European Adventure – The Missing Variable

Cartoon: Jasper Rietman
Cartoon: Jasper Rietman – New York Times, Dec 18, 2013

The Europe we live in today is the worst possible Europe apart from all the other Europes that have been tried from time to time. No European alliance, empire, commonwealth or community has endured forever, but we should want this one to last as long as it can – Timothy Garton Ash 

Politically, the European endeavor appears as fragile as ever. Pockets of populism (extreme-right and extreme-left combined) have been popping out since the collapse of the financial markets in 2007. But the recent results of elections in Sweden, Poland, the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Spain, Denmark and so forth are demonstrating that the European electorate is increasingly voting more extreme than before. In the case of France, the Front National, which was historically a party of opposition has become the “first party of France” to take her President’s words. If populism is becoming attractive, it has created a complex national debate of incomprehension and anger between populist voters and the mainstream rest. National unity, in France, Europe and even in the US, is under attack.

Experts and political analysts have been identifying a series of variables in order to explain the rise of populism such as immigration, terrorism, economic stagnation, high level of unemployment, corruption, cronyism, globalization and Europe. Each variable is highly valid and can explain what motivate Europeans to seek for extreme alternatives. But one core dimension has been missing and is most likely the strongest component: an adventure, a story (for Europeans) and a dream (for Americans).

Loss of Memory/Direction in a Ever-More Globalized World

Globalization has been framed as the foundation of all national turmoils and traumas. For populist movements the word ‘globalization’ is a toolbox with no clear definition for obvious political reason. The concept of globalization should be understood as an acceleration in the degree of interaction and interconnection between humans, capital and goods. To some extent, the physical world is shrinking; the speed in interaction is accelerating [distance-time are disappearing]. A smaller shared space ultimately affects the understanding of one’ space and culture.  In her recent address about the reflection on a common strategy, HR Mogherini framed the question of globalization from a security angle, which contributes to the reflection on the definition of the globalization in this piece. She said that:

Everything that is important to our citizens is influenced by our international environment. And there is actually no distinction, no borders, no line between what happens far away, what happens at our borders, in our region, and what happens inside our European Union. Even these categories are now losing sense. 

‘Losing sense’ is quite a powerful part of her statement. Populist movements are directly responding to this sensation of physical, emotional and ideational feeling of dizziness. In addition, populist movements argue that the European Union is in fact a materialization of globalization and its global forces weakening national unity. Unfortunately, this is not true if one takes a historical look at globalization bringing us back to the 14th century with the Dutch empire. Globalization has roughly emerged at the end of the Dark Ages and pushed the economic and political transition of Europe and North America into the pre-industrial world. Arguing that globalization is the root cause of all national traumas is an absolute fantasy considering the longevity of such phenomenon.

However, one should talk about the speed of globalization and its acceleration in the last 20 years. “We live faster than ever before” writes Svetlana Alexievich “Content ruptures form. Breaks and changes it. There are no borders between fact and fabrication, one flows into the other.” Certainly globalization has become a powerful force highlighting serious limitations and weaknesses of European foundations. If capital and people can travel quicker than ever before [in roughly 12hours a human can be on the other side of the world], and in a less than a second billions of dollars/euros can be wired from one continent to another, such forces can undeniably create serious problems to the slow-moving entity of the nation-state and the EU. These realities of an ever-more globalized world is creating a distortion between immediacy and reflection. Immediacy could be embodied by the current economic model of casino capitalism; while, reflection is in fact the foundation of European political regimes, Democracy/Republic. If casino capitalism is based on economic gamble informed by pseudo-rational thinking as it is more a question of rumors and speculation, democracy is a slow process of introspection, discussion, collaboration and compromise. The discrepancy between casino capitalism and democracy is obvious and stretching the limits of European societies. Here lays the core of the problem in the globalized world of the early 21st century.

Ultimately, when a politician like Marine Le Pen, president of the extreme-right party le Front National, tells a story of national sovereignty, national control through the construction of physical barriers and implementation of protectionism, these narratives attract a confused audience. But the lie is obvious, the building of physical barriers to block invisible forces won’t do a thing in order to solidify national sovereignty and empower cultural exceptionalism. Building physical barriers in order to limit the flow of people is a myth. Millions of Europeans went through the Atlantic Ocean, an ocean, for a better future; are a series of walls around Europe be sufficient to stop refugees to come in. Not a chance.

European Adventure

The story of the European construction is a remarkable story and endeavor. In the rumbles of Europe, visionary leaders and thinkers drove European politicians to follow their visions

Europe
Cartoon: Paul Lachine

in order to avoid another war that could destroy the world. World War two was one of the most vicious global fights with genocides, mass-movement of troops and civilians, arms and technological race and so forth. Over 40 million individuals died in six years leaving Europe as a massive field of destruction. From the agreement of the Treaty of Paris in 1951 to the Treaty of Nice in 2001, the European construction was far from perfect but it was an adventure for greater political, economic, and institutional integration. It was an adventure in order to horizontally expand the Community/Union from six original members into a Union of 28. It was an adventure as European citizens saw the fall of physical borders, from the Berlin War to national borders under the Schengen Agreement. It was an adventure when on June 7 and 10, 1979, European citizens could vote for the first time at a European election for the European Parliament.

It was an adventure as Europeans could finally move within a wide group of states in order to start a career, to start a European life, to study. It was an adventure as the continent saw an unprecedented economic boost bringing struggling states – Germany as one of them – into highly sophisticated and developed economic and industrial levels. It was an adventure in the agreement to share a common currency, the Euro, in order to facilitate commercial and financial transactions at first, and then the flow of people. It was an adventure as the Community/Union demonstrated the world that cooperation at its extreme did not undermine national sovereignty, but rather empowered it.

The Quest for a European Life

Today, the European adventure has become a European set of technicalities. The European adventure, which was at first bold and big, has become a highly technocratic and reductive vision of politics, finance, economics, and culture. Emotionally, European citizens are not opposed to the European Union, but are thrown off by the appeared and perceived distance between them and “Brussels.”populism-400x300

Europeans are in fact in search of meaning, a raison d’être. Unfortunately, this quest for a raison d’être is being hijacked by populist movements selling a past that never was. Populism, either fascist or communist, is attracting audiences – from elder voters to first time voters – because they are selling a ‘mission,’ a purpose to reconstruct a past that never was. Unfortunately, these populisms have no serious political, foreign, economic, fiscal, educational agendas. These populisms are simply selling smoke.

Instead of talking of clash of civilization – in order to identify a mythical clash between Western societies and radical islamic movements, which do not speak for societies with a majority of muslim citizens – experts should be talking of a civilizational depression. Instead of seeking for external enemies, Europeans should be looking within, inside and reflect of this European state of confusion. Europe may be simply dealing with its mid-life crisis. Now it is a matter of avoiding a complete divorce with a supposedly dark and repressive past, the European integration process.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Nobody Kills France – A Call for National Unity and Courage

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129 dead, 99 critical injured and over 35o injured, these are the numbers ensuing the terrorist attacks taking place on November 13 in the streets of Paris. These are the worst attacks on European soil since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005. In a period of 10 months, France has seen two successful terrorist attacks with the January mass killing against French satire paper, Charlie Hebdo, and a Jewish supermarket (read here a previous analysis on the January terrorist attack) and yesterday night. And during the summer, three American tourists stood up and disarmed a man seeking to massacre people in a Thalys train from the Netherlands to France. These attacks on November 13 were highly sophisticated with three teams of terrorists attacking simultaneously (see below the location of the attacks).

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Here are some reflections on these horrific attacks. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo and on November 13th demonstrate that the executioners are for the most part French and European citizens. Yes, Charlie Hebdo had received some international attention after the publication of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet, but aside from that it was a low print paper. Very few people around the world knew about Charlie Hebdo. The November attacks on cafés in the 10th and 11th arrondissements and the music venue, the Bataclan, confirm that these executioners are French. These locations are places where locals and Parisians go, they are not highly touristic locations. The attackers wanted to send a clear message to French people that they won’t be safe any longer. These attacks seek to go after the basic components of French life by targeting the arts, music, social interactions, and freedom. Members of radical Islamic networks simply seek to restrict and oppress humans in the name of bigotry and racism. There are no religious justification of such heinous crime, only ignorance and stupidity.

A Solid Leadership

The French leadership, as of today, has been exemplary. François Hollande, French President, has certainly not been a model on his socio-economic agenda and has had

Photo: AFP PHOTO/ CHRISTELLE ALIX
Photo: AFP / Christelle Alix

difficulties in bringing needed reforms to the country. However, the criticisms emerging from the French rights (from the mainstream right, Les Républicains, and extreme right, Front National) are abject and unfounded. In the last year, François Hollande has been an exemplary leader in combining toughness and calling and maintaining national unity. His leadership during and after the Charlie Hebdo attacks was subtle and strong. Yesterday night’ speech prior the exceptional council of ministers at midnight, François Hollande addressed the Nation with an impeccable short speech. Not only did he call for an immediate state of emergency and territorial lockdown of France – which has only been done three times prior under the Fifth Republic – but closed his address by calling for solidarity and national unity. It was a difficult exercise that he managed to pull off.

Ensuing the Council of Minister on November 14th at 9am, François Hollande declared:

It is an act of war, which has been perpetuated by a terrorist army, ISIS, a jihadist army, against France, against the values that we are defending all around the world, against what we are: a country of freedom speaking to the totality of the world.

It is an act of war, which has been prepared, organized, planned from the outside, and with domestic assistance that will be demonstrated by the current investigation. It is an act of absolute barbarity.

The use of word and repetition of ‘act of war’ could underline the possibility of the use of ground military forces in Syria in the days or weeks to come. French army could be working on bringing another dimension to its war efforts over Iraq and Syria. However, launching a ground offensive in Syria is quite of a headache considering the current Russian involvement and the Assad forces. Can France conduct military operations in Syria against ISIS without the assistance of Syrian and Russian forces? What would be the endgame? How can France identify and quantify success with a ground offensive against ISIS? After a decade of military involvement in Afghanistan, the Talibans are back and Al-Qaeda, which has been severally armed, has been replaced by ISIS (read here an analysis by François Heisbourg).

National Mood and the Respect of French Values

Domestically, French citizens ought to show the same determination than after the attacks on Charlie. It appears that the national mood is darker than in January and French citizens seem heartbroken, rightfully so, but they need to stand up and demonstrate to these radical movements the impenetrable French spirit. François Hollande said

France is strong and even if she can be hurt, she will always stand up and nothing can break her, even the sorrow that touches us. France, she is solid, she is active, France is brave and will win against barbarity. Our history is a reminder.

Now, France, as after Charlie, has to look at itself and reflect on its failed social policies implemented almost five decades ago (read here a solid analysis by Javier Solana, former EU High Representative). The degree of inequalities in France is continuously increasing and the sense of belonging to the French nation seems to be disappearing in a wide segment of the population. Blame can be attributed on both side, but it will be unproductive. French

Plantu
Plantu

values of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité are the foundation of our Republic and should be rediscovered. This means opening our arms to the refugees leaving Syria and fleeing other authoritarian regimes. Welcoming these refugees and offering them chances to success and leave productive lives are the remedy to such hate and violence. France cannot close her borders and reject the others, as it would be a direct repudiation of its values.

Understandingly, the initial reaction is anger and desire to make a distinction between us and them. But once our time of grievance is complete, French citizens ought to remember their history and values. The rhetoric coming for the French rights calling for closing the borders, leaving the European Union, protecting the homeland from any outside forces are the wrong solutions. It may be the easiest road in the short term, but in the long run it would be a direct repudiation of the republican spirit of France. The coming regional elections next month will be a turning point for French politics and could offer some insights prior the presidential elections in 2017. The amalgam of migration and terrorism continuously hammered by the rights is misleading, wrong, unfunded and abject. But amalgams tend to be integrated by a large segment of the population across the world.

Lessons from France’s Atlantic Neighbor and Ally

France can learn three lessons from the United States. First of all invading countries is not a valuable option. The US went to war and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade and the situation in both countries has not improved. One could even argue it has worsened as Afghanistan is seeing the return of Talibans and Iraq is highly fragmented and home of ISIS. Second, violation of the habeas corpus and invasive laws like a French

Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Patriot Act won’t be the answer as well. Some members of the French rights are calling for the creation of jails for incarcerations of suspected terrorists. The US has created Guantanamo Bay and is unable to deal with its prisoners. And it would be an error and a core violation of French democracy to start incarcerating individuals based of suspicion. Guantanamo Bay, and the other American jails in Iraq and Afghanistan such as Abu Ghraib have been instrumentalized by radical islamic networks in order to recruit. Third, since 2001, American citizens have learned to live with terrorist threats and seen an increase of state forces in the streets. These could be the only alternative for France. The November 13th attacks could be the end of innocence for France. But these attacks remind us how precious are our values and way of life and how threatening they are to these radical movements. We have lived for too long taking for granted our freedoms and liberty, it is time to finally reflect on them, cherish them and defend them by living them consciously.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).