Germany And France...Madame Merkel & Herr Hollande: The Time Is Now

Op-Ed: The posturing of recent days between Berlin and Paris had its logic. But now the moment has arrived to find the terms to strike a deal to save the euro that is what matters most to both countries. And beyond.

Marriage of convenience? (robinhoodtax)
Marriage of convenience? (robinhoodtax)

PARIS - It is customary for contestants in a decisive confrontation to thrust out their chests and flex their muscles in an attempt to impress each other. It is the art of psychological warfare. This is undoubtedly what governments on both sides of the Rhine have decided to do, as the next European meetings to save the euro loom later this month.

One must hope so, because the signals that French and German leaders are sending out aren't the kind that foster serene discussion. In Berlin last Friday, Angela Merkel launched a full-scale attack on the French positions. The German Chancellor said President François Hollande's fervently defended position of a mutualized debt through eurobonds "would lead Germany to mediocrity."

She added that the real question was "the increasing differences between the German and French economies," by which she meant France's declining competitiveness. Two days earlier, her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, sharply criticized France's return to the 60-year-old retirement age.

France was not to be outdone. While Hollande hosted his friends from the German SPD opposition at the Elysée palace, the French minister for productive recovery downright lectured the German Chancellor, denouncing her "ideological blindness."

"The solution isn't budgetary cuts, it's having an ECB (European Central Bank) that does its job," declared the minister Arnaud Montebourg in an interview with Usine Nouvelle. "We want a central bank that reduces public debt, that finances growth while protecting purchasing power."

Uncomforting words

These kinds of declarations, in contradicting basic economic logic, feed into German worries. Berlin suspects the French of wanting to have its cake and eat it too; in other words, of waiting for Germany to finance struggling countries' deficits through debt mutualization without getting down to the painful yet necessary structural reforms for a healthier economy.

Similarly, in Paris, the possible delay of a Court of Audit examination until after the June 28 European Summit contributes to sowing doubt about the seriousness of France's commitments to austerity.

The time has come to move on to a more constructive phase of the summit preparation. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Economy Minister Pierre Moscovici have already started. Paris should pay closer attention to Germany's genuine worries, and Madame Merkel needs to convince her public opinion that a compromise is in Germany's interest.

Beyond the political decorum, one essential question remains: while Berlin needs to make efforts on debt mutualization and the role of the European Central Bank, Paris has to do the same on European federalism. One cannot happen without the other.

Read more from Le Monde in French.

Photo - robinhoodtax

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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