Tuesday

10th Dec 2019

Opinion

Paris attacks merit EU security review

  • Syrian refugees are not to blame for lackadaisical implementation of the Prum Decision (Photo: EU's attempts)

There’s no way to say it differently: the deadly Paris attacks are not just the result of the West’s military operations in the Middle East or the failures to properly integrate the restive Muslim European minority (depends on which side of the aisle you are), but also the failure of member states to hash out European-level policies to secure their external borders.

Whether through an ill-advised attachment to national sovereignty or whether through sheer shortsightedness, European leaders have stunted the development of the Schengen area.

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The Frontex border agency, responsible for securing the external frontiers of the EU cannot operate a credible EU border police patrol since it depends on a yearly budget of €114 million (its American counterpart has some $10 billion at its disposal), while the Schengen Information System (SIS) that allows for information exchange between European law enforcement agencies is woefully inadequate.

Even if the perpetrators were known to counter-terrorist police, they were able to move freely across the continent without ringing alarm bells.

The mayor of Molenbeek, a district in Brussels, had received a terror suspect list featuring three of the Paris terrorists one month before the attack, but lacked the institutional framework to share it with other member states.

Hours after being identified as having participated in the attacks, Saleh Abdeslam was questioned by police on the Belgian border and then released.

Treating the Paris attacks (executed, as we now know, mostly by EU nationals) as nothing more than a foreign policy problem and scapegoating Syrian refugees is bound to miss the mark.

The attacks were, above all, an internal problem.

For example, Syrian refugees are not to blame for the lackadaisical implementation and ratification of the Prum Decision, the framework that allows member states to search each other’s DNA analysis files, fingerprint identification systems, and vehicle registration data bases.

Sometimes referred to as Schengen III, the document was signed in 2005 by seven European states and should have been implemented fully by all member states by August 2011.

At the time of this writing, only 22 states agreed on DNA exchanges, 18 on fingerprint sharing, and 19 on vehicle registration pooling. Notably, the UK secured an opt-out on grounds of protecting its sovereignty and privacy.

Security loggerheads

It’s no wonder then that national security services have been at loggerheads with each other, their cooperation stifled either by reluctant governments or by the lack of proper policy tools.

Since terrorism is through its essence a cross-border phenomenon, the security response has to be nimble as well and be able to seep through national borders.

It wasn’t a Syrian refugee who repeatedly shot down the idea of a European intelligence agency - most recently it was the French interior minister who scoffed at the idea, floated by home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Another problem which hasn’t been addressed is the freezing of terrorist assets and the clamping down on terrorist financing.

No measures have been taken towards halting the trade of antiquities, a hallmark of ISIS, or towards cracking down on tobacco smuggling, which is responsible for an estimated 20 percent of all terrorist funds.

In particular, profits from the illicit tobacco trade spur other criminal activities, including drug, oil, and human trafficking, making tobacco smuggling “a lucrative and widespread” practice among terrorist organizations.

These issues should be included in a revised version of the April European Agenda on Security, when the standing committee on internal security (Cosi) meets in December.

Restoring trust in Schengen is well within the realm of the possible. Unfortunately, the meeting of justice and interior ministers of 20 November disappointed through its apathetic outcome.

True, they vowed to move more quickly toward sharing the details of passengers flying in and out of Europe, upgraded the checks on the Schengen area and agreed on enhanced data sharing.

Federal-type action needed

But these were already in the works and are more of the same piecemeal approach instead of the bold, federal-level actions needed.

Even if French president Francois Hollande activated for the first time ever the mutual defence clause of the EU treaty (article 42.7 of the Treaty of the European Union), EU officials believe it will have little concrete impact.

Admittedly, speking of policy failures is less interesting to voters than playing the nationalistic and xenophobic card to heap blame on Syrian refugees for the continent’s ills.

Though terrorism will never be completely eliminated, it can be contained through a sensible mix of policies which strike a good balance between collective security and individual freedoms.

Allowing for greater intelligence sharing, implementing the Prum directive, creating a truly effective European border police force and security service, raising the bar in the screening of people moving in and out of Europe, and cutting off the way terrorists fund their agendas, are all measures that can save Schengen and move forward European integration.

Maryla Krol is a research assistant with an economic think tank based in Geneva

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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