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EU Interior Ministers – face difficult balance between regaining control and safeguarding freedom of movement

While Abdelhamid Abaaoud died in the Saint-Denis raid, EU Interior Ministers – faced with flaws in Schengen – today face a difficult balance between regaining control and safeguarding freedom of movement

French police have confirmed that the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, died during a police raid in the Paris district of Saint Denis, French, Luxembourgish, German, Dutch, British, Italian, Hungarian, Romanian, Danish and US media report. It was also confirmed that despite being known to authorities, Abdelhamid Abaaoud had travelled into and through the EU from Syria at least twice this year without alarms being triggered, putting European leaders under intense pressure to get a grip on Europe’s borders, The Guardian notes.

EU Interior Ministers are meeting in response to the attacks and are expected to announce the creation of a European counter-terrorism centre from January. Frontex, the Warsaw-based border agency, is also to be given added counterterrorism powers, a seven-page draft statement obtained by The Guardian says. The draft statement says EU citizens leaving or entering the Schengen free travel area embracing 26 countries should have their identities checked for links to terrorism or organised crime. This does not happen at present because Schengen rules stipulate that EU citizens should be checked only perfunctorily. Schengen is widely criticised in the media today, as reflected by a Figaro editorial’s fierce criticism of the Europe of Schengen.

Confirming that the issue of border controls is central to today’s meeting of EU Interior Ministers, a Telegraph editorial for instance argues that Schengen remains impractical and that the EU will therefore want to reconsider the agreement. In The Evening Standard, Nick Clegg further discusses the strain that the Paris attacks have placed on the Schengen area, and argues that the EU should not allow populists to use the attacks to turn countries inwards and away from each other. Instead, Nick Clegg argues, the attacks should be used as a catalyst for European countries towards more co-operation. In order to protect borderless travel within Schengen, he adds, the EU must properly police its external borders.

The Netherlands, The Times, Rzeczpospolita and others note, has opened talks with neighbouring EU governments to seek the break-up of the Schengen zone to try to control the influx of migrants. Under this mini-Schengen plan, a borderless territory of Austria, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands would be formed, but the EC stated yesterday that it had not received any official proposal for the creation of such a mini-Schengen, Cypriot media note.

In Het Financieele Dagblad, journalist Rik Winkel compares the American response to 9/11 with the European response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Unlike America, France needs to consult the other EU countries first before responding to ‘13/11’. The measures, as discussed during an emergency meeting of EU minister, could hardly be called a European Patriot Act, as the European security policy is a hotchpotch of competences, rules and international conventions. In addition, police and security services have their reasons to be reluctant to share information. Systematic checking, also of EU citizens, is the most important demand from French Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, but this is a difficult subject for Europe.

Warning that Europe risks facing new attacks of the Islamic State, Europol Director Rob Wainwright declared, in a statement made in the European Parliament yesterday – finding coverage in Italian, Greek, Belgian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Swedish, Estonian and US media – that EU member states must share information on terrorist threats and that the EU is expected to introduce more passport controls at the borders of the passport-free Schengen zone and to adopt the PNR.

In an interview with L’Unità, European Parliament President Martin Schulz says that while increasing airstrikes against Daesh in Syria is inevitable and creating a Passenger Name Record to store data of air passengers – something France has been calling for in the aftermath of the Paris attacks – is required, a political solution is also crucial. The EU must seek a delicate balance between safety and freedom, Martin Schulz stresses. And, indeed, whereas – as Rzeczpospolita notes – the terrorist attacks in France have turned around public sentiment in France, with the country rallying around the previously unpopular President Hollande (his actions against terrorist organisations being highly supported in opinion polls), diverging opinions seem to be starting to garner increased media attention.

In an opinion article published by L’Humanité Dimanche, honorary member of the European parliament Francis Wurtz, while admitting that the Paris attacks call for a political reflection, challenges the idea that “France is at war.” As European leaders have begun discussing the content of a new “European safety strategy,” Francis Wurtz underlines that it would be disastrous that, under the pretext of re-launching the idea of a “war on terrorism,” France and Europe end up in the impasse where the Bush doctrine has led us. Although the use of force is necessary to fight Daesh, the most important thing is the political project, adds Francis Wurtz, and such a project must be driven by the United Nations.

While welcoming the news of closer intelligence-sharing among European states, an editorial in The Times urges EU member states to use caution as well in their response to the Paris attacks so as not to curtail freedoms unnecessarily. What is more, after the extremist massacre in Paris, cases of violence against Muslims in Western countries have increased,Lietuvos ryto TV reports, adding that resistance to the European Commission’s refugee distribution plan increased even further.

©europeanunion2015

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