Further thoughts, following the Paris atrocities


Walking around Milan, London
or Zurich, as I have been doing over the past couple of days, or indeed any
other European city, has been to see displays of instant solidarity. The French
flags and light displays of the tricolore are moving sights of fellow-feeling.
This is certainly welcome. Yet, as the old English saying goes, “fine words
butter no parsnips”. Actions need to follow, and are going to follow. The
question before us is whether they will be the right actions. 

Understandably, President
Francois Hollande says that France is “at war” with ISIS, and has asked the
rest of the European Union to stand by its side, invoking Article 42.7 of the
EU’s treaty which says that all EU countries have “an obligation of aid and
assistance by all the means in their power” to any member that is the “victim
of armed aggression”. Few knew, or at least remembered, that this article
existed. To invoke it is dramatic, but not at all unreasonable.

But what will it involve? We
can only guess, at this stage, but my initial thoughts about what EU countries
might, or should, do together are as follows: 

Tighten, and in
any necessary way deepen, collaboration and sharing of information on surveillance,
intelligence and all policing. Britain’s stand-offish attitude to collaboration
on justice and arrests is thus exposed as hollow but also short-sighted.
Collaboration needs to become a daily, even hourly instinct and necessity, not
an add-on.

Consider suspending
Schengen. This would be controversial, as to suspend passport-free travel
between the 26 countries inside and outside the EU that have signed up to it
could look like a major concession to terrorism. Yet as I walked through Zurich
airport this morning, the fact that I did not have to show my passport because
I had flown in from Milan, whereas I would have had to if I had flown here from
London, felt to me like a fairly trivial luxury (Switzerland, despite being
outside the EU, is a member of Schengen). Much more important are land borders,
and it is true that to reinstate border checks would be a bigger nuisance and
would impose higher costs on businesses shipping goods from one country to

The cost of
suspending Schengen would be real, as well as symbolic. But against that must
be placed the question of public confidence: can it be preserved, or rather
revived, in the absence of border checks, at a time when jihadi killers are
known to have travelled freely around the Schengen countries with their
weapons? It may well be that a suspension of Schengen for a defined period is
an acceptable price to pay in order to avoid much more significant incursions
into civil liberties and to help rebuild public confidence in the safety and
security of Europe, as well as to make sure that the EU continues to admit
asylum-seekers from the Middle East conflicts. Countries are already taking
their own unilateral actions, which to me suggests that a collective agreement
to suspend Schengen on agreed terms would be preferable. Readers’ thoughts on
this would be welcome.

Bombing of ISIS
targets has already been intensified, both by French jets and by American
drones. That may prove necessary, but it certainly will not be sufficient. What
needs to happen if there is to be any sort of success is that ISIS’s flow of
oxygen needs to be cut off, by which is meant its flow of finance, weapons and
personnel. And that can happen only if a coalition of frontline states is
formed. As Olivier Roy, a French scholar of Islam who is based at the European
University Institute in Florence, explained eloquently in the New York Times on
November 16th the basis for such an alliance with Turkey, Iran,
Kurds, Sunni Arab states or the Syrian opposition does not yet exist, let alone
any basis for an alliance with Russia. 

So the biggest
and most important task for the EU now, beyond strengthening intelligence
collaboration, must be to work hard and swiftly to try to change those “facts
on the ground” in and around Syria and Iraq, to persuade potential allies that
it is in their interest to work together with the Europeans (and of course the
Americans) to push ISIS out. A collective and coherent foreign and security
policy is needed more than ever before, if this is to have any chance of

The fundamental point that
needs to be borne in mind as all of this happens is that, horrific as the
attacks were, they do not show that ISIS is strong. They show that ISIS’s only
weapon is to spread fear in the hope of dividing and discouraging us. That is why
shows of solidarity and unity do remain important. It is also why we must
respond by making ourselves, and our collaboration, stronger in every way –
politically, economically, culturally and, yes, militarily. To repeat, the
military part is necessary, but will not be sufficient. Worse, if it is used
alone and without proper thought, it could end up being counter-productive.