Terror in Europe

The Scooter Hero Of Nice: I Was Ready To Die To Stop Him

A video circulating showed a desperate attempt by someone on a scooter to stop the runaway truck in Nice. Most figured the scooter driver was dead. Here's his story.

Franck - Photo by Sébastien Botella/Nice-Matin
Guillaume Bertolino

NICE â€" The image of Franck was broadcast everywhere, on television and across the Internet in the hours after last Thursday's deadly terrorist attack in Nice. We got to see the dark and grainy video clip of a scooter riding up alongside the truck plowing through crowds of people on the Promenade des Anglais, in what looks like a desperate attempt to halt the 19-ton vehicle.

Many will be surprised to find out that Franck â€" who did not want his last name published â€" is alive. Both from the images in the video and several eyewitness accounts, it was believed that this anonymous hero had died in his brave and risky gesture to stop the terrorist, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhel.

But this 49-year-old Nice airport employee with salt-and-pepper hair, has survived. Between two doctor appointments to treat multiple bruises and a fractured rib, Franck granted Nice-Matin his exclusive story. Like so many others, that fateful night began when he and his wife decided to partake in the city's holiday evening festivities, down by the shoreline.

“I actually wanted to go see the fireworks, but we arrived too late. So we decided to get ice cream instead. I remember passing the Magnan intersection on my motorbike and everything was fine. We passed people who were starting to go home.

Once we arrived at the Mediterranean University Center, we felt there was a stampede starting behind us. We heard shouts and my wife said, “Stop, there's something wrong.” When we turned around we saw the crowd scattering in all different direction like they were fleeing something. That's when we saw the truck coming from behind us.

We were in the middle of the road, there weren't many cars around. I must have been riding at about 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph). I did not even have time to glance in my rearview mirror. He hurtled past me. He was driving on the sidewalk. I've got images of bodies flying everywhere stuck in my mind. I immediately understood what was happening. I decided to accelerate. My wife put her hand on my arm and asked where I was going. I stopped and told her "Get off!". Then I raced at full speed.

To catch up with the truck, I had to zigzag between people, living and dead. I remember screaming into my helmet. I was completely focused on the back of the truck. I was determined to go through with it.

He continued to drive from the road to the sidewalk, hitting people everywhere. At a certain point, I had almost made it to the back of the truck, because I've got a 300cc bike that accelerates quickly. I wanted to stop him at any cost. I was both in a trance and very lucid at the same time. I managed to get on his left side. My goal was to reach the cabin.

When I caught up with him, I asked myself: What are you going to do with your poor scooter? That's when I launched it against the truck. I continued to run after him. I remember falling and then getting up and running again, as fast as I could. I didn't know what I was doing. Finally, I got to cling onto the cabin.

I managed to climb on to the foot steps below the open window. I hit him again and again and again â€" as hard as I could with my left hand even though I’m right-handed. I hit him in the face, but he said nothing, he didn't flinch.

He had his gun in his hand, but it was not working. It was as if he was trying to load it but didn't know how to. He pointed it at me, with his finger on the trigger but nothing happened.

I was ready to die. I was lucid and ready to die to stop him. I continued to hit him. I tried to pull him out of the cabin through the window because I couldn't open the f***ing door. He ended up hitting me in the face with the butt of the gun â€" I got stitches. I fell from the steps and got back up immediately."

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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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