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Europe’s Leadership Crisis

BRUSSELS – The European Union’s list of crises keeps growing. But, beyond the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote to leave the bloc, Poland’s constitutional-court imbroglio, Russian expansionism, migrants and refugees, and resurgent nationalism, the greatest threat to the EU comes from within: a crisis of political leadership is paralyzing its institutions.

As if to prove the point, EU member states’ leaders (with the exception of UK Prime Minister Theresa May) met recently in Bratislava, Slovakia, in an attempt to demonstrate solidarity, and to kick-start the post-Brexit reform process. The attendees made some progress toward creating a European Defense Union, which should be welcomed, and toward admitting that the EU’s current organizational framework is unsustainable; but there was scant talk of meaningful institutional or economic reform.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s refusal, at the close of the summit, to appear onstage with French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel all but confirmed fears that rudderless leadership is fueling institutional dysfunction. A summit that was supposed to be a display of unity revealed only further division.

EU leaders must take responsibility for this latest failure. For starters, they must stop issuing empty declarations. The EU’s institutional impotence is apparent, especially to its enemies. So now it faces a stark choice: a leap forward toward unification or inevitable disintegration.