With EU leadership in Brussels still coming to terms with Britain leaving the union, following the last week’s stunning performance by the Brexit campaign in the referendum, popular movements across Europe have renewed their calls to leave the European Union. Nowhere is the opposition to the EU politically better organised than in France. In a poll conducted by University of Edinburgh in March this year, more than half of the French respondents were in favour of a Frexit — France leaving the EU.

Brexit comes as a shot in the arm for Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s right-wing Front National, as she prepares for the presidential election coming up next year. Le Pen’s anti-immigration and Eurosceptic party has shown impressive run in the country’s regional elections. Now Le Pen wants to make France’s EU membership a central theme of her presidential campaign, as EU establishes itself as the driving force behind the mass immigration and open border policy, with Brussels actively blocking and penalising EU member state from enforcing even basic border controls. In the aftermath of last November’s Paris attacks, a growing number of people in French want to see an end to the open border policy.

In 1950s, the European project started as a French-German initiative to unify Europe. In the wake of Brexit, President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker and President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, have renewed their call for “more Europe”, doubling down on their rhetoric of stripping European nation states of constitutional sovereignty and national identity. Only a move in France — the founding member of the EU — to turn away from the “European Project” can put an end this transnational union.

Following the UK results, Front National’s Vice-President Florian Philippot, also called for a similar vote in his country, saying, “[France] cannot escape a referendum”. British newspaper The Guardian writes:

France’s Front National (FN) hailed Brexit as a clear boost for Marine Le Pen’s presidential bid next spring, as well as a move that gave momentum to the party’s anti-Europe and anti-immigration line.

“Victory for Freedom! As I have been asking for years, we must now have the same referendum in France and EU countries,” Le Pen wrote on Twitter.

A jubilant Le Pen delivered a Brexit victory speech from her party’s headquarters outside Paris, styling the UK referendum result as just the start of an unstoppable new wave of support for parties and movements like the Front National. “The UK has begun a movement that can’t be stopped,” she said.

Le Pen swiftly changed her social media handles to the Union flag and stated her “warmest and friendliest” congratulations to “very brave” Boris Johnson and the leave campaign. Specially printed Front National Brexit posters showed hands breaking free from chains, with the caption “Now it’s France’s turn”.

Back in 2005, 55 percent of French electorates voted “No” in a referendum seeking to ratify a common EU constitution. Despite the popular rejection, two years later the French parliament accepted the Lisbon Treaty that serves as the constitutional basis for the EU.

Disregarding popular vote and referenda has a long tradition in the EU. Even in the case of Brexit, it still remains to be see if the UK government would honour the mandate of the people. Prime Minister David Cameron has postponed the enforcement the Article 50 — a provisions of the Lisbon Treaty — thereby postponing the start of the negotiations with Brussels to leave the EU at least till October 2016. There is an accompanying chorus of diehard EU supporters within the ruling establishment and in the liberal media urging the parliament to override the results of the last week’s referendum.

Any future vote in France on the lines of UK referendum is expected to face stiff resistance from various quarters of the French electorates. French farmers are the top beneficiaries of the EU farm subsidies. A generation of French youth has been indoctrinated in the “European ideals” and raised with the sense of entitlement. Students, farmers, migrants and labour unions will fight to keep their privileges and subsidised life-styles that EU promises to guarantee.

Video: What’s next for the EU after Brexit

[Cover image courtesy AFP new agency, YouTube]

[Author is analyst reporting from the Netherlands]

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