In an editorial in the German conservative newspaper Die Welt Thomas Kielinger referred yesterday to the different ways in which British and Spanish politicians reacted to the bombings in London last week and Madrid last year. “London differs from Madrid in this respect that there were no panic reactions from politicans calling for a departure of troops from Iraq. For the first time this demand has even become an issue of secondary importance. For the first time in five years Tony Blair is experiencing a precipitous rise in popularity. The people sense how in a moment of crisis they have a head of government who does not simply talk about leadership, but lives it. A nation that is led like this is united in itself and with its ruling elite and will remain prominent.”
Today, in Amsterdam, the trial began of Mohammed Bouyeri, the 27-year old Moroccan who murdered Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh on November 2, 2004. Bouyeri ritually slaughtered van Gogh because the latter had made a critical movie about the position of women in fundamentalist Islamic societies. The assassination of van Gogh, two years after the May 2002 murder of the popular anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn, sent shock waves through Dutch society. During the first day of the trial Bouyeri, who wore a Palestinian scarf, refused to say a word. He did not react and displayed the same calmness he had shown eight months ago whilst he slit his victim’s throat in a busy Amsterdam street.
July 11 is Flanders Day. The date refers to the day in 1302 when an army of Flemish burghers defeated a superior army of French knights by driving them into a swamp. Historically the term Flanders refers to the mediaeval county of Flanders centered around the town of Brugge (Bruges in French). Today, the term Flanders is used in a broader sense, referring to the Dutch-speaking part of contemporary Belgium i.e. the historical counties of Flanders, Brabant and Loon. Brussels, the historical capital of Brabant, is currently the capital of Europe, Belgium and Flanders (in its contemporary, broad sense).
This morning the 223,000 voters of Luxemburg voted in favour of the EU Constitution with a majority of 56.5% “Jo” against 43.5% “Nee.” The Grand-Duchy of Luxemburg, though the richest of all EU member states, is the largest net receiver of EU handouts, getting 1,700 euros per head per year from Brussels – five times more than any other member state. Given these figures it is significant that more than four in every ten Luxemburgians rejected the EU Constitution. Luxemburg, which has only 0.05% of the EU population, has no unemployment. Its capital, Luxemburg City, houses many of the EU institutions and is considered one of the three official EU capitals, along with Brussels and Strassburg. The little country is widely known for its banks and its farmers driving mercedeses and BMWs, but the national motto “Wir bleiben was wir sind” (We want to remain what we are) clearly appealed to many.
The leading conservative French newspaper Le Figaro has noticed the sharp contrast between British courage and the cowardice of the Spanish who, after the Madrid bombings on March 11, 2004, painted their hands white and surrendered to al-Qaeda. Yesterday, the paper wrote in its editorial: “It is reassuring to see how the English respond with that typical flamboyance they display whenever history puts them to the test.” Contrasting this to the Spanish, who withdrew their troops from Iraq in the wake of the Madrid bombings, editor Pierre Rousselin writes: “This time the terrorists will not achieve the same result.”
Luxemburg’s 223,000 voters decide tomorrow about the fate of the European Union. After the rejection of the European Constitution by the French and the Dutch six weeks ago, all countries where constitutional referendums were scheduled for later this year and in 2006, decided to postpone them indefinitely. All except Luxemburg, where Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, in a fit of hubris, refused to. Before the French and Dutch referendums Juncker, who chaired the EU-council until 30 June, had said: “If the vote is yes, we will say: we go ahead; if it is no, we will say: we continue!” After the European summit three weeks ago, a frustrated Juncker quarrelled with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his successor as president of the EU Council, blaming Blair for the failure of the summit to reach an agreement on the EU budget.
This week, the European Commission unanimously approved the establishment by January 1, 2007 of a European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights. The agency, which is to employ 100 Eurocrats from the various EU member states, will be housed in Vienna. The Vienna based European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), which was set up in 1997, will be integrated into the new agency.
There is such a striking difference between the way the British react to yesterday’s terror attacks and the way the Spanish reacted to last year’s Madrid bombings, that I am not the only one intrigued by it. We all know that Britain will not “do a Spain.” It is simply inconceivable that, in response to terrorists, Londoners would paint their hands white, hastily change their foreign policies and vote their government out of office. “Britain will not be cowed,” Tony Blair said, and this sentiment is shared even by political opponents of his Iraq policies, such as Ken Livingstone.
Today, London came under attack from terrorists when bomb explosions shook the British capital, killing many innocent people. Just like the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States and March 11, 2004 in Madrid these attacks were directed against innocent civilians, and against our way of life.
The news from Gleneagles is being overshadowed by today’s events in London. Nevertheless the G8 Summit continues and a joint statement will be issued tomorrow. Let us hope that regarding global warming it will be an ambiguous document without any real meaning and consequences. It is important for Europe that US President Bush does not comply with the green policies of the Kyoto Protocol.