A key theme of the Brexiteers during the referendum campaign was the poor economic performance of many EU states, particularly those in the Eurozone, and a common argument from those defending their vote to leave the EU since has been “we need to get out before it all falls apart”. So how much substance is there to these statements?
It’s undeniable that the Eurozone particularly has struggled to recover since the financial crash of 2008 – a single currency stretched across economies of different types and levels was always going to find it hard to restore equilibrium, and the level of austerity imposed on Greece in particular has left a bad taste in the mouth for those who value European unity.
In addition, anti-EU parties have seen a surge in popularity all across Europe, to the extent that many predicted that Brexit would be the first in a domino-effect series of states voting to leave the ‘failing project’. That theory took a knock with the defeat of the anti-immigration Freedom Party in Austria, followed by Geert Wilders’ poor showing in the recent Netherlands elections. There is now intense focus on the presidential elections in France, in which the nationalist Marine Le Pen is reckoned by many to be the favourite. However, those who understand the French electoral system are of the opinion that, like Wilders, Le Pen will be comfortably beaten in the final round (and yes, we know many people said that about Trump). We shall see – certainly as it is, the dominoes are not quite tumbling as smoothly as some gleefully predicted.
What of the Eurozone economies? Actually, the long-awaited recovery finally seems to be in evidence. There were signs of it before the referendum, when growth in the Eurozone as a whole outstripped that of both the UK and the US. Of course, good performance from the Northern states might hide the failure of the likes of Greece, Spain and Italy, so even better is the recent news that all 28 Eurozone economies (yes, we’re still counting 28) are growing at the same time.
So we’re no clairvoyants here, but it certainly appears that reports of the demise of the EU may have been a little premature. And of course, depending on how good (or bad) a deal the UK eventually gets from Brexit, the remaining 27 nations may well end up strengthened in their belief in the benefits for a united Europe…