Mourning at London Bridge
Roger-Pol Droit

-Analysis-

PARIS — The scene repeats itself. On the ground, bodies in blood, inanimate, unconscious or already dead, others staggering around frightened and haggard. Soon after, the sounds of sirens, as rescue workers and emergency medical care arrive. Later, we see the first faces of the victims, the identities of the killers. At the scene, as flowers, candles, and speeches arrive, messages of support and compassion flood in from around the world.

Meanwhile, Islamic terrorists issue threats, demands and proclamations of victory, as security policy is criticized in the nation attacked. Sadness and anger mix with resignation and courage.

The scenario plays out, in a more or less similar way, across the map: from Paris to London, from Baghdad to Manchester, from Nice to Kabul and beyond. The modus operandi is always evolving. Of course, the difference is notable between the planes that were diverted on September 11, 2001 and the knives being used today, and even a hammer, recently, at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.

Jihadists have shifted from massive attacks with sophisticated preparations, to street actions that are undetectable in advance. But something bigger endures: the repetition of the deaths, the undeniable resolve of the attackers, a diffused sense of insecurity. But what consequences are we up against, in the long run? In what direction are we heading? It is time to ask these questions.

It goes without saying, nobody has the answers. Still, certain hypotheses exist. For the attacks will not cease, they can even multiply, intensify, for years to come. Announced by the battle of Raqqa, the next crash of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) will again fan the vengeance. And, above all, Islamism is a fanaticism: its fighters kill and die for God. They massacre innocents in submission to His word, in the name of His will — or what they believe to be such. This religious dimension, which so many analyses exclude, constitutes the central source of the destructive power of Islamism and its potential lasting power.

The current situation suggests three distinct scenarios.

Europe could sink, bit by bit, into chaos and civil war. The murderous attacks continue to repeat, and governments' are increasingly seen as unable to protect their citizens; the growing panic combines with xenophobic and racist outbursts that leads to the formation of militias and vigilante expeditions. Ultimately, we can imagine well-developed societies essentially disintegrating. This scenario is the one that ISIS dreams of. It would open the way for the installation of the Islamic caliphate upon the ruins of European states. Though we are still clearly far from this state of affairs, nothing can exclude it from coming to pass.

It is time to put an end to compromise and hypocrisy

This reverse hypothesis sees indifference setting in, where everything continues as usual. The power of technical societies is so strong, their capacity for absorption so great that nothing prevents them from believing that they end up integrating the "terrorist act" as a marginal, constant but negligible perturbation comparable to car accidents and natural disasters. Mutatis mutandis, as the Romans said, changes are made to minimize the damage, but all the essential wheels would continue to function normally. The jihadists would be viewed merely as the losers, victims, unlucky ones in a society bound for further progress.

Yet the most likely scenario is still different than either of the previous two. Without blaming all Muslims, without giving in to any xenophobic hysteria, the citizens of almost all European countries are beginning to understand, more and more clearly, along with their leaders, that it is time to put an end to compromise and hypocrisy. Jihadists want to destroy everything that serves as the foundation of our democracies: religious freedom, secularism, freedom of expression, human rights, gender equality. They do not hide from the weight of preparing their own deaths. If we want our lives of freedom, we must fight too. Without blind hatred, but without pretending the problem isn't there.

This approach should apply to all fields: from education to urban policy, from prisons to mosque control, military confrontation to cafe life of your neighborhood. Faced with a totalitarianism that resembles a new Nazism, a new Churchill is needed. One could then imagine that our democracies will eventually emerge victorious from this struggle, certainly transformed, but strengthened in the end.

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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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