The sight of Notre Dame burning down on Monday evening saddened everyone, religious or agnostic alike. Notre Dame is rightly seen as more than a Cathedral in the French capital. It evokes more than just the famous film. The widespread sadness proved that people all around Europe consider Notre Dame a part of our common European culture and an important symbol at times of doubt and question marks over the future of Europe. The solidarity expressed is in a sense a social capital to build upon, following the polls showing that there is a majority of Europeans who have a positive view on the common project.
The flames destroyed a roof and parts of a building, but not the faith of those who have it. The building is solid, but weakened and for this reason what happened reflects the state of Europe. What we have achieved is fragile indeed. However, the lack of clarity over the exact causes of the fire marks is where it differs from the state of the union. The fire in the European House broke out when in the aftermath of the crisis social consolidation was put aside and the focus was set blindly on fiscal and financial consolidation. The effects of the crisis led to a further crisis, this time social rather than financial. Competiveness was no longer an indicator for the economy and its private actors, but a means of undermining social rights in the Member States by making them compete with each other. The fire is burning today because of the neglected social question and even the best model of social partnership and social dialogue such as in Nordic countries is not sufficient protection against the fires set by nationalists demagogues who are successful in elections, like recently in Finland.
The most disgusting aspect of this sad chapter in Notre Dame’s history is happening on social media. Fake news and conspiracy theories about who started the fire and why spread fast. It is sadly reminiscent of the Nazis who accused the Bulgarian communist Dimitrov of having lit the fire at the German Reichstag in 1933. The ideological fire is much more difficult to contain than the physical one and it highlights much more strongly the unsocial side of the so-called social media.
The roof has burnt in Paris, but the foundations are there and in this sense there is need to stabilise the foundations (European social model) and the towers (European Pillar of Social Rights). It will take time in both cases. And it needs more than fire fighters and private tax exempted donors.
Notre Dame, notre drame, notre Europe! More than a sign, it is rather a moment of realisation about the vulnerability that it showcased – whether you have faith or not. For those who believe in Easter and for the others who participate – or not – in the Easter marches: Peace is more than the absence of war and Peace starts within our societies! Let’s continue to fight the flames of hate, division and ignorance. There is still need for Aufklärung, Lumières and enlightenment! And as “my heroe” Willy Brandt, the internationalist, said: "Nothing happens automatically. And only few things last. Therefore — be mindful of your strength, and of the fact that every era wants its own answers, and you have to be up to its speed in order to be able to do good."