I have maintained for years that the European elites are way to far ahead of the common people in trying to form a centralized European government, “the EU”, at the expense of national sovereignty and identity. This is especially true in the former Warsaw Pact countries which only regained their sovereignty back in the 1990’s. The populations there are very sensitive to the notion of once again losing control of their own nation states and being inundated, once again with outsiders. The experience of Soviet invasion and occupation makes all outsiders that want to stay suspect.
My theory is that the rise of nationalism and populism in Europe is a reaction to the EU itself. People are feeling pushed into a Union they don’t like or feel comfortable with and with neighbors who are welcome to visit but not to live with. Because the EU means losing identity as a nation state. It means loss of sovereignty. If the nation state is no longer sovereign that means the vote of individuals counts for less, since their own parliaments and courts and laws can be nullified by unelected, nameless bureaucrats in Brussels. It goes against self-determination. This is causing deep anxiety. The fear of loss of national identity plus control of their own fate triggers the rise of nationalism and populism.
The example is clear: Brexit, at it’s core, is about national sovereignty not economics.
The solution is not to strengthen the centralized powers of the EU. That will provoke and even greater backlash. The solution is to slow down centralization of EU power and give people more time to get used to the idea. This may take generations.
This is not going to go well. Looking at Europe as an outsider and from a historical view, I still see a bunch of damn tribes all looking to maintain their little patch of soil they call home. You mess with that at your peril.