Nigel Farage’s decision to end his leadership of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) is the latest aftershock of the political earthquake triggered by the Brexit referendum’s outcome. As the Eurosceptics’ victory threatens to disintegrate not only the European Union, but also the United Kingdom itself, even the Leave campaign’s most prominent figures are unwilling to take responsibility for the consequences the decision provoked. Meanwhile, on the continent, EU leaders are scrambling to contain the damage, but avoid much self-reflection about their own responsibility, preferring to focus on competing visions of Europe instead: either more integrated, or more intergovernmental.

While there is certainly merit in discussing (and possibly reforming) the EU’s institutional architecture and policy competences, there is just as much need to talk about how it has been used and abused for domestic purposes – which is precisely the reason why the Brexit referendum was called in the first place. Britain’s conservatives are not the only ones to have used Brussels as a convenient scapegoat though. Even supposedly pro-EU parties across Europe have joined in the blame game, thereby conditioning their voters to view the European project with suspicion – with some going so far as to believe it is a conspiracy against the working class.

National European politicians naturally have a duty to address their citizens’ concerns and react to them, but for decades, they have in fact instructed voters to worry about the EU. This at least partly explains the paradox of steadily falling public support for the EU despite the (elected) European Parliament’s steadily increasing role, as well as other new avenues of democratic participation such as the European citizens’ initiative. Yet the contradictions do not end there. While national politicians often engage in Euro-bashing publicly, most privately recognize the need for further integration in order to solve the increasingly transnational challenges of our times – which is why the EU evolved from an essentially intergovernmental project to a more supranational one since its inception in 1951.

This dangerous disconnect between rhetoric and reality has persisted long enough to make the authors victims of their own conflicting strategy, as David Cameron’s resignation from his premiership has shown. A continuation of this attitude cannot be sustainable, lest the entire European project collapse at the expense of political opportunism. While populists who never meant to govern are the first to abandon the ship they tried to sink, true statesmen now have a responsibility to patch the holes in the hull and keep a steady hand in choppy waters.

By Marco Funk

Please note: the views expressed in this article are strictly the author’s personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of his professional affiliation.

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