The man charged with leading the European Union’s (EU) Brexit negotiations has admitted the bloc faces an “existential crisis” and could “disappear” due to the rise of populism and nationalism.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former prime minister of Belgium, is a dedicated Europhile known in the European parliament for his hard-line liberal views.
However, his faith in the future of the EU appears to have been shaken after 2016 and his prescription is ever-closer union and the on-going erosion of the nation-state.
“If we look to the pressure on the European Union at the moment… [President Donald Trump] is bidding on the disintegration of the European Union and also Vladimir Putin who wants to divide the European Union,” he told the BBC World Service on Wednesday.
“Then there’s also the threat of jihadism and then internally we have enormous pressure by nationalists, populists, the whole question of Brexit. So, it’s an existential moment for the European Union,” he said.
He added that it is “now the time to reform, otherwise it could disappear”.
Mr. Verhofstadt’s new book, Europe’s Last Chance, advocates a more integrated, federalist European project to halt the EU’s disintegration.
Speaking to the BBC, he said the answer to the EU’s problems wasn’t restoring power to sovereign nation states, but “building up a real federal Union”.
“There was never a real attempt to establish a real European Union, because the European Union doesn’t really exist. What exists is a confederation of nation states still based on a unanimity rule…” he claimed.
He said the EU was “ineffective” because individual states had to agree on actions, implying the bloc would be better off centrally governed with less powerful national democracies.
“It’s so easy for nationalist and populists to say, ‘oh, you see the European Union doesn’t work well, let’s go back to the old-style nation states of the 19th century,” he said.
He then laughed off the suggestion that the EU was anti-democratic and dodged the question of why referendums – such as the one in the Netherlands rejecting economic ties with the Ukraine – are increasingly ignored by the EU.
“It’s a little bit strange to me you are saying to me that [the EU] is not democratic,” he said.
In January, Mr. Verhofstadt told Al Jazeera that “a Little Englander mindset” could be “a good explanation” for Britain’s vote to leave the EU last June.