Saturday 22 October 2016

EU’s broken politics means its citizens are now left suffering

Published 16/07/2016 | 02:30

A life-size copy of renown Michelangelo Buonarroti's David is diplayed supine, as a tribute to the victims of the Nice attack, during a ceremony at the Repubblica square in Florence, Italy. Maurizio Degl'Innocenti/ANSA Via AP
A life-size copy of renown Michelangelo Buonarroti's David is diplayed supine, as a tribute to the victims of the Nice attack, during a ceremony at the Repubblica square in Florence, Italy. Maurizio Degl'Innocenti/ANSA Via AP

France is yet again struck by the depressing and terrifying attack of a murderous sociopath. The brutal incident puzzles most of us – and raises far more questions than there are answers.

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As the Government here redoubles its correct resolve to stand by our old French allies and friends in the European Union in their hour of peril, we must also play our part in trying to find some answers to the questions and political remedies which will serve us into the future.

The sadness we share with France, and the parade of nationalities on the list of casualties, makes this an obligation for every citizen as a member of the human race.

This is yet another calamity which hits Europe just as it is least well fixed to deal with it. Europe’s politics is broken and increasingly all citizens are paying a price in suffering. It is time for more courageous leadership and innovative thinking.

It is clear that France is a bigger target than many other member states, though let us never forget that we are all potential targets here.

France looms larger in the gunhairs of a-Qa’ida and Isil for a number of reasons.

In 2014, one of the Isil leaders said all the citizens of all the “disbelieving western states” were fair game.

But that same spokesman singled out the “spiteful and filthy French” for special attention.

We are left to speculate why this should be.

But it may well be linked to a more aggressive and out-spoken French foreign policy on the need to defeat these brutal fanatics in Africa and the Middle East who evoke the Muslim faith to justify their atrocities. The range of attacks on France over the past two years could be seen as “push-back” by radical fanatical groups.

But there is some evidence to suggest that it also feeds into a level of alienation in French society which is to be found all across the EU right now.

France’s five million citizens linked to the North African countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia leaves a large number of young people who struggle to come to terms with their identity as they face into tough day-to-day problems on jobs, housing and other economic realities.

At the time of writing, we do not know enough about the French-Tunisian maniac who drove a lorry and murdered dozens of innocent people in beautiful and historic Nice. But we do know a deal about some of those associated with previous attacks.

None of their murderous actions can be excused. But nor can we turn a blind eye to the depressing similarities in their stories.

This is a catalogue of people linked to North Africa and engaged in criminality, drug dealing and other crime. Many were radicalised online. They were also radicalised in prison.

The French truly believe in liberty and have a society founded on deeply-rooted liberal democratic values.

But they also have a society where a dangerously large number of people have too little to lose and can be gulled by fanatics to join this fanfare of murder.

Their lack of anything to lose helped drive them to do truly evil deeds. This problem has, of course, been recognised at the highest level in the French government.

The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, whose own Spanish immigrant background makes him aware of the problems, has spoken of “economic, social and territorial apartheid” which is dividing communities in France.

It is clear that greater efforts at integration, economic opportunity and education to overcome radicalisation are needed.

None of this is to gainsay the real and urgent need for a better security response. Poverty and exclusion cannot ever excuse these heinous crimes which must be countered. Culprits must be apprehended and terrorist cells must be infiltrated and smashed. All the security services are at risk of being used as political scapegoats here.

But it is clear that there have been serious shortcomings in France’s security response to date. A parliamentary report on last year has pointed up major failings in the system.

They have called for a much better intelligence system to lead a counter terror offensive. They have also sought a new US-style agency to coordinate the system and prevent dangerous suspects eluding the authorities as has happened in the recent past.

All of this is France’s responsibility. But they will not make progress without support from their EU neighbours.

Ireland, as one of the smallest EU partners, can play an important role. In the past, by dint of sincerity of commitment of the quality of the people we put forward, we have made significant contributions in these matters.

At times of crisis, the European debate turns on whether we need “more Europe or less Europe”.

The phrase is not particularly helpful. It is clear that horrors like that must teach us that shutting down forums for dialogue is deeply unhelpful. So, the preponderance of evidence is not with “less Europe.”

We need better quality European initiatives which address citizens’ needs.

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