The Paris attacks that killed at least 128 people on Saturday night will put renewed pressure on Europe Schengen agreement and threaten the “very essence” of the European way of life, as far-right parties seek to capitalise on the attacks, analysts have warned.
With Paris now enduring this second major terror bloodbath in under a year, questions are now being asked about how much longer both Europe’s open border system and vision of a tolerant, multi-cultural society can survive.
“With Paris in lockdown and France closing its borders, we can see all too clearly that what is at stake here is the very essence of our way of life in Europe,” said Davis Lewin, the deputy director of the Henry Jackson Society, a conservative think-tank.
Designed to facilitate the free movement of goods and labour that is the economic life-blood of the continent, the Schengen system has also enabled the easy transfer of both weapons and, potentially jihadist fighters, across those same borders.
Following the attacks, Francois Hollande, the French President also re-imposed border controls in a bid to ensure that none of the Paris terrorists or their support network in France were able to escape, as occurred after the Charlie Hebdo atrocity.
Even before the Paris attacks, Donald Tusk, the EU president, had warned that Europe faced a “race against time” to save the 20-year-old system, which is seen as one of the Union’s most concrete achievements.
In the last few months Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have all re-introduced some form of border controls in order to try and regulate the flow of migrants – many from Syria and Iraq – as they flooded into Europe.
The security risks posed by open borders were highlighted by both the Charlie Hebdo attack and the botched Thalys train attack earlier this year, when in both cases the weapons used in France had been smuggled in from Belgium.
Continental Europe is reportedly awash with automatic firearms orginiating from the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Belgium, a country with a population of 11 million, has around 900,000 firearms in circulation.
More broadly, analysts warn that the Paris attack also has the potential to fuel the on-going rise of Europe’s Right-wing parties who have warned of the posed by uncontrolled migration – both in terms of immediate security but also to Western’s Europe’s culturally liberal way of life.
The leaders of Frances’ Front National, Britain’s UKIP, Poland’s Law and Justice and Hungary’s Fidesz party have all warned in recent months of security fears caused by the flood of migrants – many from Syria and Iraq.
At the height of the migrant crisis last September, Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader said the migrants flooding into northern Europe were a threat to British security.
“My concern is that Isis have actually said that they will use the migrant wave to flood Europe with half a million of their jihadi fighters,” he said in a radio interview, “Now even if that’s wrong, even it its only 5,000 – even if it’s only 500 – I am very worried about that.”
Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, a pro-EU think-tank, warned that Islamic State wanted its attacks to bolster far-Right politicians like Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader who looks poised for a major victory in France’s regional polls this December.
“Islamic State want to get Marine Le Pen stronger. They want far-Right attacks on mosques and a warlike ambience in western countries, because the more Muslims are persecuted, the more Muslims will be motivated to pick up arms and fight in Western Europe.
“Europe’s game must be to resist that and not repeat the mistakes we made after September 11 which played right into al-Qaeda’s hands. We must hold our nerve and embrace our values of tolerance of faith and religions which we share in common and against the Islamic State.”
Still, the Paris attacks are likely to harden the views of Eastern and Central European leaders like Viktor Orban in Hungary and Slovenian’s Miro Cerar , who have openly rejected the notion of a tolerant, multi-cultural Europe espoused major core nations like Germany, Italy and France.
Mr Lewin of the Henry Jackson Society, warned that unless liberal governments were more open about confronting the threat posed by militant Islam to European societies, they risked losing the argument to the real hardliners.
“It’s all very well to have a compassionate, multi-cultural vision in principle, but in practice we do not seem to know who is among us, and whether they share our values.
“The political classes cannot keep saying – as Merkel is saying – that ‘there is nothing to see here’, that the problem is not related to Islam, when everyone can perfectly well see that it is.
“If mainstream governments keep letting cultural sensitivities stand in the way of a robust assessment of the situation, then the far-Right will only exploit this issue further, and turn to ever more reductionist and populist solutions.”