I have just been to a vigil in Trafalgar Square for the victims of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris. We Londoners know about terrorist attacks – the 7/7 murders, and before that the IRA – so I felt the need to attend to show solidarity with Parisians as well as to commemorate the victims.
First I went to the river to see the London Eye in the colours of Le Tricolor. Then I walked to Trafalgar Square, where the National Gallery was also red, white and blue. So were the square’s fountains. Made me feel that my city had done well in showing that we share the grief of Paris.
I’ve seen tweets today listed the nationalities of the victims. Why is this relevant? They were all human beings. I also saw a tweet from a UKIP figure saying, in effect, ‘look what happens when you allow immigration’. This was not only disgusting political point scoring; it was also wrong. Whether the UK stays in or leaves the EU, there will be future terrorist attacks.
However, European integration is very relevant to the issue of war and peace. Trafalgar Square is named after a victory by the British over the French. To me, holding the vigil there was grounds for optimism. The French were our enemies for many centuries. Now they are our friends. It is possible to overcome hatred and enmity. Progress is possible.
The EU has ended centuries of war between European countries. NATO has contributed as well, but the economic integration and economic growth that have followed the Treaty of Rome have helped keep the peace. EU vice-president Frans Timmermans put this starkly but accurately in a speech yesterday (before the Paris attacks):
“I believe in European cooperation, not because there is no alternative. There is an alternative to everything. I believe in European cooperation because I have seen all the other forms that have been tried to help European peoples get along better during history. And with the exception of this one, all the other forms led to war. So let’s stick to this one.”
European co-operation is necessary to prevent war. So is climate action. I am going to Paris next month to give talks at fringe events of the climate summit. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said today that the summit will go ahead. He promised that security will be tightened up – though as the US and Chinese presidents are attending I guess it was already pretty tight. I will go because the summit is important, and because I am not afraid of the terrorists. After all, the next terrorist attack is as likely to be in London as in Paris. We are all in this together.