugee crisis dominates the political and public debate in Germany these days, the referendum on Brexit is regularly covered in German newspapers and does amplify the current debate about a “crisis in the EU”.

Current polls in Germany do suggest that the views on the advantages and disadvantages of the EU membership for Germany have changed significantly during the last 18 months – indicating a much more sceptical electorate than before. Based on the most recent poll from Infratest-dimap (published in February), only 30% of the German electorate sees more advantages than disadvantages for Germany in the EU membership, 24% think disadvantages are more striking than advantages, whereas the rest of the German people think that the pros and cons on EU membership are more or less of the same weight.

Pro-EU enthusiasm certainly reads differently. Although a majority of voters in Germany does still say that in general they think European integration is a good idea, the politics around the euro crisis in 2010 and particularly during the “Greek summer crisis” of 2015 have sparked a new debate about whether the current institutions of the EU and the Euro area are capable of addressing the key policy issues at stake in ways that would solve the problems effectively. The clearly articulated voice of the British PM to get (another) exclusive deal for Britain, e.g. in the domain of welfare state eligibility, is by many observers in Germany perceived as an indication that the centrifugal dynamics in the EU are currently outweighing any substantial commitments for a more “common approach” to solve current issues around migration or the “ill-balanced” economic and labour market landscape within the euro zone.

One thing for sure: most Germans, and particularly political and business elites, would not be happy if a Brexit vote were to become a reality. The fear that Britain might leave the EU is particularly prominent among market liberals who moan about the economic policies of countries like France and Italy which they define as obstacles to a more flexible European labour market. On the left, those fears are, of course, not a key issue, yet Brexit in general, would spark off an even more critical debate in Germany about the future of Europe.

Dr Nico Siegel, CEO TNS Infratest Public Affairs and Managing Director, Infratest dimap