Roger Koppel, editor-in-chief of Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche as well as a member of the National Council, the lower chamber of Switzerland’s Federal Assembly, made his remarks during a turbulent week for British politics in which Amber Rudd’s resignation as Work and Pensions Secretary is just the latest chapter. Mr Koppel highlighted Brexit, as well as the rise of right-winger Matteo Salvini in Italy, and Viktor Orban in Hungary, as examples of a “Reformation” against EU orthodoxy reminiscent of the upheaval culminating in the schism which saw the birth of various Protestant churches in 16th Century Europe. He explained: “It’s a revolt from the people against a universal church of politics which can be called the European Union.
“This revolt is obviously in my eyes a very democratic and a good thing.”
Both Lega leader Mr Salvini – a frequent EU critic who has been frozen out of Italy’s Government in the wake of a coalition deal between the Five Star Movement (5SM) and the Democratic Party (PD) – and Mr Orban have been branded extremists themselves for their hardline stance on immigration.
Similar claims have been levelled against Brexit supporters in the UK.
Speaking at the anti-Brexit March for Change rally in Parliament Square yesterday, Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle accused Leave supporters of trying to create “an English, white nationalist country”, adding “Brexit is evil”.
However, Mr Koppel rejected such characterisations, insisting it “stigmatised” people for honestly held reservations about the direction in which Brussels was taking Europe.
He said: “Of course, there are always tendencies and people who take it too far and take it to the extremes, which I condemn.
“But basically this, what we call populism, is a symptom of growing discontent with what the EU promises to be and what it is perceived to be by the people and what it is.”
The bloc has its origins in the European Coal and Steel Community, which was founded by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and what was then West Germany in 1952.
The UK joined when it was the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, a decision which was subsequently ratified in a referendum two years later when Ted Heath was Prime Minister.
The EU’s website describes its values as inclusion, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination, and its aim as being to promote peace, freedom, security and justice without internal borders.
However, Mr Koppel suggested it was failing to live up to its ideals.
He said: “I would put it very simply: the European Union is considered and also didactically presented to the European public and to the Swiss as the epitome of enlightenment, political progressivism, the future, the epitome of something good.
“Now people see that this does not correspond to reality.
“They see for example, money, the Euro, the same currency for countries like Germany, and Greece and Portugal with completely different living standards, it just doesn’t work in practical reality.
“If they say we have a border regime for this current purpose and it does not work because there are people coming in even though it has never been democratically decided that we should let in these people from different cultures.
“These realities are sensed by the people and they say ‘no we don’t want to have this, we don’t trust this European construction and we want to change, we want something else, we want to be heard, with our sorrows and our concerns’.
“Then they start being labelled as racists, or bigots or Nazis, which of course stirs up even more discontent, which can be dangerous.”