European leaders desiring further integration may despair of peoples’ inconsistent views, and dismiss the rise of anti-EU parties across Europe as a reaction to economic malaise. They may see this crisis as yet another opportunity to seek more integration. They say the costs of taking any step back are almost unimaginable, that we cannot go back.
Yet inflexibility is what you get in the moments before something breaks. For every hour they spend calculating how to keep the union together, European leaders ought to be spending another trying to engineer pathways for letting it come apart — at least partially and perhaps temporarily, to release pressure and anxiety. That might mean, for example, allowing greater national autonomy in the application of European regulations, especially in controlling the flow of immigrants.
There may be some wisdom in European voters’ ambivalence. At the very least, their loss of trust in the European project is an ominous sign. Uncompromising attempts to bind Europe together may instead hasten its abrupt and unmanageable dissolution, with unknown consequences. Making it easier for nations to take small steps away from European integration may be the best way to save the benefits of union in the long run.