Paris attacks: What it means for Schengen, EU borders and security

Alleged mastermind of Paris attacks Abdelhamid Abaaoud moved to Syria and back, he travelled to Germany, from Belgium to France. If we look at counterterrorism measures do you think that we should also rethink how Schengen free movement zone is working, would you suggest some changes on external and internal borders? Read few comments.

Edwin BakkerProfessor, Director Centre for Terrorism & Counter Terrorism, Leiden University

I think for these kind of criminals it does not make much difference if there is border control or not. Moreover, it is (economically) impossible to stop and control all border crossings, at all times for all people. And do not forget: he also managed to cross the borders of Syria, (probably) Turkey, probably Greece or Bulgaria, The Balkan countries and or Hungary. Apparently all the barbed wire, guards, patrols etc did not stop him. Worse, the fact he was on a wanted persons list could not lead to an arrest. I would rather invest in intelligence capacity, including in Syria, Iraq and the neighboring countries to find and neutralize these people there instead of looking for the needle in the hay stack in Europe.

Andrew Geddes, Professor, Department of Politics, Co-Director, Social Sciences Migration Research Group, University of Sheffield

The Paris attacks will almost certainly lead to a toughening of border controls in the EU. Ministers will be discussing these changes. There will almost certainly be changes to the rules governing access to the Schengen area. This will apply to EU citizens who at the moment face only a cursory check in accordance with the Schengen borders code. In future it seems very likely that there will be a more systematic check and also this will involve checking names against wanted lists such as those of suspected terrorists. It’s also likely that there will be increased checks for non-EU citizens entering the EU as well as for EU members outside of the Schengen area such as the UK. So, overall within the Schengen area I would expect to see a much stronger focus on sharing of information and in exceptional circumstances suspension of Schengen measures. At Schengen’s external borders there will be more systematic controls both for EU citizens and non-EU citizens trying to enter the Schengen zone.

Overall, the dilemma is the balance between liberty and security. These measures clearly move the Schengen area more in the direction of security and constraints or, at least more controls, on the right to free movement for EU citizens as well as tougher border controls for non-EU citizens.

Gilbert RamsayLecturer in International Relations, Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St Andrews

The appropriate response to terrorism is almost always to do nothing. Why? The question to ask after any terrorist attack is this: did this attack tell us something we didn’t know about risk before the attack took place? In this case, the answer is almost definitely no. It is no surprise that the terrorists came from Belgium. Belgium has a longstanding radicalisation problem. It is no surprise that the attacks took place. Everybody has known for a long time that it was a matter of when, not if IS would do something like this. Counterterrorism measures were working to counteract exactly this sort of scenario two weeks ago, and one month ago and three months ago. If it didn’t seem a good idea to close Schengen borders then, why would it seem a good idea now?

Implementing special responses as a result of any given terrorist attack only ever makes sense if the attack provides new information on a security hazard. For example, it was appropriate after 9/11 to change some rules on aviation security, such as reinforcing cockpit doors. After the ‘liquid bomb’ plot, restrictions on liquids may have been warranted. The bombing of Metrojet Flight 9268 may also warrant certain specific new measures.

Any other responses to terrorist attacks beyond purely practical measures specific to the new information the attack provides are inherently irrational and opportunistic. This does not mean, ipso facto, that they are wrong. It may be that a terrorist attack provides political cover for implementing policies that are in fact justified – but only if the policies are independently justified.

Now to the present situation. Freedom of movement is a fundamental principle of the EU, even if the borderless Schengen area were not to exist. Implementing passport checks at the border between, say, France and Belgium would only be a relatively minor inconvenience to terrorists in possession of valid passports. All it represents is one more layer of possible surveillance or a very imprecise kind. It may be, in the short term, that France is justified in restoring passport checks on a temporary basis, as the Schengen agreement clearly stipulates that it is allowed to. But in the longer term the idea that France or any other country can make itself more secure by walling itself in is very unlikely to be the case. What is needed is better intelligence cooperation across Europe.

The problem here is that measures leading in the direction of a single European police force or a single European intelligence agency will understandably face stiff opposition so long as the EU is a relatively unaccountable body with a distinct democratic deficit.

Sam MullinsProfessor of Counterterrorism, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

The fact that terrorists and other criminals are able to exploit the freedom of movement offered by the Schengen zone is certainly a problem, although it is not new. I think what the Paris attacks have really highlighted are the potential consequences involved, which are now forcing us to yet again rethink the balance between civil liberties and security. On the one hand, there are things which can be done, such as ensuring access to Passenger Name Record information, ability to check Advanced Passenger Information against terrorism databases in real-time, improved ability to check for potentially fraudulent passports, enhanced monitoring of EU citizens’ travel and introduction of additional checkpoints, for example. On the other hand, all of these things also come at a cost, it is impossible to be 100% secure and hardening of one target or opportunity often simply displaces terrorist or criminal activity. There is certainly need to assess current capabilities and potential gaps in security, but border controls are only one aspect of this and it’s important to avoid knee-jerk reactions. Without knowing exactly how this particular group was able to travel and prepare for this attack undetected, it’s difficult to say what steps need to be taken to remedy the situation. However, a fundamental, perennial challenge in counter-terrorism is the sharing of information between relevant agencies, both nationally and internationally. This was highlighted after 9/11 and continues to be a challenge today. Arguably, this is a more important issue than border controls and should certainly be assessed in this case to see whether there were any missed opportunities that might have allowed earlier discovery of the plot. Ultimately, there needs to be an in-depth, independent inquiry to assess what exactly went wrong. Only then can the relevant authorities really come up with effective solutions for the future.

Christian KaunertProfessor of International Politics, Director of the European Institute for Security and Justice, University of Dundee

If we look at the terrorist events the first thing to tackle is intelligence cooperation (also regarding border security). What we have seen with most recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium in the last few years is that they generally involved people who were known to the police and/or intelligence services, but were considered to represent at most a low level terrorist threat. It was not foreseen that their dangerosity would raise significantly. This means that even if there was reinforced border security at the external border, this issue might not have been picked up (although this is not to say that it cant be useful in other ways).

What has become particularly difficult for those involved in counter-terrorism is that they now have to deal with very large numbers of such potentially dangerous people. So assessments have to be made in terms of what to prioritise, on whom to focus, what information to share with other countries, etc. However, we still do not fully understand radicalisation processes and how we can predict or anticipate that, for example, someone watching terrorist videos on the Internet is going to move towards planning an actual terrorist attack and then carrying it out. In that respect, it is true that the Belgian authorities face a particular challenge given the disproportionate number of people going to fight in Syria (compared to the overall population). At this point, reinforced exit procedures for EU citizens can be useful to check where they are going (i.e. whether they are going to Syria or Lybia), which is information that it useful in order to assess the threat that they pose.

This leads on to the PNR – if we had a European PNR, we would have more information about where potential terrorists have travelled to/from and with whom. But again, you are back to the question of numbers. There are potentially many people travelling to many destinations that can be considered suspicious. Some will travel for perfectly legitimate reasons, others may travel with a terrorist intent (they may be going to train for a terrorist attack, for example). You will have to make an assessment of the dangerosity of people, which, as mentioned before, can be particulalry challenging (especially if people move around and you lose sight of them). You really need a lot of resources to be able to analyse all the data, follow every lead up, keep potentially dangerous people under surveillance for a certain length of time, etc. There are also issues around the security of travel documents. Ideally, in counter-terrorism, you need a combination of human intelligence and signal intelligence – both are necessary and work best in combination. But obviously it has a price (the staff and the equipment needed) and we are currently seeing many governments seeking to make budgetary cuts.


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