COPENHAGEN — As the European Union ponders a future without Britain, its No. 2 economy and strongest military power, Hamlet’s state of Denmarkseems an appropriate place to pose anew his existential question: In the 21st century, is the bloc to be, or not to be?
Since the British voted on June 23 to exit the world’s biggest trading bloc, there has been no lemming-like bolt from the European Union. On the contrary, smaller states in particular seem to have developed a greater sense of the European Union’s worth.
“Brexit is not the beginning of an avalanche of countries leaving the E.U.,” said Frank Schimmelfennig, professor of European politics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
Speaking to a gathering of largely Danish experts on Europe, he argued that politics on the Continent were not renationalizing, as posited by the hosts, but rather that national politics were undergoing a Europeanization.
Alexander Van der Bellen, a former economics professor who once led the Greens party and is now running for president of Austria, recently told me that “since the tragic Brexit decision, the sense of belonging to the E.U. suddenly moved to the forefront” in his country.
His opponent, Norbert Hofer of the right-wing Freedom Party, has emphasized allying with Austria’s once-imperial territory in the four-nation Visegrad Group — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Different as they are, both approaches underscore that Europe is important.
In Copenhagen, the Danish capital, the sense is similar, while exceptionalism remains.
Denmark approved the Maastricht Treaty, which essentially established the European Union as it is now known, in 1993, only after rejecting it and negotiating four opt-outs — including waivers for the euro and defense.
The Nordic neighborhood illustrates Europe’s adaptability. Like Denmark, Sweden is part of the bloc but does not use the euro. Norway is a nonmember but pays heavily for access to the union’s single market. Finland is in the bloc and uses the euro. Neither Finland nor Sweden, both neutral, are part of NATO; Denmark and Norway are.
But the Europeans are no pushovers. Once Prime Minister Theresa Maysaid Britain planned to begin withdrawal talks by the end of March, the leaders of Germany and France — both facing elections next year — responded swiftly and sounded united.
Britain cannot get the “advantages without the obligations” of European Union membership, President François Hollande of France put it.
At the Copenhagen debate, Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, the top civil servant in the Danish Foreign Ministry, listed his country’s five top security concerns: migration, terrorism, Russia, the Islamic State and Brexit. All are primarily European concerns, and none of them, he noted, were considered major issues three and a half years ago.
“We do not see an alternative” to the European Union in addressing them, and “we need to talk about European successes.”
Two chance meetings in this lively capital underscored that view. At the national art museum, I talked with Jan Meyrowitsch, a biologist whose parents were among some 500 Danish Jews deported in 1943 to the Nazi camp at Terezin, north of Prague.
They survived, returned and built another life. Among many other things, Mr. Meyrowitsch received almost 1 million euros, about $1.1 million, in European Union funds for his study of how visual perception might alleviate disease.
Another scientist, Russell Gray, a New Zealand professor studying human and animal behavior, is one of many researchers lured to Germany during the administration of Chancellor Angela Merkel, a trained physicist.
Mr. Gray is living in Jena, in the former East Germany. It’s interesting, he said, with “neo-Nazis” occasionally marching in the streets and some of the hundreds of thousands of newly arrived asylum-seekers turning up in his wife’s German classes.
At dinner in the trendy meatpacking district, he relished Europe’s variety and riches.
Or, as Mr. Meyrowitsch put it: “I am a library of books, of fates.”