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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.

Is the ECB capable of saving the Euro?

For the third time in three years, the European Central Bank (ECB) deployed heavy artillery to lift the Eurozone out of the doldrums. Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, continues to find new monetary recipes to save the political currency. But southern Europe is cracking under the austerity policies, while France is in the grip of anti-EU sentiment. Political turmoil is threatening Europe and there is nothing the ECB can do about it.

Without the ECB, the euro would no longer exist, but can the currency union survive only thanks to the ECB? The answer is no. At the end of 2011, monetary union was on the verge of collapse and European leaders were powerless. Draghi stepped in and pumped €1.1 trillion into the banking sector. Banks got loans for a period of three years at a low interest rate and without asking a lot of questions about collateral. This 'revolutionary action' helped for several months. In the summer of 2012 Draghi was again taking the lead as interest rates on Italian and Spanish government bonds were skyrocketing. To save the euro, he said he would do "whatever it takes". Lenders could count on Draghi to speed up the printing press if necessary. They were temporarily reassured.

EU is powerful and powerless

The rise of Eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament, on both the left and right, does not threaten the numerical balance of power in Brussels, but it does bring about political upheavals. Britain is closer to the exit; France closer to the abyss. More and more power goes to the EU, while the EU is in trouble, and is increasingly powerless. The European elections have made divergent forces ​​stronger.

The greatest source of uncertainty is France. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, dealt the Parisian elite a slap in the face. Her next goal is the French presidential election of 2017. President Hollande is no longer taken seriously; for the French, he is a buffoon. The economy is stagnating and the centre-right opposition is fighting an internal power struggle. Marine Le Pen is now in a strong position for 2017. French political leaders in the second economy of the euro-zone are uncertain, unpredictable and scared. Le Pen puts the political class under pressure, and in Strasbourg, she'll get an influential forum as ringleader of a nationalist group.

Le Pen will do what Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, has been doing for years: use the European parliament as a platform for the home crowd. Ukip won the European elections, not only at the expense of the Conservatives. Labour saw its voters defect to Ukip, even in the North of England and Scotland where Ukip was considered hopeless. Ukip is driving Britain to the exit and Prime Minister Cameron has promised a referendum in 2017, with the question: 'in or out of the EU'. The British Liberal Democrats of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg tried to put themselves on the map as resolutely pro-European. They were wiped off the map. Britain and France are two large countries with a rebellious home. They will bring the storm to Brussels.

The Putin Doctrine

Last month I was in the U.S. Congress to give a briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The audience consisted of Republican congressmen and their staffers. Suddenly, Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, former employee of President Reagan, took the floor: "Why all this criticism of Putin?" he asked. "Putin is our ally in the fight against political Islam." Then he took off, leaving behind him a heated discussion. The confusion in conservative America has grown after columnist Pat Buchanan (former employee of Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan) wrote last year: "In the cultural battle for the future of humanity, Putin might be one of us."

Also in Europe there is a remarkable understanding for Putin. Earlier this month, a group of 200 German intellectuals sent a public endorsement to Putin. They lay all the blame for tensions in Ukraine on the U.S., led by President Obama, once so applauded in Berlin. Three former German chancellors (Schröder , Schmidt and Kohl) expressed their understanding for the annexation of Crimea. A majority of the German population thinks Germany shouldn't stand on the side of the West, but in between the West and Russia. British eurosceptic Nigel Farage expressed his admiration for Putin and Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, visited the President of the Russian Parliament in Moscow. Other of the PVV's far-right allies in Europe, such as the Austrian FPÖ and the Italian Lega Nord, admire Putin.

The source of these endorsements is the Putin doctrine that aims to restore Russia's status as a great power, flanked by political, social and cultural themes that are also present in the public debate in Europe and the U.S. What does the Putin-doctrine consist of?

The French Problem

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, visited the French city of Bordeaux last year and treated his counterpart Alain Juppé to some British humour: "Did you know I have more Frenchmen in London than you do in Bordeaux?" There are around 350,000 Frenchmen in London. French people who want to run a business can't do that in a stagnant France. If the current trend continues, the volume of Dutch exports next year will be higher than the French. The popularity of President Hollande has fallen to 18%. The French political elite fears a beating in the European elections of 25 May by a triumphant Marine Le Pen, the standard-bearer of the Front National.

The political weight of France, the second largest economy in the Eurozone, has fallen dramatically in a short time. France and Germany used to be at the same level politically, though the French economy could never match the German. The EU could not take decisions against France. Paris always knew how to form a blocking coalition and, if necessary, they could morally blackmail the Germans. The French decline is worrying. The Dutch might be tempted to gloat, but that attitude is wrong because in the end, the French Thalys was the only company that managed to link Amsterdam and Brussels by train last year. It is also unwise. A weak and insecure France is a greater threat to Europe than the confident display of flags of 'la grande nation' which, like French women, contains a lot of charm. Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy were a European political couple; President Hollande seems pathetic.

'Energy NATO' could rein in Putin

John Kerry , the U.S. Secretary of State , recently said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using 19th century methods in the 21st century. Kerry is behaving as if Putin was impolite during a state banquet and burped at the table. But Putin's mind-set is largely rooted in the 19th century. Politics is about power, not about law. The West, accustomed to diplomatic conferences on noble UN objectives, has trouble with cynical realpolitik.

Modern political leaders know more about public relations than about history, let alone the 19th century. Kerry is no Kissinger. The former US foreign minister obtained a PHD with the thesis 'A World Restored', on the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815). Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post: "Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them."

What can we expect from Putin with his 19th Century methods? He used the chaos in Ukraine to annex Crimea, home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and where 60% of the population is Russian. He received massive support from the Russian people for whom Crimea has always been part of the Russian demos. Ukraine cannot do anything, and the West is both shocked and helpless. For Putin, there was little risk.

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