The verdict is clear. When votes for the European parliament were tallied on May 26, nationalism won and the European Union (EU) lost. What is anything but clear is what happens next.
The inherent incoherence of the EU--long perceived by astute observers--burst into full public view in this historic election. The vastly unrealistic notion that by "ever closer union", and by virtue of its size and wealth, the EU would morph into a "Super State" fully equal in power and influence to Russia, China, or the United States, now stands revealed as utter folly.
There are true elements of tragedy in the shattering of the EU's prideful and wrongheaded, but understandable, aspirations. It is particularly sad that this calamitous endgame obscures the grand success of the EU in achieving the central goal of its Founding Fathers--France's Charles De Gaulle and Germany's Konrad Adenauer, the two towering European statesmen of the middle twentieth century. Their sublime vision was to put a final end to a thousand years of Franco-German conflict, and in particular to guarantee that there could be no repetition of the horrors of the two world wars which had brought Western civilization to its knees.
In the view of their less able successors, however, this astonishing triumph was not enough. Now the idea was that a very successful European Economic Community could be transformed into a unified polity that would in effect be a "United States of Europe".
The elements that go into the making of a unified nation state--blood, language, religion, culture, and shared historical experience--are complex and cannot be simply conjured into existence by politicians however well meaning. Nonetheless this is what the creators of the EU tried to do by inventing an arcane compact--via the 1992 Maastricht Treaty--that would somehow "reverse engineer" a millennium of history experienced by a steadily growing (currently 28) group of highly disparate nation-states.
In a groundbreaking Foreign Policyarticle dated June 4 and entitled "You Can't Defeat Nationalism, So Stop Trying," Harvard diplomatic historian Stephen M. Walt restates his long-held thesis that nationalism is "the most powerful force in the world" and that it retains an important role today "that many people still do not fully appreciate."
The idea that nation-states must be superseded or at least marginalized if the EU was to flourish proved to be a colossal miscalculation that would ultimately lead to revolts across the Continent against the overreaching and frequently inane bureaucracy in Brussels.
For years elite (i.e. globalist) opinion insisted that these annoying rebellions led by "disreputable" people like Britain's Farage, Hungary's Orban, France's Le Pen, or Italy's Salvini were atypical and passing phenomena that were no match for EU titans like Merkel and Macron.
It is now abundantly clear that the EU's malaise is much deeper and more widespread than the elite apologists dared to admit.
In an article appearing in the Wall Street Journal- "The Sick Man of Europe Is Europe" (May 28, 2019)- Joseph Joffe, a long-time member of the editorial council at Die Zeit in Hamburg attributes the electoral decimation of the Centrists- Christian Democrats and Social Democrats- to the EU's "deepening ideological divisions" and the "loss of leadership".
Further he demolishes the myth that a robust axis of Merkel and Macron can save the day, remarking mordantly that "Alas, the two are rivals not spouses.” Their fundamental incompatibility resides in the fact that no German (or Scandinavian) leader will ever agree to Macron's desperate demand for an EU "transfer union" by which the affluent North will permanently subsidize the chronically profligate governments of the South.
So, what does the future hold for the EU?
An often-overlooked fact is that while the EU is widely unpopular among its peoples, its currency--the Euro--is very popular. This suggests the wisdom of an internal reform of the EU that would reconstitute it into something very similar to the pre-1992 European Economic Community (EEC)--an efficient economic collaborative that promoted a growing prosperity across the Continent without attempting to dictate or micromanage the political lives of its member nation states. Significantly, aside from the always singular Britannia, none of the current dissidents want to dismantle or leave the EU--just reform it from within.
Of course this would entail discarding grandiose notions of geopolitical might (e.g. Macron's fantastical independent "EU Army") but better modesty than dissolution.
Can the EU escape its current state of angry denial and enter a more placid land of reality? Such would surely have been enough for De Gaulle and Adenauer, but can it be enough for their troubled heirs? Time will tell.
Bill Moloney covers national and international politics for the America blog. His columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post and Human Events.