Europe

EU referendum: What the European papers say

Front page of French daily La Croix 20 June 2016 Image copyright La Croix
Image caption France's La Croix says EU or Brexit, "that is the question".

In the final week before Britain's EU referendum, the European press says the result will depend on the as yet undecided voters.

'Britain holds its breath'

The top headline in France's Le Figaro's says "Britain holds its breath", given the "tiny gap" between Remain and Leave support in the latest polls.

The paper devotes more space than most to the British debate. Its front-page editorial accuses Prime Minister David Cameron of "failing to foresee the possible consequences of gambling with the future of Europe and his country for a political manoeuvre" - a point repeatedly made by papers across the continent and political spectrum.

Le Figaro's Julie Connan is disappointed by Mr Cameron's performance on the BBC Question Time programme on Sunday, saying he was "barely able to make his arguments heard amid the brouhaha of a sceptical and very wound-up audience".

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung also painted a picture of a beleaguered prime minister, who "always replied with economic reasons and appeals to common sense whenever presenter David Dimbleby tried to highlight migration" on Question Time.

Pauline Schnapper, a British politics lecturer at the New Sorbonne University in Paris, tells Le Figaro that it is difficult in a matter of weeks to reverse the "anti-Europe mood that Britain has bathed in for years". Brexit would spark an "obvious crisis" in London's relations with Scotland, with some risk of the "disintegration of the United Kingdom".

Estelle Pattee of France's left-wing daily Liberation is one of the few commentators to pay much attention to the UKIP "breaking point" poster showing would-be migrants on the Slovenian border.

Denouncing the "immigration obsession of the Brexit camp", she says "Europhobes are misleading the public about stopping the flow of migrants, as the country is outside the Schengen area and already controls its own borders".

The Catholic daily La Croix subjects the debate to "special scrutiny", with a front page showing signposts pointing to the EU or Brexit, under a Shakespearean "that is the question".

A front-page editorial says a vote to Leave would "have real advantages for Europe, primarily in not having to deal with an awkward partner who wants to control the game while not playing by the rules", but fears "turbulent markets, economic slowdown and a ripple effect of other disgruntled EU members".

'United by fear'

Image copyright Der Tagesspiegel
Image caption "Brexit - yes or no?" asks Germany's Der Tagesspiegel

In Germany, Die Welt sees the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel in "disarray" over the risk of a vote to Leave, and "united only by fear" of Brexit.

"The government has no plan for what Germany should do, because it is divided over a possible post-Brexit strategy" between advocates of accommodating Britain in a looser association and proponents of closer EU integration without Britain, the paper says.

But Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's front-page sends Britain "love from Berlin", saying a comfortable majority of Germans want Britain to remain in the EU, even though "British wilfulness does sometimes get on the nerves of many Europeans".

The front page of Sunday's Der Tagesspiegel asks, in English, "Brexit - yes or no?", making the points widely reported in the European press that the result is still too close to call and will have "significant consequences".

The Italian papers are preoccupied with their mayoral elections, but an open letter from an anonymous Italian former resident of London in La Stampa pleads with Britain to stay, saying "without you, we won't be us anymore".

"We must fight together to change the Union. You have the strength that is missing on the Continent, the dignity that is lacking at the moment," the writer insists.

In its Sunday editorial, La Repubblica is also typical of Italian comment in being firmly pro-Remain.

"A vote to Leave would be a defeat for the whole European Union, and a victory for the populist movements that want to destroy what we have".

Like La Stampa's letter-writer, the paper says Britain has played a vital role as "part of Europe" ever since it helped defeat the Nazis in the Second World War.

'Scaremongering failed'

Image copyright Newsweek Polska
Image caption Newsweek Polska's Tomasz Lis fears "one of Europe's darkest days"

Comment in Eastern Europe is also apprehensive of the rise of populism.

Economist Sebastian Plociennik tells Poland's Onet news portal that the vote is the "culmination of the major EU crisis" that began with the financial meltdown of 2008, against which the "EU had no protection mechanism".

He adds that the refugee crisis "further deepened this" and fed Eurosceptic sentiment throughout the EU, giving Britain, "which had never fully identified with the EU, another reason to leave it".

Tomasz Lis, the editor of Newsweek Polska, says Brexit would make 23 June "one of the darkest dates in the history of the European Union, as not only will the British and European Eurosceptics win, but also all the nationalists, populists, and supporters of Russia's President Putin in Europe".

Magyar Idok, which supports Hungary's Eurosceptic government, joins the opposition press in backing continued British membership of the EU.

Zoltan Csefalvay writes that Brexit would "harm the global, European, Hungarian and British economies, as well as the EU support programmes" that benefit East European member states.

Romania's Libertatea agrees, saying the "uncertainty is bad for the entire European community and implicitly for Romania". It warns that the current impact is "small compared with what could follow if Britain decides to quit the EU", expressing fears over access to Britain's labour market.

Croatia's Jutarnji List criticises the Remain camp's tactics, saying "Scaremongering did not succeed".

It says "national pride and a feeling that things are slipping out of control" have proved to be a "potent cocktail, successfully fuelling populism throughout Europe".

The result now depends on the undecided voters - the "silent part of the electorate", it says.

'One tragic episode'

Many European papers report British media coverage of the aftermath of the killing of MP Jo Cox, with some repeating speculation about its possible impact on voting intentions.

The question receives more attention in the Russian press. Few are as explicit as official Rossiyskaya Gazeta, which has no doubt that it "cut the lead" of the Leave campaign.

Mikhail Ozerov in the pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda reflects a more mainstream European view that the change in the polls towards the Remain camp has more to do with Brexit being "too dramatic a step for the British, who are not big fans of risk".

Opposition Novoye Vremya agrees, saying "The British are not overly sentimental. And, with all due respect for the murdered MP, it is doubtful that many will change their attitude to the EU based on one tragic episode".

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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