Days ahead of Thursday’s British referendum on whether to break free from the European Union, many here fear the decision could lead to the destruction of one of the most ambitious political projects since the Holy Roman Empire.
Euro-skeptics across the continent are salivating at the prospect of Britain’s departure, hoping to sever their own territories from a map that stretches from the sunny coasts of Portugal to the frigid taiga of Finland. With populist parties surging across the continent, the Brits could be only the first to leave.
The region has been dramatically tested in recent years, by the Greek debt crisis, renewed Russian aggression and, more recently, a historic migration crisis. Britain’s exit, officials and experts say, could provide the biggest challenge yet.
Britain’s departure could also damage the union’s relationship with Washington, robbing it of its British bridge to the United States.