EU flag brussels Wiktor Dabkowskiv/ZumaPress

Europe’s Nationalist Night Watch

Europeans are increasingly glorifying the past to compensate for the disillusion and frustration of the present and the uncertainty of the future. Sixty years ago, a return to the past was precisely what European countries sought to avoid.

PARIS – Populism is on the rise throughout Europe, as both economically depressed and prosperous countries become increasingly frustrated with their established political elites. But populists are unlikely to take control of any European government in the foreseeable future, even where the risk currently seems highest, in countries such as Hungary, Greece, and France. The majority of voters, driven by fear or common sense, remain unwilling to accept the prospect of becoming isolated from the rest of Europe.

But that does not mean that the European Union is safe from divisive forces. On the contrary, the return of nationalism, even (and especially) in the countries that constituted the EU’s founding core more than 60 years ago, represents a less spectacular but potentially more corrosive threat to European unity.

This trend was starkly apparent last week during a visit to the Netherlands, one of the six original signatories of the Treaty of Rome. On my trip, I visited the Rijksmuseum, which was reopened in 2013, after a decade-long renovation. The previous building, aging and slightly outdated, was a tribute to the universal appeal of the country’s great painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer; it was a perfect celebration of light and family.