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Across Europe, populism has surged as populist movements have used the political salience of globalisation, immigration and sovereignty to burst into the mainstream. Many scholars, such as Lukas and Benjamin Kaelin, have argued that Austria’s Freedom Party, Italy’s Lega party, and the UK’s Conservative Party are all examples of parties running populist governments.

If populism is a Europe-wide phenomenon, the same can be said about Euroscepticism. Indeed, it would be wrong to see British Euroscepticism as simply another version of Englishness. Euroscepticism in Europe comes at a time when the continent (and not only the UK) faces pressure between capital and labour; pluralism and conservatism; and, the rise of nationalism contrary to cosmopolitanism. Brexit could be the most prominent event when it comes to Euroscepticism, but the three predicaments mentioned above are embedded in most European countries.

The struggle between capital and labour has been fuelled in recent years by globalisation. Both the Euro and the migration crises spurred Euroscepticism in Austria and Italy, with the latter discussing departure from the Euro. Europeans suspect that the Union has been envisioned for the upper-middle-class, increasing the economic gap within nations. 

The tension between nationalism and cosmopolitanism runs parallel to the dispute on how democratic the European Union is. This debate is more sustained in Europe than the migration and economic discussions, because to some extent, all European countries are increasingly worried about the technocratic nature of Brussels. A clear example of this is the European Parliament elections of 2014 that saw widespread support for Euroscepticism. It comes as no surprise that a Eurosceptic party is present in every country. Added to this is the way Germany is being portrayed following both the migration and eurozone crises as the leader of the Union. To some extent, the nature of the Union discredits the concept of a nation-state, throwing up the question of whether it is possible to maintain sovereignty as we know it in a globalised world. Brexit draws attention to the European mismatching between pluralism, national identity and citizenship.

The struggle between pluralism and conservatism, expressed most clearly in the migration dilemma, is linked with the previous critique against capitalism and a cosmopolitan society. This debate is being reframed following the migration crisis by Euroscepticism, mainly in the countries that are part of the Visegrád Group.

The three struggles mentioned above can overlap and are sometimes used interchangeably in Eurosceptic parties. For instance, migration is bound up in debates around multiculturalism, and when it comes in the form of illegal immigration, it is seen to reduce labour’s sway against companies or government.

The European multi-layered and multi-cultural project has become difficult to sell in terms of political community; electorates will be more willing to accept migration when they think their immediate government is controlling it, associating border control with state sovereignty.

The losers of globalisation, therefore, are not only represented in the UK. The Eurozone and migration crises have produced the idea that dealing with a crisis is Europe’s new standard, with record levels of Eurosceptics in the region. The reactive nature of Euroscepticism, mentioned above, means it is possible to link these movements across Europe the way populism is being intertwined. What can be different from each nation is not the nature of the problem but the way each nation addresses it. Britain tested its support and failed; the same can happen in other European countries.

The Union was an economic solution to the strain of nationalist politics in Europe that was seen as a harbinger for both world wars. But in recent years participants in the Union have asked themselves, where are those economic benefits? And because of the technocratic nature of the Union and its inability to deal with discontent, a localised problem, if unattended, can quickly escalate to a desire to leave the Union as a whole.

Brexit will influence the Union; it might not involve a disintegration process such as the one facing the British Isles, but certainly is a decisive point in history. Add to this other crises facing the EU, such as persistent flows of migration from the Middle East, and it is likely that Euroscepticism will spread further if there is no apparent response to it.

Adrián is currently undertaking work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.