"L'Europe! L'Europe! L'Europe!" was how an irritated French President Charles de Gaulle decried, in December 1965, the idea that a European integration was the answer to all of the continent's problems.
De Gaulle approved of the European customs union and an economic and political cooperation of nation states. He thought that closer economic relations could eventually lead to some sort of European confederation, but he rejected the idea of Europe's federal super state.
That means that, in today's post-modern Europe, de Gaulle — voted by the French in 2005 as the "greatest Frenchman of all time" — could be considered a nationalist and a populist demagogue.
When I recently mentioned that to a French political commentator, he uncomfortably skirted the question with a cop out that the idea of a united Europe has changed since de Gaulle's time.
Brexit, however, is a vivid example of the opposite: The majority of British voters cast their ballots in a 2016 referendum that the United Kingdom should not cede its sovereignty to an unelected European Commission, and that it should not have to defend its political governance with opt-outs from an increasingly federalist European Union. But the U.K. is quite willing to participate in a European free trade area that does not infringe upon its own sovereign decisions as a nation state.