Thursday 10 December 2015

Thoughts on Schengen and Security

Charles De Gaulle Terminal 1 (c) Philip Ammerman, 2015

This afternoon I arrived in Paris after one month of continual travel. The last time I was here was November 13th, the day where 130 civilians were killed by ISIS terrorists.

After the November 13th attacks, President Francois Holland announced a “closure of the borders”, which in effect meant a temporary suspension of the European Union’s Schengen Treaty allowing passport-free travel between Schengen Member States. I say temporary, because today, less than one month after the measures were announced, there was no passport check for arrivals from Schengen countries.

My disbelief was heightened by the fact that two elderly ladies, apparently from Belarus, were visiting Paris for the first time and asked me where they should go for the immigration check. They were all ready: passports and documentation in hand, ready for the typical Soviet experience enjoyed by travellers to Belarus or Russia.

I think back to all the rhetoric we have heard and read over this past month:
  • “Europe is at war”
  • “We must improve our security”
  •  “We need better European cooperation”
  • “We must secure our borders”

and variants thereof. So where is this security? Either we are at war, or we are not. Either we need better security, or we don’t. Either we believe in verifying identity checks for people entering our border, or we don’t.

Instead, this appears to be yet another European political manoeuvre designed to evade responsibility and keeping public spending low.

Do we need border security? I would argue that we do:
  1. In both the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the assailants had an escape plan. Sherif and Said Kouachi were apparently heading for Belgium before they were intercepted. Hayat Boumeddiene by air to Turkey (via Madrid), and then over the border to Syria (before the attacks).
  2. In the November 13th attacks, the terrorists used Belgium as a staging ground and escape route for the operation. Salah Abdelsalam was actually stopped three times on his drive back to Belgium, result. Other members of the Molenbeek cell travelled several times to Syria and back.

Now, will we actually achieve better security with the current border force? Probably not. The French police’s failure to apprehend Salah Abdelsalam is the greatest indication of this. However, the system can and should be reformed to make it more effective:
  • Random vehicle checks and intelligence work have stopped vehicles with weapons in the past. Notably, a suspect was stopped in Germany with weapons, apparently en route to Paris;
  • The experience of Israel and the British Army in Northern Ireland indicate that random patrols, psychological profiling and other methods can be used successfully to flag suspects and break up potential attacks;
  • A better immigration control can also flag other criminals, notably criminals and victims involved in trafficking and other crimes; 
  • Since European cooperation in terms of intelligence exchange has clearly failed, there seems to be little alternative but to regain as much control over immigration as is possible, including through identifying entry/exit stamps to suspect countries such as Syria, Yemen, and other feeder countries. 
A state has a minimum responsibility to protect its citizens by protecting its borders. The current system, where this responsibility has been “shared” throughout the Schengen zone, is clearly not working.

The counterargument also runs that border controls are too expensive and will cause economic losses due to slowing tourist and traveller flows, or transport blockages. This is untrue. There are plenty of non-Schengen countries where normal immigration procedures continue. The United Kingdom is one such country: all arrivals pass through immigration, and the system works. On November 15th, when I left France after my last visit, the line at the passport counter that had been set up in a temporary structure took exactly 2 minutes.

If there are issues of cost, then I propose a € 5 levy on international airline, ferry, truck and bus arrivals as a means of financing enhanced security. I, for one, would be happy to pay this, and I’m flying usually once per week.

To conclude, I believe it is time to end Schengen and re-institute border control checks as well as random controls on highways and other transport locations. Given the speed with which terrorism, human trafficking and other forms of crime can now migrate throughout the Schengen zone, I see no point of continuing the current system.

What is remarkable to me is just how little European politicians are doing, or apparently understand the real threat we are facing. 

As I saw in Paris this evening, we have been promised security and enhanced cooperation, and yet there were no added security measures in place. Exactly how long is this situation supposed to continue? 

(c) Philip Ammerman, 2015  

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