In 2005, Mark Leonard published a book called Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century. The moment was ripe for such an argument. The European Union had just embarked on the greatest expansion in its history, welcoming 10 new members, and headlines heralded the sprouting of “a European identity” and the emergence of a “United States of Europe.” Heck, Greece even admitted that it had fudged economic data in its zeal to join the European currency union.
In the book, Leonard took issue with the notion that China or India could soon eclipse America as a world power. “Those countries suffer from the same problems as the United States: they are large, nationalistic nation states in an era of globalisation,” he wrote. “The European Union is leading a revolutionary transformation of the nature of power that in just 50 years has transformed a continent from total war to perpetual peace. By building a network of power—that binds states together with a market, common institutions, and international law—rather than a hierarchical nation-state, it is increasingly writing the rules for the 21st Century.”
On Friday morning, shortly after Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union, Leonard struck a starkly different tone. For the EU, Britain’s exit, or “Brexit,” risks “reinforcing a cycle of disintegration,” he wrote. “Member states like Poland and Hungary, as well as opposition parties like Marine Le Pen’s Front National [in France], could launch copy-cat moves. … If other crises—a euro [currency] crisis, a Schengen [passport-free movement] crisis, a Trump presidency—get layered on top of Brexit, there is a real danger of collapse.”