Five years have passed since the devastating terrorist attacks in Paris killed 130 people, but many attacks have followed since then, including those in Nice and Vienna in the past month.
Even in the midst of a pandemic, Europe, it appears, has not got rid of Islamist terrorism.
Au contraire, after the spate of recent attacks, security experts and policymakers worry that this could be the beginning of a new wave of Islamist terrorism in Europe.
The challenge is to find a rapid and effective response to those who intend to plunge democratic societies into fear, while safeguarding Europe’s values, freedom and way of life, including respect for the EU’s large Muslim community.
It was half an hour after the terrorist attack in Vienna that French President Emmanuel Macron picked up the phone and called his Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz.
In addition to condolences, Macron conveyed the message that “we all have to do more in Europe against terrorism.”
A few says after, several key EU leaders, including France, Germany and Austria, pledged to renew efforts to fight Islamist terrorism, calling for reform of the Schengen passport-free area and measures against foreign fighters.
On Friday (13 November), EU interior ministers once again called for closer cooperation and better data exchange.
“The access of the competent authorities to the digital data that is crucial for the prevention and suppression of terrorist acts must be ensured and improved, while respecting fundamental rights,” their joint declaration stated, referring also to the deletion of online terrorist content.
It also included a proposal to create a European centre for training imams, effectively meaning that clergymen should be trained within the EU.
At the beginning of December, the EU wants to present a proposal on internal security and a European police partnership.
But Europe seems to be caught in a loop: every time there is a terrorist attack somewhere on the continent, there is grief, outrage, and EU leaders promise to do ‘whatever it takes’ to prevent a repeat.
Since 2015, action has indeed been taken at national and European level to increase the level and effectiveness of cooperation between member states.
They range from combatting the financing of terrorism, tackling organised crime and strengthening border controls, to addressing radicalisation and improving police and judicial co-operation on tracing suspects and pursuing perpetrators.
EU’s police agency Europol has been given additional powers, with a European Counter Terrorism Centre created in January 2016.
But most of the time, any coordination measures have failed due to national egotism.
It is no secret that the lack of information-sharing across borders or, even within institutions of one country, like in Belgium, has prevented the authorities from thwarting terrorist attacks in the past.
Terrorism is a threat without borders, it needs a stringent and robust European strategy.
This has nothing to do with right-wing populism, which deliberately and obstinately refuses to make a clear distinction between Islam and Islamism.
In that sense, it is no good that the joint statement does not mention the word ‘Islam’ at all, because it makes it way to easy for those on the right to throw everything under the same umbrella.
Europe’s Muslim communities are already in the spotlight, as right-wing politicians call for the protection of Europe and the preservation of what they say are the continent’s ‘Christian roots’.
And some of them seem quite content to do it on their own, in their own backyard.
But at a time when authoritarian and nationalist solutions seem more attractive than ever, national go-it-alones are the wrong answer.
Fighting terrorism requires more Europe, not less.
Before you start your weekend, read at our EURACTIV Network story looking into how Muslim communities in France, Germany and the Balkans – the most sizeable ones in Europe – are faring in an increasingly tense climate.
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Look out for…
Next week’s EU summit on COVID-19 response, EU foreign and defence minister’s meeting.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]