Europe Stunned By Brexit Vote, France's Marine Le Pen Calls for "Frexit" Referendum
The continent airs blanket coverage of the U.K.'s historic vote to leave the European Union.
Europe woke up Friday to find Britain has left the building.
A clear majority of British voters chose Brexit, voting to leave the European Union (EU). And Europe, as Italian broadsheet La Repubblica put it, was “stunned.”
“The unthinkable has happened: the Brits want to leave the EU,” said Germany's Der Spiegel under the headline “The Big Bang.”
Across the continent, the sentiment was similar: shock and awe at a result few had expected. European news outlets gave blanket coverage to the Brexit vote, with most expressing surprise and many pointing to similar separatist tendencies across the continent.
“Victory! The freedom I have asked for for years,” tweeted Marine Le Pen, leader of France's anti-EU and anti-immigration party the National Front. “We should now have the same referendum in France and other EU countries,” she wrote. Her niece, the National Front politician Marion Marechal Le Pen, seconded that notion: “From Brexit to Frexit, it is now time to import democracy into our country. The French should have the right to choose!” she posted on Twitter.
Marion Le Pen
Italian conservative newspaper Il Tempo noted the country's right-wing Lega Nord had similar pro-independence goals, quoting Lega Nord head Matteo Salvini, who thanked “the courage of free citizens” of the U.K. before declaring: "Now it's our turn." An editorial in French conservative paper Le Figaro warned of a “domino effect” of separatist movements across Europe.
However, news outlets in Hungary and Poland — the two EU countries with the most Eurosceptic governments — took a reasonably objective approach to news Friday morning of Britain's Brexit vote. Hungary's online daily Origo played the story of Britain's historic vote straight, relating news of the referendum under a headline "Brexit Drama: The British Leave." News portal NOL played up the danger to the Hungarian economy posed by Brexit, declaring that "Hungary is Sure to Lose Now That Britain Choose Brexit."
"The U.K. is out of the EU, but Poland remains in," Jaroslav Kaczynski, a former prime minister of Poland and chairman of the country's ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party told leading news daily Gazeta Wyborcza. But Kaczynski did seize on the news of Britain's Brexit decision to call for Poland to renegotiate its treaty with the EU.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has been an outspoken advocate for the Remain movement, responded to the Brexit vote with a plea for other EU members to fight to stay in. "We have to change it to make it more human and more just. But Europe is our home, it is our future,” he tweeted.
Dobbiamo cambiarla per renderla più umana e più giusta. Ma l'Europa è la nostra casa, è il nostro futuro.— Matteo Renzi (@matteorenzi) June 24, 2016
Much of the European coverage focused on the possible economic impact of the Brexit vote, with Le Figaro predicting “tremors” across the stock market and most outlets pointing to the historic drop in the value of the British pound, which fell to a 31-year-low against the U.S. dollar. Spain's El Pais newspaper said Brexit would "impact Spain home sales, tourism and expats," and the country's El Mundo broadsheet noted that Spanish risk premiums soared in the wake of the vote. Spanish media also pointed to results in British-run Gibraltar, which borders Spain, noting that its residents voted, almost unanimously, to stay in the EU.
German public broadcaster ARD quoted Markus Kerber, head of the BDI, the umbrella association representing German industry, as saying Brexit would have a “hard and immediate” impact on business. “In the coming months we expect a significant drop in business with the Brits,” he said. “We do not expect any new direct investment by German companies [in Britain].” The German Foreign Office called the result “truly sobering” and said it was “a sad day for Europe.”
The view from Asia was quite different. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV responded to the news of Brexit in real time via its social media Weibo account. It listed four major implications of the vote for Chinese viewers. They included: 1. a weaker British Pound makes it cheaper for the Chinese to go to the U.K. to shop or study 2. No impact on visa restrictions for Chinese visitors. 3. Some 50,000 EU students in the U.K. might leave, opening up more spots for Chinese students. 4. A-list shares seen as high-risk assets will be sold.
Qiu Lin, a wildly popular Chinese blogger, agreed that Brexit represents an opportunity for China.
“The EU doesn't recognize China’s new economic status, and British politicians have been trying to convince the EU to change their attitude toward China,” he wrote in a post viewed more than 34.5 million times. “Britain has many cooperation projects with China and trade ties between us are relevantly close as well. Therefore, Britain holds a positive attitude in terms of admitting China’s economic might.”
Conservative parties represented in the European Parliament have now called for a rapid exit by Britain from EU institutions. Crisis sessions involving leading EU politicians are set for Friday in Brussels. Unraveling Britain's legal ties with the EU will take time. Most expect a formal exit to take at least two years and some have suggested that it could be delayed until national elections in Britain, scheduled for 2020.
Ariston Anderson in Rome, Rhonda Richford in Paris, Nick Holdsworth in London, Pamela Rolfe in Spain and Patrick Brzeski in Tokyo contributed to this report.