Two weeks after the Paris attacks Europe is still facing the consequences of it. The most threatened countries tightened the security measures, while in some countries there were several police actions to prevent new potential attacks. It seems anyway that this event was a woke up call for the countries, now we just need to wait how long they will be awake. Beside the “national” wake up, some countries would like to see that Europe would wake up too and they are seeking some EU law changes. Together with a fast track adoption of EU legislation regarding the exchange of PNR data, some countries (like Spain and France) are calling for a change of Schengen rules. As always, Europe is the best scapegoat for someones own errors.
As usual EU countries reacted to the risks in different ways, which is normal as all countries are not facing the same risk. In this post I won’t go into details (you can check the EurActiv article where these action are summarized), I will just say that the main measures go from higher control on the streets (specially in France, Belgium, Italy), prevention of travel to war zones (France), also with seizing ID documents (Germany) or even with stripping the nationality (Belgium) to the increase of powers of intelligence agencies (United Kingdom, Denmark).
The EU also woke up through its countries or (to be more exact) through the European Council. During its address to the plenary in Strasbourg, Donald Tusk urged the MEPs to pass the deadlock on PNR legislation which will create a common EU register of such data. Such registers already exist in the USA (to whom the EU is already providing such data, based on a bilateral agreement) and in some EU countries (in the United Kingdom among others).
Beside the adoption of rules permitting PNR data exchange (in fact the airlines already collect these data but they don’t transfer them to national authorities), some countries requested also to change the Schengen rules, to allow identity checks on the internal borders of the EU.
WHAT IS SCHENGEN?
The people usually mix Schengen with the concept of free movement of persons within the EU. However, this are two different things, though very linked to each other. The freedom of movement is given to all EU nationals and it allows them to freely move, work and live within the EU (about it I already wrote here). Regarding Schengen we could say that it represents an upgrade of this concept, as it allows people to travel within the Schengen area (that doesn’t cover all EU countries) without the need to stop at border checkpoints. To free movement are entitled also the citizens of the EU countries that are not part of the area (United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia) but they need to identify themselves when entering the Schengen area.
However, even if the internal border checks are abolished, this doesn’t mean that countries can’t undertake other controls. The national authorities can still proceed with checks on their territory (also on border areas), however such controls can’t be systematic. Moreover, in case of security risks, countries can temporary reintroduce (for a maximum of 30 days) border controls.
To allow the “check less” movement within the Schengen area, controls of everyone who enters or leaves this area has to be done on the external borders of the area. To support this work, there is the Schengen Information System (SIS) that contains the data of the persons that could be involved in a criminal act. This system is accessible not just to the border authorities but also to other national authorities involved in crime prevention (police, judicial authorities etc.)
IS SCHENGEN REALLY THE PROBLEM …
Would the reintroducing of border checks on the internal borders really strengthen security or allow a better fight against terrorism? In the opinion of the Schengen opponents yes. Among them there is also Marine Le Pen who, during last week’s EP plenary session in Strasbourg said, that for an efficient fight against terrorism a country needs to have the control over its borders. Moreover she also claimed that the fact, that a suspect in the Paris attacks escaped to Syria through Spain and Turkey, showed the failure of Schengen.
If I skip the fact that the Paris attackers were French citizens, already known to French authorities, I can say that even if there would be checks on the French borders, this attack couldn’t be prevented. I can however agree with the conclusion that it could prevent the escape of a suspect. But I still have doubts about it. Why? If the French authorities would issue an alarm and put it into the Schengen Information System, any border authority on the external border could stop this person. Therefore, the fault was on the French side and a control on its own borders wouldn’t make a change. It would help only if the persons performing this controls are provided with the information who are they looking for.
… OR CAN IT BE THE SOLUTION?
The attacks in Paris reminded us that Europe is threatened. Today probably more than anytime before. Whoever thinks that a single country can efficiently fight against terrorism is very naive. The countries should step together, not only symbolically (as it happened in Paris) but also practically.
“The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, /…/” says article 3(2) of the Treaty of the EU. Its “twin”, the Treaty on the functioning of the EU, in article 4 states that this falls under the “shared area of competence”. It could be the time therefore that the countries decide to give the Union more powers in this area. I think that is in the interest of all us Europeans to feel safe on our continent and to live our lives peacefully and normally.
Instead of threatening with the abolition of something that connects and gives us a feeling of European affiliation (Schengen), the countries have to pass over the mistrust they may still have and share their intelligence data. I am not saying that national intelligence agencies should be closed, but they should be put together under EU leadership. As the attacks in Paris have shown intelligence data existed, but the countries were not able (or didn’t want) to use and share them. Beside the common preventive work with the exchange of intelligence data, I think that is also time to create a common EU police, a kind of Europol 2.0, to fight the biggest criminal offenses (including terrorism). This police force should have its own staff (police officers) and should have the jurisdiction to conduct investigations and arrest criminals involved in high-profile cross-border crimes. These are just two ideas that should be taken into consideration and be implemented.
During the last years some people have been saying that the EU lost its road, its “raison d’être”. But we should just think why the EU was created – to provide peace and stability on a continent that in the past too much times fought with itself or among itself. Europe has now to stick together, forget its own conflicts brought up by the crisis and act together to protect its citizens. Nothing more, nothing less.