President Hollande has introduced a three-months state of emergency and proposes to change the French Constitution to reinforce counter-terrorism measures. But will more securitization prove efficient in preventing further terror attacks?
A comment by Sophie Pornschlegel
The day after the barbaric attacks in the 11th arrondissement and at the Stade de France, President Hollande declared: “What happened yesterday in Paris and in Saint Denis is an act of war and this country needs to make the right decisions to fight this war.” The decisions that he meant included a three-month state of emergency (house arrests, increased search powers, electronic tagging, banning certain groups) and a closure of borders. He also announced the creation of 5,000 more jobs in the police and gendarmerie, 2,500 more in the legal system, and a halt in reductions of personnel in the armed forces.
The implicit assumptions of the “Patriot Act à la française”
Hollande’s “law and order” response to terror is based on two assumptions. The first one is that Nation-States are able to protect their citizens and enforce national security against a transnational threat. The second one is that Europe, more particularly the Schengen regime, has not been able to provide efficient border protection.
In addition, the measures taken imply that more surveillance will create more protection, and that French citizens consequently need to accept a curtailing of individual liberties for the sake of national security. They should moreover convey that military measures are necessary to fight “the evil”, namely terrorists who enter our states “from the outside”. A flawed view, as most terrorists involved in the Paris attacks were holding French passports.
The immediate political repercussions of the Paris attacks
Hollande’s drastic measures constitute emotional responses to a tragedy which shook the French nation as few before had. The cruel attacks, only months after Charlie Hebdo, have prompted a longing for national unity in both public and private discourse. In turn, they have increased anxiety within the French population, and they have led to outbursts of anti-Muslim rhetoric. This stands in stark contrast to the perception of many French that like to describe their country as a “terre d’accueil”. Whether British multiculturalism or French “politique d’intégration”, terrorists seem to breed rather independently of different immigration policies.
The Paris attacks have immediately borne significant political repercussions. Three weeks after the attacks, the extreme-right Front National of Marine Le Pen won 6 of the 13 regions in the regional elections in the “premier tour”. And even though the much-touted “Republican front” against the FN held in the second round, Hollande’s discourse about national security was clearly not sufficient to regain voters’ trust. He continues to be the most unpopular president of the 5th Republic, mostly due to high unemployment rates and a slumping economy. The power vacuum he created has opened up a vast space for the anti-Muslim, populist, and security-obsessed rhetoric of Marine Le Pen.
Lessons to be drawn for the EU: cooperation instead of securitization
Let’s try and look at the positives rather than the negatives, though. At European level, the terror attacks have triggered better cooperation between security agencies to dismantle transnational terror networks, which act as the carriers of radicalization. Further strengthening cooperation at European level is and will remain crucial. Preferably, such cooperation should include revamped information-sharing between interior ministries and security services. Reinforcing the EU’s hitherto rather meagre competences in the area of home and justice should therefore be a lesson to be drawn.
All European countries are equally threatened by terror groups whose activities obviously do not grind to a halt at national borders. An anti-terrorism body at EU level could, for instance, coordinate the groundwork of police and secret services. This could also include EU-wide cooperation in the field of intelligence and military.
Finally, terrorists had been able to cross a number of internal European borders without being arrested, thus leading to Hollande’s decision to close French borders immediately after the attacks. However, if Schengen really is at the brink of collapse, it is only because Member States failed to establish a comprehensive agreement in the first place. The current circumstances (refugee crisis plus terror attacks) should provide enough momentum for Member States to secure external borders effectively and to fix the Schengen agreement altogether. This, however, would require Member States to make concessions for the sake of the greater good. It remains to be seen whether the Commission’s efforts to resuscitate Schengen will ultimately prove successful.
A borderless response to borderless terror
Measures taken in the light of terror seem to have borne more negative than positive effects. The French state of emergency threatens democratic principles. Terrorists have achieved a symbolic victory as anxiety spreads across the French population and triggers a populist backlash. And above all, securitization fails to address the main issue at stake which is protecting citizens in Europe. In the end, the sole appropriate and comprehensive response to the borderless threat that is Islamist terror will consist in strengthened cooperation in a borderless Europe.
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Bildquelle: Bildquelle: “Brandenburg Gate in French flag colours after November 2015 Paris attack” von Sandro Schroeder, Flickr: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brandenburg_Gate_in_French_flag_colours_after_Paris_attack_(23028317551).jpg. Lizensiert unter Creative Commons license 2.0: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en.