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‘Brexiters’ and ‘Bremainers’ still neck-and-neck

Most EU media comment that with only three days to go, the outcome of the UK’s EU referendum is unclear. The latest polls show that opponents and supporters of Brexit are still neck-and-neck. The campaign to keep Britain in the European Union regained its lead in two opinion polls published on Saturday, giving a boost to Prime Minister David Cameron.

Media report include coverage that the referendum campaign has fully resumed this weekend after a brief truce prompted by the murder of Jo Cox MP. In an interview with The FT, John Major warns that a vote to leave the EU will be irrevocable, and that the country would never re-apply to join the bloc. Ten of the world’s most eminent economists have issued a warning about the consequences of Britain leaving the EU. The 10 Nobel laureates have written to The Guardian to say that the economic arguments involved in the referendum debate are key, and that a vote to leave the EU could hit the country for years to come.

Most media report that on Saturday, the International Monetary Fund released its annual report on the British economy, warning that a Brexit would plunge the UK into recession and would result in a “negative and substantial” hit to the economy and permanently lower incomes. In its 64-page review, the IMF stresses the increased uncertainty that such a decision would bring, noting that it will be difficult for the UK to swiftly conclude trade agreements with other countries, and warns that a Brexit could harm the economies of other European states.

Meanwhile, The Times reports that Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, suggests that Britain is likely to be offered three options by the rest of Europe in the event of a vote to leave on Thursday: membership of the EEA, a Canadian-style free-trade agreement or a relationship governed by WTO rules. Meanwhile, according to Hungarian media, Magyar Hirlap and The Wall Street Journal Europe, Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, will launch a campaign in the UK press on Monday to urge Britons to keep their country within the European Union. “Hungary’s government has been accused of being anti-EU many times, but its pro-EU stance – as seen at present – reflects that it is committed to and strongly believes in the significance of the results the EU has achieved, even as it envisions the continent’s future in a different way in many instances,” Zoltan Kovacs, a spokesman for the Hungarian government said on Sunday.

In an interview with La Vanguardia, Simon Tilford, deputy-director of the Centre for European Reform, warns that leaving the EU would not resolve any of the UK’s problems, but would rather aggravate them while creating serious trouble for the country’s closest allies. Former European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering and former French PM Jean-Pierre Raffarin jointly penned an article in Le Figaro in which they recall that Great-Britain is united to Europe by values that are human dignity, liberty, democracy, rights and peace. Pöttering and Raffarin insist on the EU’s unity, which they deem indispensable in order for the EU to get back its authority and ability to take action.

On the contrary, writing in The Telegraph, Boris Johnson urges readers to vote to leave the EU, arguing that this is “Britain’s only opportunity to take its own destiny back from the undemocratic EU project”. La Libre Belgique chats with economist Paul De Grauwe, who favours a Brexit: “I think the UK should leave the EU. We will have less trouble.” Several EU media comment on the possible consequences of a Brexit for their own country. Writing in The Guardian, Larry Elliott argues that the future looks bleak for the EU whether Britain votes to remain or not because of rising euroscepticism across the continent. In a commentary in Il Sole 24 Ore, Adriana Cerretelli argues that whatever the result of the British referendum, it will mean “the end of a world” both for Britain and for Europe.

In an opinion piece in Les Echos, economics professor Bruno Alomar considers that a Brexit would be a “crucial blow” to Europe, and that no matter the result of the vote, the integration process will come to a halt. Le Figaro’s Jean-Jacques Mével notes that if the British vote for a Brexit, “the UK and the continent are [therefore] moving towards a chaotic and merciless divorce.” In another article in Le Figaro, columnist José Ignacio Torreblanca warns that the European Union is “an endangered species” as it “has become an obsolete entity, unable to take responsibility for itself.”

The International New York Times‘ Jim Yardley as well as El Mundo’s Carlos Fresneda report that if Britain does vote to leave the European Union this week, it will be in part because of the EU’s handling of crises over the past decade. According to Paul Krugman, writing in La Repubblica, Britain is paying for the wrong decisions by the German government and the EU on immigration and currency. If Britain votes itself out of the EU, Germany will become a more powerful member of the union economically as well as politically, writes Information.

Meanwhile, Stefan Ulrich writes in Süddeutsche Zeitung that a Brexit could be the opportunity needed for the remaining member states to become more closely integrated into EU structures. EU Expert Nicolai von Ondarza of the Foundation for Research and Policy in Berlin says that with the EU’s financial hub no longer in the UK, the financial industry would become much easier to regulate, and that much progress could also be made in defence policy without British resistance. Former President of the European Parliament Nicole Fontaine also finds that the “healing shock” caused by a Brexit could lead to more integration in taxation, social and foreign policy.

While Brussels’s official perspective on the Brexit debate is optimistic, plans for a negative outcome are being made behind closed doors. In MDR Info, MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE) says that “it is clear that we have to start thinking about what is next for Europe, regardless of whether or not there is a Brexit.” Several media report that European officials plan to hold emergency meetings in case Britain votes to leave the European Union. European Council president Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who represents the rotating EU presidency, and Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, plan to attend such a meeting on Friday. They will seek to reassure markets that the rest of the EU stands united if the UK votes to leave or – if it votes to stay – that the bloc has emerged stronger, officials familiar with the preparations said.

According to The Wall Street Journal Europe, EU officials are particularly concerned about contagion spreading to Ireland, whose economy is closely linked with Britain’s, and Portugal, where a troubled banking system is dependent on cheap loans from the European Central Bank.


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