Will EU stand by France in its darkest hour?

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While Europe touts itself to be a place of liberal values, it has also seen an unprecedented rise in the right-of-centre political parties in the last two decades that have introduced new cleavages in European societies. The recent victory in October of a right-of-centre party in Poland sent additional tremors through the EU, in the light of the refugee crisis. The new Polish government has stated that it is closing the door on taking refugees as accepted by the EU which drew up a quota for each country and declared that it required “security guarantees”. The reluctance to taking in refugees is widespread among central and east European countries who are now EU members. This has already signalled that the EU faces a major challenge now in dealing with both border security and the continuous inflow of refugees and places the border and refugee policy at the front of the Brussels agenda.

That the dissonance is only growing is evident from the fact that French far-right leader Marine La Pen called for an ‘immediate halt’ to taking in further refugees in the aftermath of Paris, a sentiment echoed in some other European capitals. While Germany endorsed that tougher controls are required at the border, the German defence minister cautioned not to equate refugees with terrorists, in the light of a Syrian passport being found on one of the terrorists. German support for letting the refugees come through and setting aside the EU’s Dublin Regulation in September at the height of the refugee influx, while seen as humanitarian response to a crisis, has also split the EU. The refugee influx has fuelled strong reactions in the light of the Paris attacks, which assume that many terrorists can and have come into the EU through the liberal approach taken with regard to the refugees in past months. Getting the Europeans to respond negatively against Muslims in their respective countries will play into the Islamic State’s strategy to alienate and discredit Muslims and push more polarisation.

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Article 42.7 states that “if a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations charter”

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The French call for EU assistance brings the focus on the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). In 2003, the EU had adopted the European Security Strategy and identified terrorism as the leading threat among five others listed for global security. Events of the last few days have drawn attention to the gap between stated policy and what Brussels can collectively do and the emphasis is now on the ‘collective’. Responding to foreign policy issues in a collective manner, although envisaged in the EU architecture since 1992, has been the most difficult to achieve as member states have not fully delegated foreign policy to Brussels. In EU parlance it is called “shared sovereignty”. In other words, national policy interests have coexisted alongside and have undermined the articulation of a CFSP.

France has chosen not to invoke Article 222 of the Lisbon Treaty that states: “The union and its member states shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a member state is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster. The union shall mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including military resources made available by the member states.” This provision gives greater power to the EU Commission and Paris wants to retain national control; therefore, the preference for Article 42.7. In the coming days, as the EU leaders meet they will have to address critical issues dealing with the Schengen agreement that enables mobility to those who enter Europe and there will be a focus on intelligence sharing and measures for counter-terrorism.

In a move not seen since WWII, the Russians have joined the French in aerial strikes on Islamic State positions in Syria after Moscow confirmed that the Russian plane crash was a terrorist attack and has found common ground with Paris. It appears to be a sign that Moscow is rebuilding its relations with the West since the Ukraine crisis of 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. This unprecedented move, in what could be a game changer for the new coalition building of the West with Russia, can open the doorways for significant cooperation, which will be essential to the outcome of political, military and economic action in the case of Syria and Iraq and the fight against the Islamic State.

editor@tehelka.com

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