The terror attack in Paris on the night of 13 November was aimed to strike fear deep into the hearts of the people and the French Government. Although France had been on a heightened security alert since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, the magnitude of the coordinated attack that left 129 people dead highlights how the strategy of the Islamic State has changed. The preliminary investigation identified six of the suspects to be French nationals, raising further questions about ‘home-grown terrorists’.
In January this year, soon after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, more than 3.7 million people and 40 world leaders marched through Paris and other French cities in an unprecedented show of solidarity against the attacks to reaffirm the liberal values of the West. That France was targeted again is a grim reminder that the terrorists do have the upper hand and that the Islamic State now have a different strategy that takes the war out of Syria and Iraq. Many of France’s allies in the European Union have voiced their support but they have also raised major questions within the Union on the way forward.
The political consequences of the attack are very crucial in terms of how the EU responds to Paris. In an unprecedented move, France, a founding member of the 28 member EU, formally requested assistance from its partners, invoking, for the first time ever, the mutual assistance clause under Article 42.7 in the EU’s Lisbon Treaty that came into force in 2010. The clause obliges member states to offer “aid and assistance by all means in their power” in the event of an “armed aggression”. It is a mutual defence clause similar to Article 5 of the NATO, that states that an attack on one is an attack on all and binds all together in a collective defence pact.
French Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, indicated after meeting his EU counterparts that member states could help “either by taking part in France’s operations in Syria or Iraq or by easing the load or providing support for France in other operations.” The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy EU, Federica Mogherini, said the 28-nation bloc had unanimously agreed to help. However, the French call for solidarity from other member states has taken the EU into unexplored policy area as the clause of ‘mutual help’ has never been invoked before.
The EU has been hurtling through one crisis after another. From the financial crisis that imposed severe austerity measures in Greece, to the growing numbers of refugees (over 700,000 by various estimates) spilling into Europe in the aftermath of the crisis in Syria and Iraq and other countries and now the terrorist attacks in Paris. All this has raised major questions about internal solidarity and how the Member States respond to crisis in a collective manner.