The French 9/11

France will perceive the terrorist attack against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, one of its journalistic institutions, as Americans perceived 9/11. Islamic terrorists targeted the heart of freedom of expression in France. In recent years, French mainstream media became rather careful on how to report on Islam hoping not to insult its leaders. However, satirical media showed more courage. Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were spot-on. The most recent headlined: ‘Still no terrorist attacks in France’ while showing a terrorist replying: ‘We still have until the end of January to present our best wishes’. Charb, the cartoonist, was among the 12 people killed.

For a long time West-European leaders hoped that Islamic terrorism could be appeased by political correct, ‘non-provocative’ attitudes and social programs. Politicians filtered their words with care and official media pursued a policy of self-restraint. But in European societies the undercurrent of Islamic radicalism kept on brewing unabatedly. Political correctness provided only a façade of stability, invoking words like ‘tolerance’ and ‘multiculturalism’. 

At the end of May, a Jihadist who had returned from Syria walked into the Jewish Museum in Brussels and killed three people, among them a visiting couple from Israel. The attack took place on the day of Belgian and European elections. Political leaders expressed their dismay but hoped the atrocity would remain to be an ‘exceptional case’.

What they didn’t want to see was the terrorist potential of radicalized Muslims; born in Europe and leaving for Syria to join the Islamic State. Initially, many politicians greeted their departure because these social security recipients would not be a burden at home anymore. Intelligence services lost sight of them. Worries only emerged as the number of Jihadists continued increasing, into hundreds and thousands.

The new Warsaw Pact

Russian President Putin relentlessly continues stirring things up in Ukraine in spite of Western sanctions, dropping oil prices and a looming recession. He even sends bomber planes into the airspace of NATO countries. It is about more than just trying to bully neighbors or demonstrate strength. Putin operates on the basis of an offensive concept he himself describes as the ‘new Warsaw Pact’.

In May this year, Putin concluded a gas deal with China solidifying, according to him, ‘true partnership’ between Russia and China. The deal involves an amount of 400 billion dollars. Simultaneously, the Russian and Chinese launched combined naval exercises in the East Chinese Sea. Last year, Chinese President Xi JinPing arrived in Moscow on his first official state visit abroad. Russia and China have become true partners in a political, economic and military alliance. Both countries compose the core in a ‘League of Autocratic States’, according to Putin the ‘new Warsaw Pact’. That alliance should create a counterweight to the West in general and to the US in particular.

Other autocratic countries are keen to join the coalition around the axis Moscow – Beijing, like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Pakistan intends to become ‘candidate member’ and Iran ‘observing member’. Turkey, NATO member and candidate member state of the EU, wants to join as ‘dialogue partner’. Turkish President Erdogan and President Putin get along very well. Recently, Putin cancelled the gas pipeline ‘South Stream’ to Europe, but continues to serve Turkey, after Germany the second biggest recipient of Russian gas.

Philosophically, the autocratic states turn against the West. So far, they did not elaborate a full-fledged ideology, but three components cement their thinking: nationalism, cultural backwardness and political centralism. On issues like free speech, political opposition and women rights the autocrats spend little time. The rejection front says: No.

No world order without 'the West'

In a few days, the Ukrainian conflict escalated with the criminal downing of MH-17, Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza and negotiations to temper the nuclear ambitions of Iran remaining inconclusive for another 4 months. This is typical for the current era of disorder. For the first time since World War II, there is a world order without 'the West' as structuring force. For many former protesters at peace squares in Amsterdam, Paris or London that was the dream. However, this ‘world order’ only produces disorder with blazing fires; not caused by 'the West' but rather by the lack of it.

The backbone of the post-war world order was the U.S. with in its wake the European allies. Especially Western Europe politically and culturally detached itself from the notion of 'the West' during its integration process. Europe has defined itself as ‘not American’. It portrayed the European Union as 'empire of good intentions' that brought peace with 'soft power', unlike the military superpower America.

President Obama therefore saw the Ukrainian crisis as a European affair. But Europe is utterly clueless. The European Union is not a union. It is divided between 'old Europe' with Germany leading, that wants to placate the Kremlin, and 'new Europe' with Poland and the Baltic states advocating a harder line. European division fed the appetite of Russian President Putin to spread chaos in Eastern Ukraine after annexation of the Crimea. After all, he could proceed with impunity. The Ukrainian crisis shows that a neutralist attitude is dominating Europe. Even worse: Germany, Europe’s strongest economy, has turned pacifist and became the plaything of the Kremlin.

EU = Belgium - 5 years

The EU and Belgium resemble permanent construction sites where the roofs are rebuild to hide a problem with the foundations. Both are busy with the formation of their new leadership after the election on May 25. The Belgian political elite often described the "Belgian model” as a precursor to the EU: "Europe will be Belgian, or it won’t be”. But after the formation of a government in 2010-2011 took 541 days, an absolute world record, that statement dumbfounded. However, it is no less true. If you want to know how the EU will look in about five years’ time, you should look at Belgium today.  

In the Netherlands, the Belgian formation after the elections of May 25 stands in the shadow of the battle for European top jobs. In the meanwhile, the Belgian King Philip appointed, Bart De Wever, leader of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), as informer, charged with looking into possible coalitions. He put then the most politically correct basic text on the table. But De Wever came across a ‘non’. Then the King appointed Charles Michel, chairman of the French-speaking Liberals, as informer, who immediately decided to take the work over the summer. With the previous government formation of 541 days, this formation attempt is obviously still very young and fresh.

The formation of a Belgian government is difficult because Flemish and French-speaking voters went in the opposite direction. In Flanders, the N-VA was the big winner with over 30% of the votes. The Walloon voters marched to the left: the ruling Socialist party lost in favor of a kind of Walloon Communist Party. Flemings voted more to the right; Walloons leftist. The Walloon region immediately formed a leftist coalition; Flanders a center-right. Can there still be made a Belgian federal government?

The wrong man at the wrong place

European cooperation means Berlin says what Brussels will decide. The new President of the European Commission will be the outcome of an internal compromise between the ruling Christian Democrats and Socialists in Berlin. The current President of the European Parliament, the German Social Democrat Martin Schulz stays on. The German Christian Democrats put forward their Stellvertreter, the former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jan-Claude Juncker. The European Parliament can only say 'yes', while the European Council is dominated by the mood of Mutti Merkel.

Juncker is the least inspiring politician of the ruling European elite; he combines all the 'fifty shades of grey'.  As a full blooded Jesuit, he scorns democratic development. The elite knows better. In April 2011, he said: 'I am a Christian Democrat, a Catholic, but when it becomes serious you have to lie. Yes, I lie because it involves the survival of the euro.' On the referendum, he said: "If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it’s a no, we will say ‘we continue.’" Juncker was totally disgusted and appalled when he lost the election in Luxembourg last year. He fell over a hacking scandal of the Luxembourg security agency, which became public following a leak from the American NSA. He was the only political victim of the NSA scandal. Poor Juncker. But now he returns riding on the powerful wings of the German Christian Democrats. He became their Spitzenkandidat and exclaimed, despite a loss of about 50 seats in the European elections: 'I'm the big winner'.  When it comes to the interpretation of democracy, Jean-Claude is Jean 'Odd Ball' Juncker.