Our (new) Brussels normal?

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil. Matthew 6:34

On March 22nd  2016 I was supposed to take part as a speaker to the international conference  The EU and member states: sharing the same political orbit? meant to present the results of a unique EU 28 project called “Building Bridges between National Perspectives on the EU“.

Ongoing tensions around the European project have been accompanied by what could be described a popular disaffection towards European Union. Other elements have also created a divide between the EU and its citizens, revolving around the idea of solidarity: the Eurozone crisis, the refugee and Schengen crisis, the looming threat of a “Brexit”, which all represent at their heart differing views about a common future for Europe. What is the role of the institutions in reflecting and enacting these preferences and how to bridge contrasted national perspectives to better legitimise the EU in the eyes of the citizens?

The day was supposed to be a normal one as every speaker in the event was ready to share his/her views on the topics above. Yet what was supposed to be a full of ideas event with a numerous audience turned step by step into something else as the news regarding the mayhem came to our conference room. The city was under attack and everything went into lock-down.

More and more we realize that talking about terror attacks in the large cities of the Western world have become the new normal. And that where we try to build bridges other try to create walls of separation and ditches of desolation. The city we have become familiar was the victim of a clash between civility and disorder, between democracy and barbary, between future and past as all around us confused people were trying to make a sense from what has happening.

On September 11th 2001 I hadn’t fully grasp then the meaning of those attacks. I believed then that it would be an isolated incident and nothing of a sort would ever happen. Yet there I was, more than a decade later, in the proximity of a similar conflict area, in a city that hadn’t known so far the tragedy of bombing, a city (our Union capital) that houses our best hope for peace that we were able to produce after WWII.

As the tragedy unraveled in front of our eyes I realized that we have gone from confusion to sorrow for the lost lives. From sorrow to a feeling of frustration – how could that happened a few months after the city had undergone a serious security operation? What went wrong?

It was somehow a feeling of the inevitability of an attack even though back home I was joking that the EU institutions were simply so boring and complex that they were not interesting enough to attack, even for die-hard terrorists.

Moreover it was the feeling that we would just have to get used to live on a continuous lock down – another thing that would complicate a modern life already too complex. All that while scrutinizing our neighbors on the metro or on the street.

But then, in the end, after having filtered the enormous online informational tsunami and put the things in order I realized that not everything was lost, that we must go on and do our jobs and live as normal as possible lives, even if we could have been in the right place at the wrong time. As Winston Churchill so eloquently put it: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

So for me, and most likely for my colleagues, we just needed something to work on. And the conference went on with utmost professionalism. Because even if we must take useless risks we must not change our lives, and we must not abandon our habits.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
–Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship In A Republic

This is not the end of Europe as we know it, but only a tragic episode. More about the event and the subsequent research results later on.