It is Friday the 13th of November in Paris. Three French soldiers in uniform armed with machine guns stroll over a promenade at the church Nôtre Dame and pass a memorial of the Polish Pope John Paul II, together with a mass of tourists from Germany, Italy or other countries of Europe and the whole world. They seem to disturb the peaceful tourist idyll with their presence.
Nobody knew that a few hours later this idyll would have disappeared anyway. Since the Islamist attacks from January on the staff of Charlie Hebdo and on the Jewish supermarket and straight before the international climate summit the security measures have been very high in Paris. Near most sights but also at places like Gare de l’Est three heavily armed soldiers patrolled regularly. Nevertheless all those security measures could not prevent on 13th November an armed band of lunatics from killing 130 people and injuring 352.
The French authorities didn’t see it coming. They did not know, that weeks before in neighbouring Belgium, in a district in the middle of the European capital, Brussels, a mob of criminals ganged up to plan mass murder on many people in Paris. Just right after the attacks it was revealed that many of the terrorists came from Molenbeek the same district of Brussels, from which the assassin originated that killed people in the Jewish supermarket. Molenbeek does not belong to the area of jurisdiction of French authorities and the security architecture of Belgium is a topic on its own.
The failure of the national authorities
Like Belgium itself, its secret services and police authorities suffer under the nationally oriented structure and division of the country. Only within the past few years Flemish and Walloon authorities have tried to improve their cooperation. So far it has not been good enough to prevent Belgium from becoming a centre of international Islamist terror within Europe. In the meantime the secret services in Germany and the United Kingdom had other priorities than fighting Islamist threats. The British GCHQ helped the NSA to spy out German Companies and Citizens including German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself. The German BND on the other hand was busy spying on other European partners including Belgium the Netherlands and France.
New structures are needed
The structure and organisation of the European Union of today resembles in many aspects very closely those in Belgium. In the field of European internal security they are ineffective due to the nationally fractured architecture. Measures are mostly limited to a simple exchange on information between national authorities or the collection of information in common databases like the Schengen Information System (SIS). It is about time to reflect about new or to talk about the improvement of already existing European structures. The idea of a ’European CIA’ or foreign intelligence service, whose main goal would be the fight against terrorism, was brought up by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. Another example is the European police agency Europol. Since its foundation in the 1990s it was doomed to a shadow existence without executive powers and few investigative powers in special cases. Due to these limitations Europol developed more into a data collection agency than into a real European federal police. The Vision of Helmut Kohl of a ’European FBI’ won’t become reality in the near future.
Something rotten in the State of Denmark
As if there were not enough problems in the European security policy, Denmark now decided to retreat from it completely. In a referendum a small majority of 53 % of Danish voters voted against the maintenance of cooperation with the Union in the field of security. As a consequence Denmark may be forced to retreat from Europol and the Danish government may have more difficulties in effectively fighting international organised crime and terrorism. Right wing populists actually dominated the debate so that the actual subject of the referendum wasn’t in focus at all. Instead it was dominated by fears the European Union could force Denmark to take in more refugees in case of a ’Yes’. Consequently it is possible that Denmark in the future as well may become more attractive as a European centre for organised crime or international terrorism.
Islamist terrorism is thinking internationally, it doesn’t care for national areas of jurisdiction or borders that some men once drew on a map on a desk. Its followers don’t think in categories like German, Iraqi, French, Belgian or English. They are united in the belief in what they think is a religion. Exactly this belief in something that is bigger than themselves makes the Islamist ideology so attractive for some lost souls and dangerous for us. This is why Islamists are lengths ahead of us. As long as we are not willing or able to free ourselves from the shackles of nationality, to together defend our common values like unity, law, freedom, equality, fraternity and solidarity, the Islamist ideology will continue its triumph. Therefore it is about time to not only vocally carry those values in front of us, but to live up to them.