Brexit: what does France think?

Albrecht Sonntag |

Not necessarily bad news? (Illustration: Michel Gaillard)

Not necessarily bad news? (Illustration: Michel Gaillard)

Not that anyone in Britain cares what the French think. As a matter of fact, even the French themselves don’t care that much. They have other ‘cats to whip’ as they say around here: social unrest, terrorist murders, drunk hooligans. There have been surprisingly little surveys in this normally poll-obsessed country, and while the British polls are quoted and analysed by some media, Le Monde recently simply shrugged their shoulders and drily noted that ‘In France, the Brexit provokes neither debate nor consensus‘. Others, like the financial monthly Capital, summarised the shoulder-shrugging differently: ‘Brexit? Not necessarily bad news!’.

In this context it is interesting to have a closer look at some data tables kindly provided by Céline Bracq and Gaël Sliman from the Odoxa polling institute. A poll they conducted earlier this spring for the daily newspaper Le Parisien highlights that a majority of French citizens would rather like the UK to remain in the European Union. The poll was very quickly and rather superficially quoted upon in the Financial Times, but did not seem to raise any eyebrows on the other side of the Channel. But then again: who cares in Britain what anybody else might think on the continent?

As could be expected, the data on the French attitude towards a potential Brexit reveal more about the French themselves than about the UK’s role in Europe. To no surprise they are deeply split both on UK membership, as they are on most EU matters.

One of the questions simply asked whether the Brexit referendum was ‘an important event for Europe’. It appears that the event is indeed considered important across all age groups (around 65%), but most of all among the over 65 years-old (79%). As for almost all things European, the higher the CSP or the revenues per household, the stronger the concern among respondents. More interestingly, although not too surprising for those who follow French attitudes towards Europe since the 2005 referendum, is the divergence between voters of traditional mainstream parties (they are over 80%, no matter left or right, to consider the event important) and those who find themselves close to the Front national or the extreme left-wing parties, where the scores are significantly lower.

The comparison with other European countries is also of interest. It appears that the French are less opposed to a Brexit than people in Italy, German or Spain (where between 65% and 76% of respondents declared themselves ‘favourable’ to British membership. In France only 54% have this attitude. It also seems that their patience is wearing out: in a similar poll in 2013, 58% of them were displeased with the prospect of a Brexit, today only 42% declare themselves ‘opposed’.

Finally, independently from the Brexit question, the poll also enquired about current attitudes toward the Euro. Bad news for the Front National: 68% of the French seem to be determined to keep the Euro. That’s a score that the ‘Remainers’ in a for the time being hypothetical ‘Frexit’ referendum would hardly achieve. Contradictory? Not in the French mind, it seems.

Albrecht Sonntag, EU-Asia Institute
at ESSCA School of Management.

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