David Cameron and Angela Merkel Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

The UK Will Survive, but Europe Won't

After Brexit, Europe could finally emerge as a strong international actor: the world’s third-largest country, with English, ironically, as its administrative language. But, sadly, the political will to achieve such an outcome is unlikely to emerge – if it ever does – until conditions become considerably worse than they are now.

WARSAW – In Britain and throughout the West, we are witnessing the eclipse of the political mainstream. Politicians like Donald Trump in the US, Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland, or Marine Le Pen in France were once unelectable, but today the mainstream is unelectable. In Austria, it took a presidential candidate outside of the establishment, Alexander Van der Bellen, to block – by the barest of margins – a far-right victory. We should expect to see only more electoral success for populist politicians and projects like the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum.

The economy has gone global, but politics is still a national process. This disconnect has created the sense, among ordinary citizens, that democracy – the people’s will – has been undermined. In such a setting, influence becomes the sole domain of the populists, because only they can effect change – and only through destruction. This is why populists seem credible even when they lie.

Brexit should be seen as a punishment for events like the 2014 European elections, when it was evident, even before anyone voted, who would become the head of the EU commission, who would lead the EU parliament, and which of the parliament’s factions would be the largest. This sense of a rigged game alienates citizens and leads them to reclaim their democratic dignity by casting protest votes for figures like Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, or Donald Trump. Of course, no one truly believes that Trump can win the US presidency. Likewise, no one, not even bookies, believed that Brexit was a real possibility.

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