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Europe’s Long Goodbye to Open Borders

If you want to know what Europe is going to look like in five years, ISIS gave us some insight last Friday. Regrettably, the Paris attacks are probably not going to be considered unusual going forward, as the threat to soft targets throughout the continent can only rise. The reason is that a combination of open borders, the tide of Muslim immigration, and the corresponding increase in the popularity of far right political movements in Europe add up to a more integrated, less tolerant, and more a vulnerable security environment in the near to medium term.

The days of Europe’s open borders may well be numbered as more European nations examine the wisdom of maintaining an open border policy in the era of ISIS and mass migration. Germany’s decision to permit hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees to enter the country and potentially become citizens implies that those who do will eventually have free passage to the same countries which do not want them. The only way those countries will be able to stop a ‘back door’ entry will be to end the Schengen open border policy.

When the security or economic status quo is threatened, voters typically gravitate to the right side of the political pendulum, and that is exactly what is happening throughout Europe. In France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland (among others), the lurch to the right is gaining momentum.

While the far right has been gaining ground in Europe for much of the past 20 years, the propensity for a surge further to the right will be exacerbated in the months to come.

The Paris attacks also illustrate the limitations of the security services. France’s intelligence service, the DGSE, is widely considered to be one of the world’s best. France’s Interior Minister said earlier this year the government was pursuing more than 400 active investigations of terror cells in the country, a staggering number for a country its size (by contrast, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary said earlier this year the U.S. was pursuing more than 1,000 such cases). Given that none of the coordinated attacks in Paris was apparently known to the DGSE, how many others remain unknown?

Europeans should prepare themselves for an even greater level of scrutiny from their governments, on all levels. They should expect more CCTV cameras to be installed, more police and military to regularly be on the street, and an even greater level of electronic monitoring going forward. That is the only way the security services can hope to gain an upper hand on lone wolf terrorists. Civil libertarians will of course be outraged, but the rest of the continent’s population will no doubt be willing to comply with new restrictions and inconveniences if it actually makes them feel safer. The question is, will that be enough?


The combination of the Metrojet bomb in Sinai, the twin bombings in Beirut, and these attacks in Paris – all in the space of a matter of days – should remind us that in spite of all the resources that have been devoted to the War on Terror since 9/11, soft targets remain nearly as vulnerable today as they were 15 years ago. We have a greater sense of security today, but, as we have seen on numerous occasions, enhanced security systems can be penetrated, and there simply is no way that every soft target can be protected. Terrorists will continue to exploit our weaknesses with virtual impunity.

For all these reasons, Europe is likely to look and feel different in five years than it does today. The far right is likely to gain greater political strength in legislative bodies throughout the continent. More resources are likely to be devoted the military, police and security services going forward. Tighter restrictions are likely to be imposed on movement across borders in the EU, and it is even possible that the days of open Schengen borders are numbered.

If a bomb can explode outside a stadium in France with the French president sitting in it, there is a problem. The Paris attacks are a wake-up call. In addition to the plethora of economic fissures that have emerged since 2008, major cracks have been exposed on the social, political and security side of the EU experiment. ISIS is exploiting them masterfully.

This article was originally posted in The Huffington Post.