News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.K. Votes To Leave The European Union; Prime Minister To Step Down


We've got a team of correspondents on the line. There's NPR's Lauren Frayer, who joins us from Madrid, Spain. We've also got our Paris correspondent, Eleanor Beardsley, with us, and also Constanze Stelzenmuller of The Brookings Institution. She joins us on the line from Berlin. Welcome to you all, and I want to start with you, Constanze. Germans in particular feel very strongly about their European identity, in particular because of their culture and history, and this idea that European nations are stronger together than they are apart. So what are Germans thinking and saying this morning about what the U.K.'s vote means for the future of the EU?

CONSTANZE STELZENMULLER: Hi, good morning from Berlin, and thank you for having me on. I know that my friends are dismayed. In fact, I was bicycling here this morning and ran into three or four friends who were standing on street corners in front of offices, or a street crossing, discussing what had happened. And the general debate here, of course, is that everybody here wanted Great Britain to stay. For us, Britain has always been a force for good in Europe, an important beacon for liberal trade policies, defense policies, you know, an ancient democracy. And I think people here are just devastated.


You know, I can imagine these emotions being expressed in different European capitals and cities. Eleanor Beardsley, you're in Paris this morning. I mean, are you seeing - did you see similar reactions as people were biking and getting to work?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Yeah, actually, I was out on the streets talking to people. People are stunned. No one really expected this. We've all been following the campaign and everything, but no one really expected it to happen. Francois Hollande spoke earlier, he said this is a very painful choice. And people are just starting to, you know, try to come to terms with it. And I think what everyone is saying, whether they like it or not, is that the EU that comes out of this will have to be changed. It will have to be something different because the big fear now is that this could start a cascade of other countries wanting to get out.

MARTIN: I want to bring Lauren Frayer into the conversation, and then we'll just open it up. But, Lauren, what's the reaction from from Madrid, from the Spanish? How are they seeing this unfold?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Well, in Spain, what everyone's worried about is a repeat of the horrible recession that this country has really come out of - just come out of. Markets are way down, borrowing costs are up, and we have an election here in two days. This Spanish election will be really the first test of whether this anti-establishment fervor moves from Britain and heads southward.

Here, there's a leftist coalition that surged in the polls led by a communist and a socialist, both in their 30s with a lot of support from the Spanish youth. And the question is whether voters will take a chance on new anti-establishment parties here or go with the incumbent conservatives for stability. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is the incumbent. He's acting very presidential today, urging calm and arguing that his conservatives are the best hope to steer Spain through this post-Brexit uncertainty.

MARTIN: So I'll open that up to both Eleanor and to Constanze. In France and Germany - I mean, in France in particular, Eleanor, right, there has been this strong nationalist movement. Marine Le Pen's National Front Party has expressed some of these same political ideas of - as we've seen in the leave campaign in the U.K. So, I mean, what does it mean for movements like that?

BEARDSLEY: Exactly. Well, it's - today, Boris Johnson, former London mayor and a big champion of the leave campaign, he said, you know, this will take the wind out of the sails of populist parties and, you know, far right parties, but the opposite seems to be happening, Rachel. Today, Marine Le Pen spoke, and she seemed to be crowing almost. She said today the British people have given the European people and the entire world a striking lesson in democracy. They did not pay attention to the threats held over their heads, and they voted the path of liberty that the system tried to deny them.

You know, Marine Le Pen has long talked about France needs to leave the EU, and the EU is such an intrinsic part of French history it was seen as just such a crazy idea. But now, ideas like this - they have - you know, they have - they've been validated. At the same time, Geert Wilders, who's an anti-Muslim lawmaker in the Netherlands - he's called for a referendum in the Netherlands, so we have the possibility of an actual Nexit (ph) and a Frexit (ph), as they're calling them. You know, it's actually, you know, not on the horizon yet, but people are actually talking about it now.

MARTIN: Constanze, what about in Germany? Have you seen a resurgence of these right-wing movements?

STELZENMULLER: I don't think we have to worry about - worry about a Gerxit (ph).


MARTIN: Good because that's a bad moniker.

STELZENMULLER: Yes, indeed. Germany shares borders with 10 neighboring countries. Our entire economy is dependent on trade with the eurozone, the rest of Europe, the continent, the world. Nobody in their right mind here wants a Europe - wants to leave the Europe, or wants Europe to break up. In fact, I think people here are going to be working very hard to prevent that.

That said, we have a populist movement of our own. But - and we do also have neo-Nazis, and we have a left-wing fringe as well. But so far, they haven't found a Trump or a Marine Le Pen or a Boris Johnson because people who are at the helm there are basically shooting themselves in the knees.

GREENE: Because, Constanze, I wonder - I mean, is there even greater pressure now on Germany to sort of protect this idea of European identity?

STELZENMULLER: I think that sounds pretty accurate to me.

GREENE: Lauren Frayer, you have been covering an interesting side of this, which is how life is changing for citizens of the U.K. And there are a huge number of British expats in Spain. I mean, what happens to them now?

FRAYER: That's right. So there are 2.2 million Britons who live abroad inside the European Union, and Spain has the biggest number. There are whole towns where - on the Spanish Mediterranean coast where you could really think you're in Britain. They speak English, they eat fish and chips, they play cricket. Most of them are retirees, and they could lose the free public health care that they get because they're EU citizens. They could also have their U.K. state pensions frozen, so lose the cost-of-living adjustments to those.

And expats here - the British expats in Spain voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, and that's despite the fact that many of them are elderly, and their demographic back home voted the opposite way. And a lot of the people I've been talking to say they feel ignored. You know, there was so much talk about immigration to the U.K. under the EU, people upset about the number of immigrants who've entered Britain. Well, just as many Britons have actually fanned out across Europe, too. And as the pound drops, they could be forced to go home, so this would be a sort of unraveling of the integration that the EU has created here.

MARTIN: Constanze, how does this change, in the short and long term, Germany's relationship with the U.K.?

STELZENMULLER: Well, you know, it's funny. I was just - I had an English childhood because my dad was a German diplomat. It was our first posting, so I have been filled with regret at all this. In fact, there - I actually - if it's OK to say this on a live mic, there was a moment this morning in the shower when I started crying. But the reality is that I think, you know, if we get back our nerves, we will of course have to be working with Britain, which remains a member of the Security Council, which remains a force for good in the world and on the continent. And we have to work with them to make this a - not just a respectful divorce but a good relationship going forward.

MARTIN: Constanze Stelzenmuller - I'm afraid we're going to leave it there, Constanze. Thank you so much. She is with The Brookings Institution in Berlin. We also heard from NPR's Lauren Frayer in Madrid and NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.