Last week’s attacks on Brussels exacerbate already existing tensions over freedom of movement and deepening integration. Thanos Dimadis contends that we should think twice before giving in to our fears.
Thanos Dimadis is a news correspondent in Washington DC for the biggest media organization in Greece, ALPHA TV. He was previously a correspondent in Brussels.
The Brussels bombings are a direct assault on our democratic values. They also serve as a reminder that when a member state of our European family is hurt, the pain is felt equally across the union.
The bombings poses a threat to our freedom, and push us to consider how committed we are to preserving the European community we have built. In their aftermath, Europe is faced with a fundamental dilemma. Is the Schengen treaty functional enough to prevent further terrorist attacks in the future? Or must we rescind the agreement to make it harder for terrorists to attack member states?
The argument that member states should withdraw from the treaty appears to be a reasonable to many US government officials I have spoken to. In their view, as long as the EU remains without internal borders, terror is inevitable. This argument has gained popularity even inside Europe, as the refugee crisis continues, and Greece proves incapable of implementing an effective identification process for asylum seekers.
Today, it’s relatively easy for ISIS supporters to hide among the masses of refugees arriving in Greece get a fake European passport, and travel to any member state. Repealing the Schengen agreement might be a rational decision under the circumstances, but introduces two essential concerns which so far no one has been able to address.
The first is a moral one. By closing their borders, member states send a very negative signal to refugees seeking shelter. Europe’s management of the refugee crisis so far has effectively invalidated the Schengen agreement. Second, the pressure on European leaders to protect national security is increasingly coming into conflict with integration.
Disagreements about how much of the refugee burden each member state should share, and discussions about the conflict between national security and European integration, are expected to multiply the EU’s difficulties in remaining politically and institutionally united.
I first moved to Brussels in 1996, when I was 12 years old. Attending the European School of Brussels, I learned to sit in the same room with classmates who had different nationalities than mine. It was then that I realised how the European Union mixes people from various cultural backgrounds, and makes them feel engaged with each other.
Not just because we were attending the same classes, but because every single day in that school we were developing what today is being deeply threatened in the European Union: the sense, the belief and – I would say- the duty of each one of us to carry a common identity as European citizens.
Two decades later, the bloodshed in the city I grew up in shocked and hurt me. But it made me realise that protecting our collective European identity is the only way to fight fear. There is no other way to prevent terrorists from dividing our Union.