Brussels: Keep it safe or witness its decline
Daily life in Brussels was profoundly affected by the terrorist attacks on March 22nd. What had been a suspicion and a deep fear for several months suddenly materialised that morning as a living hell in our very midst. Firstly, we express our sorrow for the victims and extend our deepest condolences to their family and friends. It could have happened to any of us. Fortunately, no one at CEPS was injured, although a member of our staff was on the ill-fated metro train at the time of the attack.
What is needed now are efforts to reduce the likelihood of such attacks in the future and to deal effectively with the consequences should they nevertheless occur. On the policy side, we have published several papers on our website. In essence, we need a ‘Single Supervisory Mechanism’ for security, a single personal data pooling and surveillance system – in effect a European Federal Bureau of Investigation – and more effective control of the EU’s external borders. We seem to be moving a bit in this direction at EU level, but far too slowly.
We also need a European defence. As we have learned that the events were planned from within the Islamic State, this was an act of war against all Europeans, which justifies an armed European response. On this level, the European evolution is even slower. Politicians need to understand that the security of their citizens and the preservation of Europe’s open societies depend on cooperation between EU member states in taking forceful action, not on ‘waiting and seeing’ or ‘muddling through’. In the face of widespread Euro-scepticism, this would also bring home the value-added of the EU.
We also need a deeper engagement by all EU citizens, irrespective of their faith, and an awareness that our way of living is under threat. Much greater vigilance by citizens of what happens in their neighbourhoods and in other public places is required, along with a much higher sense of shared responsibility for the common good of our society, and its survival.
Brussels also urgently needs an action plan to restore confidence in the governance of the capital of Europe. For too long, governance has been left to a local political elite, which has limited contact with and indeed little awareness of the international dimension of this city. The international role of Brussels has become a vital element of its character, and has transformed the city into a vibrant hub of international policy-making, involving thousands of individuals in government institutions, NGOs and business on a day-to-day basis. While these men and women from across Europe and elsewhere may not necessarily openly voice their concerns, they could vote with their feet, and decide to leave the area in the coming years, if no improvements are made. This would be a disaster for Brussels and also for the dynamic culture of European policy-making that has emerged in this city.