PARIS — At a time when nationalism is coming back to life across the continent, the pro-European activism of Emmanuel Macron is to be applauded. The emergence of a new sheen of European sovereignty, which the French president regularly calls for, would allow commercial, environmental, banking, digital or migration issues to be dealt with at the appropriate level. Otherwise, citizens will be left to question this elegant but powerless institutional construction — and to make there doubts known at the ballot box.
A majority of Italians, legitimately shocked to have been abandoned by Europe in their dealing with the influx of migrants, have thus just voted to put Eurosceptic parties in power. To avoid the brutal disintegration of the European Union, it's urgent to renew its promise and reinvent its means of action. We must salute our president for this courageous attempt in a context that is anything but favorable.
But sovereignty shouldn't be confused with centralization. Emmanuel Macron's words on May 11 in Aachen, Germany, where he was awarded the Charlemagne Prize, dangerously crosses this line. From the very first sentences, the tone is set: It is the return of the Carolingian dream. And "this dream is that of a desired unity, of concord that triumphs over differences." We are therefore far from the European Union's motto, in varietate concordia, which aims at a dynamic unity, of and with our differences. On the contrary, "a concord over differences' announces a holistic unity, superior to the sum of its parts, eradicating bitterness. In a subtle and at the same time determined fashion, the vision of the Europeanists is drifting from a flexible federal model to a form of European nation-state.
The other 27 member countries have no desire to resemble us.
This conceptual bickering has extremely concrete implications for public policy. It is in the name of this almighty unity that the French president has been hammering home, louder and louder, his wish to achieve a normative convergence throughout the speeches he's been delivering on Europe. In Athens last September, he vowed to "defend social and fiscal convergence, because that is what holds us together." At the Sorbonne two weeks later, he even went so far as to redefine the single market, summoned to "become, once again, an area of convergence rather than competition." That was followed at the Gothenburg Summit by his call for the EU structural funds to be conditional on respecting social convergence. Until last week's coup de grace in Germany, where the convergence even became "democratic," a barely veiled allusion to the desire to financially punish the member states whose domestic policies don't conform to Brussels' ideals.
In Calais' Jungle migrant camp — Photo: Joel Goodman/ZUMA
That the cohesion of the Eurozone requires that it has its own budget to absorb any shocks responds to the law of economics. But the fact that that "convergence" thus applies to all countries and all sectors is the beginning of an attempt at authoritarian uniformization that can only alienate Europe from its own citizens. With all due respect to the French administration, which has been planning this project for decades, the other 27 member countries have no desire to resemble us (to the point that one of those countries has decided to leave). Can we really imagine a labor law designed in Brussels and applied in full by European officials from Amsterdam to Bucharest? Should disgruntled taxpayers have to go to even more distant and obscure commissions to address their complaints?
Not once, in his Aachen speech, did Emmanuel Macron say the words "subsidiarity" or "diversity." Yet this is Europe's strength, and, in my opinion, where its future lies: In allowing, while respecting fundamental rights and market mechanisms, the emergence of a thousand models of governance and social organization, at a national but, above all, at a regional level. Wasn't that the actual meaning of the Carolingian Empire, which decentralized the management of day-to-day affairs to hundreds of different counties?
Since Macron's party En Marche has launched a vast initiative to gather the wishes of citizens about Europe, here is my contribution: Yes to sovereign Europe; but convergence, no way! We wish to be united, not identical. Our model must be the multiple empire rather than the homogeneous nation-state. Let's not make the mistake of imposing French Jacobinism on our neighbors. In varietate concordia!
The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.
Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.
Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.
Investigated as terrorism
Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.
Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.
Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.
Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.
Previous criminal history
In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.
The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.
According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.
The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack
Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.
The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.
The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms
In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.
With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.
As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.
Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.
Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."
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