Terror in Europe

Terrorists Take Our Lives, Populists Steal Our Souls

How should we react in the face of the threat of Islamist terrorism? It's a fine line to walk between the double threat of jihadism and our own worst instincts.

Place de la Republique, Paris, July 16, 2016
Dominique Moïsi

PARIS â€" After the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, the feeling of shock, pain and then resilience prevailed. The City of Light was the victim of an attack meticulously prepared by a terrorist commando. In Nice, the victims look almost the same, innocent civilians, including a large number of children. But now two feelings seem to prevail: powerlessness and anger.

How do we overcome one and answer the other, while respecting the rule of law and providing maximum security to a population that seems to be sliding toward a collective nervous breakdown?

After the first of the three major attacks in 18 months, back in January 2015, I wrote about the need to prepare to live under the threat of terrorism, and used the neologism of "Israelization" of French society. After Nice, this comparison seems even more relevant. Vehicles (cars, trucks) have already been used as weapons of war against civilians in the streets of Jerusalem at the start of what was eventually named "Knife Intifada." Obviously, one does not learn to live in terror.

Fear is natural, necessary even, in order to survive. But one can develop personal safety as a sort of sixth sense, without falling into neither paranoia nor racism. Civil society â€" as it has long been the case in Israeli society â€" has to contribute to its own security and serve as an intermediary in the work of the state, which has the "monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force," to paraphrase Max Weber.

Reporting radicalization

The terrorist of Nice was a man who had been suffering from intense psychological instability for years, and who, according to the first elements of the investigation, had recently been drawn into radical Islam. These radicalizations should be systematically reported by the family and friends to the state authorities. It is not a question of encouraging denunciation but of protecting community life. How can one explain that a man driving a 19-ton truck coldly plows into children, like a deadly game of bowling? Where is the nobility in that?

Street scene in Provence, France, May 17, 2016 â€" Photo: Spencer Means

Raising the level of alertness of everyone in front of threat, and a more direct contribution of the relatives of potential terrorists, will obviously not be enough to eradicate such dangers. But these are nonetheless essential if we are to prevent a spiral of violence, such as citizens inspired by populist and racist movements to take charge of their own safety. France cannot become the Wild West where the state was virtually absent. To fall into this trap would be giving the terror groups like the Islamic State (ISIS) the victory they are looking for.

Joining efforts

But contrary to pernicious, defeatist and, undoubtedly, wrong-headed recent speeches, ISIS has not won. Still, the road to our victory is long. From Baghdad to Orlando, from Istanbul to Nice and Dhaka, ISIS can keep winning bloody battles, proving it still seduces and attracts men ready to sacrifice their lives for its cause.

But ISIS is bound to lose this war, as long as we remain united, mobilized and act together on the external as well as the internal fronts. There comes a time when the instinct to live naturally prevails over the one pushing people to die. But we must be both alert and determined.

This means, of course, that the state should learn lessons from its security flaws after each new attack. It also implies that every political actor should have a sense of shared responsibility that goes beyond party squabbles. How can anyone use the innocent victims of Nice in order to build electoral strategies to conquer or reconquer power?

Between the double threat of jihadism and populism, the path is narrow. One preys on our lives, the other on our souls. Living under the threat of terrorism means better developing warning mechanisms that are already present in each of us. We cannot live like before, in ignorant bliss before this threat, but we can and should save what is essential to who we are.

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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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