Terror in Europe

A Christmas Wish For Europe: Time To Defend Our Civilization

After the Christmas market attack in Berlin, the Western world would be wrong to assume it can prevent its cultural or political dissolution by merely  repeating its prayers to the glory of diversity.

Near the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz square in Berlin, on Dec. 22
Mathieu Bock-Côté


PARIS — There was something atrocious and yet, at the same time, terribly ordinary about the scene. A few days before Christmas, a dozen people killed and some 50 more wounded by a truck at a Christmas market in Berlin. It felt like déjà vu after Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel had driven into crowds in Nice on Bastille Day. Once again, a public celebration will chosen as a target to spread terror and trauma among ordinary citizens.

But Europe has its practiced way of talking about these incidents. Some will say that it's an isolated act. We'll sing in unison that this has nothing to do with Islam. Others will suggest, once again, that the West had it coming, though one can wonder what Germany is guilty of. Faced with Islamism, the media establishment chooses denial. It takes the reality out of events, spreads them across thousands of news items in the miscellaneous section and bars us from putting a name on the war being waged against the West.

Still, this attack falls in line with the sequence of terrorist attacks linked with what happened in Paris, in November 2015. Islamist terrorism wants to show it can strike anywhere. It no longer targets individuals or institutions as was the case with Charlie Hebdo, but anybody and everybody, by turning a simple truck into a ram of death. In these blind attacks, anyone can be a target. In the total war being waged against Western civilization, the simple fact of being a member of it is enough to be guilty and sentenced to death.

Just another day

What we witnessed in Berlin is in fact just another ordinary act of terror. Once again, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Whether it was really planned from afar or whether it's the result of a more or less spontaneous undertaking, there's one thing we can be certain of: Islamist propaganda is haunting European civilization and is capable of enflaming deadly passions.

And yet, this wasn't exactly a blind attack. The fact that the target was a Christmas market brings Europe back to a part of itself it no longer knows what to do with, its Christian roots. Those who attack Europe want to hit the most intimate part of its identity. More and more often, Christian symbols are the target.

Let's remember that in its statement after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, ISIS said it had targeted "Crusader France." Similarly, the ritual murder of Father Hamel in his church in Normandy in July 2016 left no room for ambiguity regarding its meaning. Europeans are being sprayed with bullets, butchered or plowed down not so much for what they're doing as for who they are. Except they're no longer aware of this part of themselves. The Western world wants to believe it's been attacked because it's democratic, modern and liberal. By doing that, it prevents itself from understanding that there is such a thing as tension between cultures, between civilizations and even between religions: These aren't necessarily cut out to coexist within the same political community.

Visitors walk through the re-opened Christmas market in Berlin, on Dec. 22 — Photo: Michael Kappeler/DPA/ZUMA

The role of politics in this world is not to slide into a sort of multicultural Irenicism, in which all are told to come together under the sign of a happy diversity; but rather it is to build, preserve and guard the protective borders that allow peoples and nations to sustain their historical entity while never denying opportunities to expand productive interactions between them.

We will rightly refuse to reduce the confrontations our world is witnessing to a mere clash of civilizations. Wrongly, we will also refuse to see that it's nonetheless part of the truth.

Those who want to redefine the relevance of borders aren't vultures or demagogues seeking to manipulate peoples' sorrows to isolate them from the rest of the world. Germany is experiencing the predictable consequences of an unbridled humanitarianism in the face of the migrant crisis. Still, the consequences of the open-door policy go beyond Islamist terrorism. You only need to keep in mind what happened on New Year's Eve in Cologne last year to understand the numerous dimensions of a crisis that is not even close to going away.

The time of great military invasions might be behind us, the fact remains that Islamists are driven by a desire of conquest and they believe they can bank on mass immigration to take over Europe. How can European civilization react to this forced mutation if it downplays its significance?

It would be pointless to try to articulate in one paragraph how to respond to this terrorism that has become part of our daily fabric. Still, the Western world would be wrong to assume it can prevent its cultural or political dissolution by merely and ritually repeating its prayers and chants to the glory of diversity. Clearly, it's not just a source of richness. Not all differences are equally appreciable.

As a matter of fact, it is perhaps by embracing what one could call their civilization identity that European nations will be able to find the strength to fight this long war. There's nothing ludicrous in thinking that by turning to the very part of itself that's being attacked, European civilization will find the strength to fight.

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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