The very title of the Press release which the extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council of the European Union issued after its 20 November meeting, is quite indicative of the multiple fractures that the Union suffers after the terrorist attacks, which took place in Paris on 13 November 2015. The title reads as follows: “Conclusions of the Council of the EU and of the Member States meeting within the Council on Counter-Terrorism“. For the unsuspecting reader this is a completely incomprehensible phrase. Obviously it means that there was a meeting within the…meeting, but what kind of EU Council was that, having a hidden group within it, like a Russian matryoshka doll?
Understandably, the meeting within the meeting involved the EU member states which participate in the ‘Schengen Agreement’, a landmark European achievement, which created a huge borderless area in the Old Continent. Again, the unsuspecting reader should have known that there are EU member states which do not participate in this pact (Britain and Ireland chose not to, while Bulgaria and Romania applied but were rejected). There are also other European countries, non EU members, which participate in it (Norway and Iceland).
Out goes Schengen
If the informed reader though pushes aside the usual Brussels verbalism, what is left of the “Conclusions of the Council of the EU and of the Member States meeting within the Council on Counter-Terrorism”, is that the ‘Schengen Agreement’ may be considered as a thing of the past. Mind you, this Agreement, which created Europe’s borderless space, is the most tangible attainment of the entire EU project that the unsuspecting Europeans can see before their eyes, because it makes their everyday lives easier. The average European enjoys going about the Schengen space for business or pleasure, without been obliged to hold a passport or have their suitcases inspected by customs officers.
Last week, during this matryoshka EU Council, the 24 EU member states which participate in the ‘Schengen Area’ decided that the constitutional part of this treaty, the ‘Borders Code’, has to change. As expected, in view of the unseen before terror predicament which sweeps mainland Europe, Schengen won’t be a freer space. It would rather change for the worse, introducing again some kind of border controls and checks for everybody. The details will be decided before the end of the year.
Blame the refugees
Unfortunately, despite the official Brussels statements that the terrorism mess should not be related to the refugee problem, the most pertinent EU body, the Home Affairs Council decided that it does. It is as if Europe bends before the most inward looking and xenophobic political forces. Prominent amongst them are the extreme right political parties, which have taken to the rooftops against the immigrants after the Paris tragedy. The populist extreme right wingers ‘sell’ the readymade idea, that the thousands of the destitute refugees are to blame for the terror which engulfs Europe.
Of course those extreme rightwing political formations overlook the fact that the terrorists’ hand is armed by the complete political, economic and social annihilation of entire geographical regions in the Middle East and beyond in Asia and in large parts of north and central Africa. In reality the same anti-refugee sentiment prevails in the Brussels structures, despite the official pledges that terror and immigration are two distinct and separate issues. If the EU decision makers believed that, then why did last week’s Home Affairs Council actually decide to block the refugee flows?
Fighting terrorism in EU’s borders
In reality, this is exactly what the EU home Affairs and Justice Ministers did on 20 November, in order to confront terrorism. Their core decision was to “strengthen the control at the external borders which are most exposed, in particular by deploying, when the situation so requires, rapid border intervention teams (RABITs) and police officers in order to ensure systematic screening and security checks…and… update the Frontex Regulation, a solid legal basis for the contribution of Frontex to the fight against terrorism and organized crime”.
As for the swift revision of the ‘Schengen Borders Code’, it may soon institutionalize the internal borders controls and checks that some EU member states have now provisionally introduced. In short, the terrorism issue is being confronted by the EU and the national authorities through extra measures to stem, if not stop, the refugee flows. Not to say anything about the militarization and the de-democratization of everyday life in the big European cities.
Pressing the Balkans again
Presently Germany, France and many more EU countries have closed their borders. With a ‘back to back’ effect the pressure is now being transmitted to Greece and Italy, the two countries the refugees choose to target as their first step, in order to enter the European Union. With core EU countries having now practically blocked the entry of refuges, the pressure is transmitted to the Balkan corridor countries.
Serbia announced that it now let pass refugees holding only Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi passports, turning everybody else back to Greece including people without identification papers. This arrangement may soon be extended to refugees holding passports of those three countries. Already there is a deadlock in the northern Greek borders where thousands of refugees are blocked not being able to continue their trip to where they want to go, which is mainly Germany.
If all that does not constitute solid evidence of a Europe having suffered multiple fractures after the Paris tragedy, then words have lost their meaning. It’s also evident that the Brussels and the national authorities are trying to confront one problem, with medicines directed to attack the other.