As the European Council prepares to discuss terrorism and migration, heads of state must address causes and solutions at home as well as abroad, writes Pierre Baussand.
Pierre Baussand is the director of Social Platform, the largest platform of European social NGOs.
On 17 and 18 December European leaders will descend on the EU quarter of Brussels for the final European Council of 2015. Two topics on the agenda that are sure to sow divide in the Union are migration policy, and our collective response after the terrorist attacks in Paris last month. Indeed, the terror attacks and migration have been irrevocably linked ever since the discovery of a Syrian passport next to the body of one of the suspected suicide bombers outside the Stade de France. The far-right mobilised, and calls for an end to taking in migrants and refugees are still being heard across the EU and the United States, despite the fact that only two of the attackers have been identified as being non-EU citizens. While there is no doubt about the role the Muslim community must play in eradicating radicalisation, only society as a whole can tackle this common threat to us all.
The narrative of Daesh is one of promise; cars, houses and family care will be gifted to those who join. Or at least, that’s the selling point. Regretful converts have lamented the lack of material possessions and freedoms promised to them. Rather than being complacent and hoping that Daesh’s lies will be exposed, the EU must be introspective. Why are possessions and the sense of inclusion we value in the West such attractive prospects? The fact is that the majority of Western converts to Daesh come from disadvantaged backgrounds. A recent Pew Research Center study found that, “European millennials have suffered disproportionately from their countries’ recent economic troubles […] In the face of this challenge, young Europeans often view themselves as victims of fate.” Such widespread disenfranchisement across society goes some way to explaining the allure of the sense of importance and control that Daesh instils in its supporters. To counter this, rather than waging war on Daesh in Syria and Iraq, the biggest weapons that the West can wield against terrorism are social investment, social inclusion and integration on our own turf.
This European Council meeting falls in a month largely devoted to a value upon which the EU is built: human rights. As well as Human Rights Day on 10 December, it is International Migrants Day on 18 December, and International Human Solidarity Day on 20 December. Despite this, we are witnessing the decay of human rights – including non-discrimination, equality and dignity – in a number of EU member states. Stereotyping and ethnic profiling are becoming increasingly commonplace, leading to further divides. Rather than caving in to reactionary, misinformed populist rhetoric such as that of far-right organisations, equating all migrants with terrorists, our leaders must seize this opportunity to reject “us versus them” stances and the surge in Islamophobia. This only plays into the hands of Daesh, who use such narratives as recruitment tools.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker highlighted a key flaw in the “us versus them” concept: “Those who organised these attacks and those that perpetrated them are exactly those that the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite.” Daesh is a common enemy shared by the EU and those forced to flee Syria and Iraq. Often these people are fleeing European Daesh militants; a new study by the intelligence consultancy Soufan Group puts the figure at approximately 5,000 fighters from EU origins. As well as sending more resources to Europe’s borders to ensure that migration flows cannot be infiltrated by known terrorists, European leaders should commit to securing safe and regular channels of migration for those in need. If we are to protect the human rights of migrants and refugees – as is our “moral and political” duty, according to a statement made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this week – the European Council should also commit to increasing support for civil society organisations and social workers on the ground, including greater funding.
Europe has reached a fork in the road; our leaders can either ignore lessons of the past and respond to home-grown terrorism by bombing foreign countries and inciting further divisions and tensions in our societies, or we can work towards a truly united Europe that embraces its differences for enriched societies that include all, not some.