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Only More Europe Can Beat Europe’s Nationalists

The UK's Brexit referendum has not had contagious effects in Europe, but EU leaders should not sit on their hands. With Britain gone, the EU will be less divided and finally in a position to deliver a new vision for Europe that counters the empty promises of populist nationalism.

BRUSSELS – British voters’ choice to leave the European Union is unfortunate, but unsurprising. For decades, British politicians have avoided making the case for EU membership, or even explaining to the British people how the Union works and why it is necessary.

Throughout his premiership, David Cameron failed to show any leadership or willingness to engage in a meaningful way with the EU. One foot was always out the door as he repeatedly railed against faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. Sadly, his last-minute attempt to defend EU membership during the Brexit campaign was not enough to undo the effects on British public opinion of decades of lies.

Britain has chosen isolation in Europe, against the advice of its friends and allies. Now that its post-imperial decline is complete, the most important lesson to take away from the “Brexit” referendum that sealed its fate is that one cannot defeat nationalism by pandering to nationalists. If the EU wants to tackle the strains of nationalism that are undermining its very raison d'être, it will have to listen to people’s concerns and offer a radical new vision for effective governance. Otherwise, the nationalist cancer will spread.

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