Paris terror attacks threaten EU freedom of movement

Heightened security threat increases pressure on embattled Schengen agreement.

By William Louch

16 Nov 2015

The Paris terror attacks this weekend have dealt a further blow to the EU's internal open border policy following French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve's call for Europe to implement "systematic and coordinated checks on borders inside the European Union."

The EU's Schengen agreement, which allows the unrestricted freedom of movement of EU citizens across 26 countries of the bloc's 28 member states, has come under intense pressure as Europe's national government's struggle to cope with the influx of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa.

The nature of Friday's attack and the origins of those terrorists so-far identified, have highlighted the increasing challenge that freedom of movement within the EU's borders poses to national security forces, with suspected terrorists essentially free to travel unchecked between the member states once they have entered the 'Schengen' zone.


One of the terrorists allegedly entered mainland Europe from the island of Leros in Greece. Greek Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas said, "On the case of the Syrian passport found at the scene of the terrorist attack, we announce that the passport holder had passed from Leros on October 3 where he was identified based on EU rules."

Two more of the attackers were alleged to be living in the Molenbeek district in Brussels, an area described as "Europe's jihadi central." Over 100 police officers are currently conducting raids in the area.

Several leading European politicians have questioned whether the freedom of movement enshrined in Schengen can continue in the context of Europe's increasing security threats.

Crispin Blunt, Chair of the UK Parliament's influential foreign affairs select committee, when questioned on the principle of the freedom of movement – something the UK is not part of – said, "It has broken down already in the face of migration flows… the system was already under immense pressure and this may bring it to an end."

This sentiment was echoed by Charles Tannock, of the European Parliament's European Conservatives and Reformists grouping, who tweeted, "suspect if arms imported and migration crisis across EU will require end of Schengen borderless continent to restore security."

However, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President, while acknowledging that Schengen was under pressure denied that the terror atrocities should have any bearing on the agreement, saying, "Schengen is under threat, but not because of this attack [in Paris], but because  border controls are not effectively used."

In the months preceding the attack, as the number of refugees fleeing Syria and North Africa for the safety of Europe dramatically increased,  several EU countries temporarily suspended their Schengen open border commitments. Most recently the Swedish government informed the European Commission that it was their intention to introduce border checks.  The announcement followed the decision by the Hungarian and Slovenian governments to build border fences in a bid to halt the flow of migrants through their countries.

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