Europe must face up to its destiny


When reason gives way to emotion and relies on fear.


The handling of matters relating to immigration, terrorism and the free movement of people within the EU are deeply interconnected. In the prevailing highly emotional climate, this often leads to proposing measures that are not necessarily adapted to the purpose but are dictated either by the well-meaning aim of reassuring the population or the more doubtful objective of currying favour with the elector.


Thus, the proposals concerning the reinstatement of border controls within the EU, as a partial answer to combat terrorist attacks, are based on arguments that appear to reflect simple common sense: for instance, the fact that Belgium served as a remote logistical base for the November 13th Paris carnage or that some countries, parties to the Schengen agreements, are unable to control their exterior borders, facilitating the infiltration and operations of agents coming (or returning) from abroad.


If reinforcing security on the exterior borders of the Union has become a priority in fighting terrorism and managing immigration flows, reinstating interior border controls is by no means an appropriate answer.


The response to managing immigration flows must first and foremost address its causes. Whatever the difficulties of coming to a common position, it should be clear that failing such an unanimous agreement, it will be impossible to secure the endorsement of the population at large, leaving it up to each government to implement measures to satisfy its own electorate. Indeed, it is only the perspective of resolving the basic conflicts that will create the hope of inversing the flows of refugees, suggesting thereby a credible horizon for solving the refugee problem. This implies accepting the need for a fully-fledged military intervention against the Islamic State, to be coordinated between all stakeholders. Within this coalition, the EU has a specific role being – together with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – the main destination of people displaced by the war. The priority aims should include: the destruction of the I.S. and a transitional political settlement in Syria so as to allow the safe return of the great majority of refugees.


In addition, it should be possible to build on a successful intervention to address constructively other conflicts that have plagued the region for nearly a century: the conflicts between Israel and Palestine or opposing Turkey to the Kurds; the dire consequences on the arbitrary carving out of territories by the colonial powers during the 20th century (Sykes- Picot, Balfour, etc.). In addition, there might be some hope of reinstating a climate of religious tolerance throughout the region which, despite numerous periods of unrest, allowed local as well as conquering populations to coexist there, more or less pacifically, during several millennia.


Such a context should encourage the EU to elaborate a “Common Immigration Policy” within which it would strive to manage the temporary influx of refugees. In addition to providing shelter, the burden of policing of the external borders as well as the overall costs should be shared fairly between Member States. The criteria for burden sharing should take account of the situation of each member but none of them should benefit from derogations exempting them from participating in the common effort.


The surveillance of the external borders should be entrusted to a “European Security Agency”. Its operations should be coordinated with a “European Intelligence Agency” whose reach should cover the entire EU. This architecture would be completed by the creation of a dedicated Chamber of the European Court of Justice, competent to judge terrorist acts committed within the EU, in order to ensure the uniform treatment of terrorist acts.


In parallel, a European Intervention Force should be created to operate within the framework of NATO and the anti I.S. coalition. This structure should allow the incorporation, the arming and training of Special Syrian Forces (on the pattern of allied units incorporated in the British army during WWII) composed of volunteers selected among the refugees willing to take part in pacifying their country and able to play an important peacekeeping role in a post conflict Syria.


Such a roadmap would contribute to reassure Europeans of the temporary nature of the influx of refugees, underlying the latter’s willingness to participate in their country’s reconstruction instead of seeking permanent asylum in Europe. Despite, the high cost of all these measures, they would be significantly lower than the adverse financial impact over the medium term of inwardly looking policies by the Member States which would inexorably lead to the implosion of the EU. Indeed, reinstating internal border controls would require well trained personnel equipped with significant logistical and I.T. capabilities. Their introduction would have secondary effects, the cost and impact of which should not be underestimated on the economies of each country not to mention the necessary restrictions in exercise of taken for granted freedoms that would be disproportionate to the aims pursued.


Thus, only controls on the scale of those in place at the US borders, established at each of the 267 crossings between Belgium and France, might have had a chance of intercepting the perpetrators of the November 13th attacks and only on the premise that information had been adequately circulating between the services ahead of time! In addition, considering that most terrorists were European nationals, one can imagine that they would only be subjected to cursory checks, similar to those of US citizens returning from abroad. It is interesting to note that in the immediate aftermath of the November 13th attacks,  a legislative proposal has been tabled in the US Congress aiming at suspending the visa free travel privileges granted to EU citizens if their governments do not agree to provide additional personal data to the US authorities.


Furthermore, policing the traffic of goods would entail implementing more broadly the type of controls existing prior to boarding the Channel Tunnel shuttles. It would impose significant economic costs and be of doubtful efficiency in light of the intensity of the traffic within the single market: for example, the transit of 60% of German imports, which move through the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam, would see their transit seriously impaired.


The often heard argument that all used to work smoothly prior to the opening of the intra-European borders is fallacious: In the years 1960-90, there were no terrorist threats and the surveillance of the Union’s eastern land borders was graciously provided by the Soviet Union and its satellites. When threats surfaced, they retained initially a largely national character (Red Brigades, Baader Meinhof Band, IRA, ETA or Brabant killers).


At present the targets are in the sights of both external and internal groups. They need to be countered by coordinating measures that are appropriate for each of these challenges. For the external challenges the EU could take inspiration from the American model which, despite the flaws exposed by the September 11 attacks, seem to provide adequate protection without impairing the free movement of people and merchandises within the 50 federal States. The internal threat, on the other hand, will hardly be reduced by reinstating intra-European borders. The creation of “federal terrorist offense” judged by the ad hoc ECJ Chamber, could simplify judicial proceedings; this might contribute to efforts of dissuasion and reduce the feeling of impunity fostered by the existence of porous internal barriers and abetted by the fragmentation of national legislations and individual counter terrorist measures.

The increasing awareness that the EU’s future is tributary to the answers that will be given to these momentous geopolitical challenges should be conducive to taking decisions that, in a calmer environment, would have been considered as totally out of reach. The alternative to a European response to the management of the immigration and terrorist threats is clearly the dismemberment of the Union, risk against which Michel Barnier, special adviser to President Juncker on defence, has very recently called attention. It would entail not only the re-appropriation by each Member State of its full sovereignty but also of its exclusive responsibility to provide for the security of its citizens; it is quite obvious that several States would be incapable of assuming alone such obligations.


It is therefore, of the greatest importance to inform the population of the consequences over time of the EU’s dismemberment. As the likelihood of such a scenario gained credibility, the threat of a new severe financial crisis would raise its ugly head, enticing operators to adopt defensive measures which, by a self-fulfilling mechanism, would accelerate its occurrence. Thus European citizens would be tempted to transfer or withdraw significant funds from their banks while foreign investors would seek protection by liquidating euro denominated assets, this movement being further amplified by speculators riding the trend. The capacity of the ECB to ensure the liquidity of the banking system would be rapidly challenged, leading – as was finally the case in Greece – to the introduction of intra/extra Eurozone wide exchange controls, thus crystallising the de facto implosion of the single currency.


There would be great uncertainty as to the political consequences of a renewed financial and economic crisis of unprecedented scale that would be superimposed in Europe on the still unresolved crisis initiated in 2007; it is very likely to create favourable conditions for bringing to power populist and xenophobic parties that are already benefitting from increasing popularity in several Member States.


Faced with their predictable incapacity to put forward credible answers, the temptation to designate an EU in decomposition as responsible would become irresistible, leading, as in the worst periods of the 1930’s, to the designation of scapegoats:  immigrant populations, whether they had or not acquired the nationality of their new homelands, would be the ideal targets. One should only recall the fate reserved by the Vichy government to the Jews in France, where the subtle distinction between foreign and French Jews lasted only as long as the deportation of the former had not been completed.


However, the number of “foreigners” who have settled in Europe is considerably higher than those comprising pre-war minorities. They are also, on average, distinctly less well integrated, be they initially “economic” immigrants wooed to compensate for demographic deficiencies following the two world wars or, later, by the hope of improved living conditions or again, more recently, “refugees” fleeing devastated war zones. It is therefore futile to blame past inadequate policies which have created the current situation. In the face of this reality, any attempt to stigmatise such a significant segment of the population can only lead to civil war and/or the emergence of repressive totalitarian regimes of the worse kind. Such a feud would be all the more deadly that the unavoidable amalgam of all those designated as “foreigners” would accelerate the radicalisation of large portions of the population whose successful integration should not normally have created the slightest problem.


Confronted with the current urgency, Europe has a radical choice between two alternatives:


Either, bowing to short term expediency by attempting to placate a rattled public opinion and kowtowing to their fears by implementing measures that lead in the end to the implosion of the EU. Such an option is bound to severely compromise the opportunities of future generations.

Or, manifesting the necessary political will to build a political, economic and social European Union, capable of assuming its own defence and holding its own on the world stage. Only then will it be possible to protect our values, culture and aspirations.


The latter choice requires to concentrate efforts on reaching priority objectives meaning the preservation of the integrity of the EU through common immigration and defence policies and providing the commensurate political and financial means (Europe remains the richest geographical area of the world!). It also commands to postpone dealing with some emblematic but less urgent tasks such as completing EMU or the negotiations over “Brexit”, both of which would be, in any case, without object in the event of the EU’s demise.


Success can only be achieved if there is an important concerted effort to inform and educate public opinion carried out by all responsible leaders in each of their areas of competence.


Whatever path is chosen, the population will be confronted to significant sacrifices but, as is always the case, the choice of courage will turn out to be infinitely the less painful one.


Brussels, December 5th 2015


Paul N. Goldschmidt

Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.




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