Terror in Europe

In Italy, Muslims Quietly Assist Law Enforcement

For years, Muslims helped police identify radicals in Italy. But this assistance isn't enough. Italy needs to address legislative gaps and promote cultural integration.

Muslims praying in Turin in Sept. 2015
Karima Moual

-Analysis-

TURIN â€" "Ibrahim and Mounir are spies."

Before long, everyone was talking about the two men. In an Italian town of just 10,000 residents, the duo's frequent visits to the local police station did not go unnoticed.

More than 10 years later, Ibrahim and Mounir are no longer seen the same way.

With the rise of jihadist terrorism and bloodshed, the community now views the two men as de-facto law enforcement officers.

After Sept. 11, 2001, and particularly with the growing threat of the ISIS jihadist group in recent years, a large information sharing network has developed in Italy that has deep ties to the country's Muslim community.

"I've lived in Italy for 45 years," says Mohamed, a shopkeeper and the first Moroccan to live in a small town in Italy's Po Valley. "After the attack on the Twin Towers, I was approached by agents from Digos a special Italian law enforcement branch focused on political security because they knew me very well. They wanted me to act as an intermediary by reporting on some new arrivals in town. I gave my help then, and today I understand why it's important to do so. This terrorist threat aims to destabilize our coexistence."

Over time, locals have grown accustomed to having plainclothes police officers present at major events.

"No one says so in so many words, but in the hundreds of mosques spread across our country, leaders and imams know how risky it would be to have a bad apple among the faithful," says a source who is active in Islamic organizations and prefers to remain anonymous. "That's why no one balks at information requests. A few hotheads who were deported had been flagged by us, very discreetly, to the police."

Perhaps this was what was lacking in France. After the latest attack on a priest near the northern town of Rouen, the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, acknowledged that the government needed to improve relations with the Islamic community to allow better monitoring of mosques.

Of course, France's Islamic community has a different backstory to the highly diverse group of Muslims now living in Italy. But the unpredictability of terrorism requires caution. Despite more than 1.5 million practicing Muslims in the country, Italy has no law establishing an official relationship between mosques and the government.

This is particularly important to develop since not all Muslim residents come to authorities with information.

"We know for sure that not everyone is flagging suspicious cases to the authorities because they fear the repercussion," says the leader of an Italian Islamic center. "Unfortunately, there is still a lot of ignorance and a limited perception of the danger we are facing as a community. Then again, it’s also true that the authorities need to do a better job of monitoring information circulating online as recruitment has moved from mosques to the web."

It's important for the government to work across various fronts in addition to security. The real antidote to extremism is education, culture and development. For many years, Morocco has invested in these three areas in Italy and other places by financing various initiatives and cultural centers that follow a reformist Islamic model in an effort to counter radicalization.

On its own dime, Morocco is sending imams and female spiritual guides to Italy to meet, listen, and offer advice to community members during the holy month of Ramadan. By doing so, Morocco is covering a gap in Italian policy concerning Islam â€" a gap that terrorists will not allow to remain open for long.

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Economy

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


-Analysis-

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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