Europe’s walls go up, shaping politics after Paris mass murders

Europe’s walls go up, shaping politics after Paris mass murders

The walls are going up all over Europe.

The euro crisis decimated the notion of continent-wide prosperity; the Paris mass murders have done the same to the late 20th century European belief in open borders, within Europe and externally.

As French investigators probe the backgrounds of the killers, some French-born, one possibly a Syrian jihadist who slipped into Europe as a refugee, the anti-immigration parties are in the ascendant. They will shape Europe’s politics and economics for years to come.

“I expect even stricter immigration policies, including a more openly hostile and suspicious attitude toward the few that will be allowed into Europe,” said Cas Mudde, associate professor at the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia in Athens who studies extremist movements.

The consequences will resonate beyond the vexed question of refugee policy, affecting if and when the 28-nation European Union takes in new countries, who joins (or leaves) the euro zone, whether Britain bolts from the EU and how the bloc gets along with Vladimir Putin’s assertive Russia.

Legacy at risk

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s planned referendum by 2017 that could take Britain out of the EU was a response to euroskeptic sentiment within his Conservative party. The same issue threatens to hijack negotiations that were opened last week over reforming Britain’s membership terms. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is already under fire for inviting an estimated 1 million asylum seekers into the country this year. Those policies and her legacy are now at risk of fraying.

“Renewed concerns about the potential risks associated with immigration could play into the hands of the euroskeptic ‘Leave’ campaign,” Antonio Barroso, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London, said in a research note.

The provisional death toll of at least 129 people made the Paris attacks the bloodiest since the Madrid train station bombings of 2004, which achieved their goal of prompting a Spanish retreat from the U.S.-led war in Iraq. But neither Madrid nor the London bombings of 2005 put Europe on a war footing.

Europe’s ‘shattered’ image

With the European Commission estimating 3 million asylum seekers potentially heading toward Europe by 2017, the migration debate will become even more fraught, tinged with racial and religious undertones. Poland’s new government will backtrack on the previous government’s commitment to shelter a quota of refugees under a new EU law, the incoming European affairs minister, Konrad Szymanski, was quoted as saying on Wpolityce.pl website.

The migration crisis has already shattered the “image of a democratic and globally engaged Europe” that was promulgated in 2001 in the run-up to a European constitutional convention. The constitution was stillborn, doomed ironically in France by the same combination of anti-globalization left and anti-foreigner right that continues to fight over the country’s direction and has left its economy adrift, unable to retain parity with Germany.

As jihadists penetrate Europe’s external borders, the internal borders are no longer lines on maps, invisible to drivers and air and train travelers. The future of passport-free travel between most European countries — declared at risk by EU President Donald Tusk even before the Paris atrocities — hangs in the balance.

Schengen at risk

France reimposed border checks as the Paris manhunt got under way. Five other countries have temporarily suspended the passport-free arrangements to cope with the refugee flow, and there were calls for a wholesale review of the Schengen system, named for the Luxembourg town where the open-borders treaty was signed in 1985.

“This event can be expected to strengthen the argument of those groups that have been calling for a halt in the flow of immigrants and the closing of borders in countries such as Germany, Sweden and much of central and eastern Europe,” wrote analysts at Stratfor, a political risk consultancy in Austin, Texas.

In an echo of the U.S. debate over immigration, the dominant European issue now is sealing the frontiers, with economically prostrate Greece as the EU’s first line of defense in the Aegean Sea. Months after begging for money to keep Greece in the euro, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has new leverage over his creditors.

“The thing he will try and play out is to obtain as much financial support for beefing up the external borders of his country as he can possibly muster, but I’m not sure whether that will spill over to other economic policy areas,” said Steven Blockmans of CEPS, a Brussels research institute.

Putin at the table

Also seeking to ingratiate himself is Putin of Russia, which is under EU trade and investment sanctions over its promotion of the rebellion in eastern Ukraine. As Putin recalls his post-9/11 script and again bills himself as the West’s ally in stomping out terrorism, he needs only one EU country to break ranks and vote to end the sanctions in January.

One politician urging a rapprochement with Russia is former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, hoping to regain his old job in the next election in 2017. Sarkozy on Sunday demanded a tougher foreign policy, saying: “We need everyone to help fight the Islamic State, notably the Russians.” Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni last month said that “Russia can be part of the solution” for Syria.

French President Francois Hollande, already the most unpopular French leader in modern times, now has a second Paris terrorist attack to answer for, after the murders at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket in January.

The next electoral test in France is the vote for regional assemblies in December. The jockeying is on over who will make more political capital out of the mood of fear and insecurity: Sarkozy of the center-right, or National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

“Islamic fundamentalism must be annihilated,” Le Pen, vying with Sarkozy near the top in polls for the 2017 election, said Saturday.

As political reputations are lost and made, Merkel suddenly has a lot of explaining to do. Only hours before the Kalashnikovs opened fire in Paris, Merkel was defending her open-doors attitude toward refugees. “I’m fighting, fighting for the approach I have in mind,” she said on national television. By Saturday morning, the number of detractors inside her political bloc was mounting.

The carnage “changes everything,” Markus Soeder, a member of the Bavarian state government, said in a Twitter post Saturday. “We can’t allow illegal and uncontrolled immigration.”


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