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How the European Union Lost Its Luster

Amitai Etzioni

Brexit is often depicted as driven by a wave of right-wing nationalism. The same wave is viewed as having swept nationalistic and anti-EU governments into office in Hungary, Poland, and Italy, as well as having led to the rise of right-wing xenophobic parties in France, the UK, and Germany, among other European nations. French president Emmanuel Macron sounded the alarm: “Never since the second world war has Europe been so essential. Yet never has Europe been in such danger. Brexit stands as the symbol of that. . . . Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative. And this is the trap that threatens the whole of Europe.”

Patrick Cockburn holds that “Brexit is English nationalism made flesh, but the English underrate its destructive potential as a form of communal identity.” He sees a similarity between Brexit and the other expressions of the right-wing wave. “The new English nationalism that surfaced so strongly during the Brexit campaign is, ironically, much closer to continental traditions of nationalism,”  he said. “It is much more ethnically and culturally exclusive than the English/British tradition.” Nigel Farage, who now leads the Brexit Party, previously led the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which is described as having fascist overtones and is blamed for leading the force that fashioned Brexit.

As I see it, Brexit—and the other disruptions that were caused  by the wave of right-wing nationalism in Europe—are, to a significant extent, a reaction to overreach by the EU. I recognize that immigration and economic factors are important contributory causes; however, these, too, reflect, to an important extent, the policies of the EU. To make my case, I next show how the EU evolved from a constructive European community to an overbearing, undemocratic force that acts as if people have ceased to identify with their national communities and are already loyal citizens of the EU.

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