A few capital cities acquire political personalities of their own, not always lovable ones. Donald Trump ran against “Washington” as much as he did against Hillary Clinton. For many people in Europe, “Brussels” is a political character—a bureaucrat plotting an ever-closer European union. That caricature has just staged a recovery that would put Lazarus to shame.
On the eve of the Brexit vote in June 2016, many people sensed that Brussels’ pulse was fading. Two of the European Union’s great projects from the 1990s—the euro and the Schengen Area of free movement—were in different forms of chaos, even as the third, the single market, was still incomplete. Businesspeople, especially from the Anglo-Saxon world, fumed at the EU’s unaccountable bureaucracy. Mismanagement had left the continent with a sluggish economy, too many insolvent banks, and no major tech companies. Politically, the Franco-German alliance that had driven the union forward had collapsed. Even Angela Merkel, who’d fought so hard to keep Europe together, made it clear her success was in spite of the homunculi in Brussels.
Now Brussels is reborn. Two events have changed everything. The first, ironically, was Brexit. Far from killing the EU, Brexit has helped reunite it. The second was the election of Emmanuel Macron in May this year, which has given the European project a purpose—or the promise of one.
For all the public talk of sorrow, Brussels can barely contain its glee at Britain’s spectacular reversal of fortune. The nation that had been Brussels’ main critic and the most adept earner of opt-outs from EU projects hasn’t so much shot itself in the foot as machine-gunned both legs repeatedly. Farage’s triumphant speech looks as premature as George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner after the invasion of Iraq. Far from acting as a beacon for other leavers, the chaos the Little Englanders created scared voters in the Netherlands and France into choosing pro-European leaders, while Theresa May’s mistaken desire to urge a hard Brexit united the other members of the EU against her. She called an election in June to consolidate that mandate but lost her majority in Parliament and her credibility—and revived talk of Britain ultimately staying in.
SOURCE: John Micklethwait