MEXICO CITY – Since the 1950s, European countries have debated the costs and benefits of regional integration. But not until the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum did the debate revolve around such central issues as globalization, free trade, immigration, and their economic effects.
Voters in the UK made a mistake in deciding to leave the EU; they were hoodwinked, most notoriously by Britain’s new foreign minister, Boris Johnson. But Eurocrats and Europhiles would also be mistaken were they to ignore the lies that animated the “Leave” campaign’s cause. Those lies were effective in the UK, and they could be effective in other EU member states, and in democracies around the world, as well.
Continuing toward “ever closer union” in Europe won’t be easy. Europe must grapple with many issues simultaneously, including refugees, immigration, sovereign debt, high unemployment, and a welfare state that no longer delivers what it promises, despite high taxation and the availability of enormous resources to finance it. To meet these challenges, EU leaders will have to build a strong constituency by directly addressing Europeans’ needs and demands.
Globalization, free trade, immigration, and inequality have been long ignored by elites elsewhere as well. The free-trade obsession of US Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and of successive Mexican governments, made it politically virtually impossible to compensate those who were adversely affected.