Are we truly all “Charlie”?
The spontaneous and quasi unanimous response to the dramatic events of these last few days in France, symbolised by the slogan “I am Charlie”, demonstrates the capacity of public opinion – often decried – to react appropriately and with great maturity.
The choice of this slogan, which recalls the erection of the Berlin wall (Ich bin ein Berliner) or the attacks of 9/11 (We are all Americans), is particularly appropriate. Indeed it emphasises that, beyond a location with which it is fairly easy to identify, the defence of shared values can also be a powerful tool for mobilisation when the enjoyment of fundamental rights, that we tend to take for granted, is suddenly challenged.
This identification – highly contagious – imposes however, on each of us who appropriate it, to reflect on its significance. It is fairly easy to proclaim one’s attachment to the freedom of expression and of the press, to adhere to the principles of democracy, to reject discrimination based on race, nationality or religion in the knowledge that only a small minority among us will, in normal circumstances, ever be called upon to stand up and be counted. Taking part in street marches is fine but far from sufficient!
The recent events and the widespread citizen’s reaction it has spurred create a unique opportunity to reconsider the long list of challenges facing our society and the European Union in particular: terrorism, climate change, European integration, Greece, Ukraine DAESH, Euro, unemployment, immigration, etc. One should make sure that the proposed solutions are in coherence with the values the importance of which we rediscover so painfully. Such a salutary approach is capable of transforming the current gloomy - if not defeatist –mood into a positive force, galvanising the citizen and encouraging his participation in the necessary efforts required.
Thus, President Hollande’s appeal for “national unity” heard by the vast majority of French political parties, professional, cultural and religious associations as well as public opinion in general, should under no circumstance serve as a pretext turning inwards and rejecting the other. The testimonial that is being expressed by the presence of many European political leaders at Sunday’s “Republican March” in Paris is, by no means, limited to an expression of empathy for France’s hardship. It aims in the first place to give a new meaning to the concept of “solidarity” between Member States of the EU. It is, indeed, quite obvious that reinforcing cooperation at this level is the sine qua non condition for preserving the values whose potential loss has created a highly salutary choc wave throughout the EU and beyond.
The French journalist Jean Quatremer of Libération defended brilliantly on RTL television the need to significantly increase European cooperation in the fight against terrorism by revisiting the idea of creating a European “FBI”. The pertinence of this proposal is obviously directly related to the current dramatic events. This logic should, however, apply mutatis mutandis to number of areas such as immigration, energy policy, completing EMU, strengthening the common foreign affairs and defence policies, etc., matters which are deeply interrelated and which are all too often blocked by the selfish interests of one or the other Member State.
If we are not prepared to sacrifice some of our national privileges in the interests of greater solidarity at European level, then we will forgo any possibility of fighting successfully to preserve our fundamental values and the pretence of “being Charlie” will be mere posturing and devoid of any real content.
Brussels, 11th January 2015
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.
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