5 quotes of European leaders on Charlie Hebdo attacks

Charlie Hebdo march in Paris, January 11, 2015

Charlie Hebdo march in Paris, January 11, 2015 (CC/Flickr/Laurent Tine)

Here are five quotes reacting in very different ways to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France.

” We must in the days to come, make sure that this pain transforms itself into concrete actions, … With the pain, we have already begun to work on the response. “Frederica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (January 8, 2015)

“ If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. ” Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church (January 15, 2015)

” Our composure is that of a country that has not faced a fundamental test of this kind yet. But when push comes to shove, we have stuck together until now. I am confident that this would also be true in the case of a terrorist attack. “ German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (January 12, 2015)

“ I think we are at risk because there are a group of people who believe in this fanatical death cult of Islamist extremism. You can’t appease them; they hate our democracy, our freedom, our freedom of expression, our way of life. It would be wrong to think there are a set of behaviours we could adopt to make us safer.” David Cameron, British Prime Minister (January 14, 2015)

” Immigration and cultural questions related to that must be discussed in a much more open, honest and straightforward manner than until now. I hope that a composed, calm analysis of the recent events will guide European leaders and Brussels towards a tough policy restricting immigration ” Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban (January 11, 2015)

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Pencils for Charlie

Crédit image : Alexis Hontang

Picture credit : Alexis Hontang

As I look back on this horrendous day for freedom of expression around the world, I still have difficulties sorting through my emotions. I distinctly remember, for example, the moment at which I got the news : 12 people dead at the headquarters of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo after it was attacked by gunmen with assault weapons.

At first, I just could not believe it. It kind of felt like an episode of the TV show Homeland, but then I realized that it really had happened here, in Paris, less than a mile away from my very office. Denial was over and that is when confusion and disgust started to set into my system. What can we expect from the future when confronted with such violence and intolerance ? Of course, I truly feel for the families of the victims, who have to endure the media torture on top of their pain. Tweets on the topic keep popping on my newsfeed, and only echo the dark feelings that are shooting through me and in the end it’s the French satyrical news website LeGorafi (kind of like the Onion in the US) that maybe managed to sum up in three words how I felt in that moment : “monde de merde” (litterally, crappy world, but this could be a reference to the French translation of F**k my life (“Vie de Merde)”, and could therefore be translated as “F**k the world”).

As the hours went by, I guess I also felt more and more powerless. Here I was sitting in front of my screen, unable to focus on my daily work and sharing pictures and twitchy statuses about the attack (in other words, doing nothing of consequence). I was hitching for action, anything that would allow me to get rid of a bit of the frustation building up as I receive controversial reactions to the attack in my inbox.  Fortunately, the whole office had understood that our work was done for the day. By 5PM, a group of my colleagues and myself were heading out to a rally at Place de la République to support the victims’ families and freedom of expression.

As we got out of the metro, we did not know what to expect. We emerged from the depths of the underground not too far from the statue that towers in the center of the huge square, and tens of thousand of people were already crowding the place. Above all, the relative silence was striking, almost solemn. I had never been such an event. People spoke in hushed voices and cautiously observed the mass surrounding them. Every now and then, someone would scream “Liberté”

A Parisian demonstrator holds up a pen to support freedom of speech after a terrorist attack killed 12 people at the headquarters of a French magazine

A Parisian demonstrator holds up a pen to support freedom of speech after a terrorist attack killed 12 people at the headquarters of a French magazine

(Freedom), and five others would respond “d’expression” (of speech). Or the crowd would start clapping hard, while crooning the word “Charlie, Charlie”. Here and there, there were big signs on which the most famous satires of the magazine had been reproduced, or else the now iconic hashtag #JesuisCharlie (I am Charlie). Hours went by, and the ranks of the supporters got tighter and tighter as new people kept arriving. At some point, I listened to the conversation of a nearby group of young people discussing their fear of a new attack, while realizing that despite that fear, they just HAD to be part of tonight’s rally.

So far nobody has had the time to use this tragedy for another purpose, and there is one thing above all that I will remember : today’s symbol is not a French flag, but a simple pencil. Today, it was not only France that was under attack, but freedom of speech in the whole world, and that is why the crowd held up pencils and pens towards the sky.

Forget about hate, I’ll bring freshly sharpened pencils in front of the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo! 

je suis charlie

European Union : who will remain in 2015 ?

No matter the result of the May elections, 2014 will be a year of changes at the top of the European Union. It should actually not a surprise, when you look at the elections’ slogan: “This time, it is different.”

Quick check-list of changes: 

  • 751 members of the European Parliament;
  • The President of the European Commission;
  • 27 Commissioners for the member states;
  • The President of the European Council
  • A EU high representative for foreign and security policy
  • A Presidents of the European Parliament
Average of polls for February 2014.  Source: Quartz

Average of polls for February 2014.
Source: Quartz

No brainer there: the first ones to go will of course be the Members of the European Parliament (MEPS)– we can expect at least a bit of changes in their ranks this year, if anything because of the surge of eurosceptic parties in Europe. FYI, the elections take place at the end of May, but the Parliament’s composition will remain unchanged until June 2, 2014.

Next, it’s bye bye to EU Commission President Barroso. The former Prime Minister of Portugal has been leading the Commission for the past ten years. Let’s once again underline the fact that, for the first time, and as a direct consequence of the 2010 Lisbon Treaty, the EU elections will have an impact on the election of his replacement : the EU council’s vote should reflect the majorities identified within the European Parliament through these elections.

Baroness Catherine Ashton.  CC/Flickr/FriendsOfEurope

Baroness Catherine Ashton.
CC/Flickr/FriendsOfEurope

We are also saying goodbye to Catherine Ashton, who will have to step down with all EU Commissioners. Small commentary here: we can only hope for a more decisive representative for the EU Foreign Policy. As several critics pointed out when she was nominated, Ashton just did not have the charisma and stature necessary to overshadow the national representatives of the EU member states. It was a strategic decision of course, but therefore the choice of her replacement will be telling as to the lessons the EU member states took away from the Ukraine crisis.

Finally, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has announced that he will not try for another mandate when the current one expires next December.

Most of these positions are up to hard bargaining within and sometimes outside the Union. The EU commissioners, for example, are chosen by the Commission’s President and representatives of the 28 member states. An important commissioner spot (Internal Market for example) may be given in exchange for support on the nomination of another top EU officer.

From Brussels to Kiev : the mute European Union

Ukrainian Prime Minister  speaks at EU emergency meeting on Ukraine on March 6th.  CC/Flickr/European Coucil

Ukrainian Prime Minister speaks at EU emergency meeting on Ukraine on March 6th.
CC/Flickr/European Coucil

Four days after the entrance of Russian troops in Crimea, diplomats from all nationalities are scrambling like a pack of disturbed ants.

The frenzy has even spread outside of the embassies. Hilary Clinton compared the decision of President Vladimir Putin to Hitler’s annexation of Sudetenland prior to World War II. The image is strong, and it is meant to be. What is at stake here is a power play between the world’s leading powers.

So far, it is the United Stated who has spoken the loudest, and acted in consequence. It is President Obama who led the G7 effort to issue a press release condemning Russian intervention in Ukraine. It is US Secretary of State John Kerry who threatened Russia with isolation and promised a billion dollars in loan guarantees to the new Ukrainian government. It is the American presidential delegation who has decided not to take part in the Winter Paralympics games of Sochi. It is finally the American Representative to the UN Samantha Power who ridiculed the justifications presented by Russia to the Security Council last Tuesday.

As I said in our last session, Russia’s actions speak much louder than its words. What is happening today is not a human rights protection mission and it is not a consensual intervention. What is happening today is a dangerous military intervention in Ukraine. It is an act of aggression. It must stop. Samantha Power, March 4th 2014

In a way, Putin echoes its critics by using the ghost of fascism to describe the Ukrainian new government, and its dangers from the Russian minorities of the contry. The fact is that protection of civilians has never been high on Putin’s list of reasons to infringe another’s state sovereignty. It is the argument Russia used to prevent a UN intervention in the Syrian Civil War at the end of last year.

Worse, it is a justification even China, who was Russia’s ally on the Syria question, cannot reasonably support. The principle of non-interference is deeply rooted in Asian international relations, and is particularly dear to a country which has been criticized on the way it treated civilians in the Tibet and Xingjian provinces.

In this power play, the European Union has failed to provide the region with much needed leadership. The Ukrainian crisis lasted for months before the Union was able to have any influence on the behavior of the previous government. Even at the worst of the Ukrainian civil war, it was the foreign affairs ministers of France, Germany and Poland who flew to Kiev to negotiate for peace.

Several analysts have applauded the scrutiny the Russian representative faced in Tuesday’s Security Council meeting, but this has only proved two things: first, that world powers do try to justify themselves in the UN arena when they break international law. Yet in the big picture, even a united Security Council has no power when opposed to one of its five permanent members.

Because of the veto rule, the UN is simply irrelevant when it comes to conflict resolution involving powerful countries. This is where regional entities have a chance to make a difference. The European Union has been created to give the region a common economic and political clout.

A EU sanction bundle might prove much more effective than American threats. The USA merely represents 2 percent of economic activity in Russia, while the EU is one of its biggest trade partners, especially when it comes to energy.

Yet during this whole crisis, the European member states have revealed their inability to speak with one voice. Even now, they cannot agree on significant sanctions to be imposed on Russia.

Baroness Catherine Ashton.  CC/Flickr/FriendsOfEurope

Baroness Catherine Ashton.
CC/Flickr/FriendsOfEurope

EU Foreign Affairs representative Catherine Ashton may not be missing in action, but is indeed missing the negotiations. Even when she meets with the Russian Foreign Affairs minister, it feels like she is the representative of a small, insignificant country. There are no significant advances, and no communication.

The only leader we hear loud and clear is the distant United States, and the organizations it has promoted in Europe, such as the all-mighty NATO.

How long will Europe accept to be a mere chessboard in the feud between the United States and Russia?