After the terrorist attacks in Paris, France activated its highest state of alert. President François Hollande, a Socialist, summoned his cabinet and then joined the mourners. Thousands of police were activated but the national dragnet missed the perpetrators. No one resigned from the cabinet, police or intelligence services in the aftermath.
After the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium activated its highest state of alert. PM Charles Michel of the liberal Mouvement Réformateur summoned his cabinet and then joined the mourners. Thousands of police were activated but the national dragnet missed the perpetrators. No one resigned from the Liberal cabinet, police or intelligence services. PM Michel even refused the resignation offered by his interior minister.
Sound familiar? Among some European political elites, it sometimes seems like they’re treating it as business as usual, where no one is held accountable for Europe’s security or porous borders. Though it’s now irrefutable that terrorist organizations exploited the open border and the surge in mass migration, many are still pretending that there’s no link between unregulated migration and increased security threats, pretending that the European Cup will not be the next target after the rehearsal at the Stade de France, pretending that the next wave of migrants predicted for this summer are not already on their way.
Maybe the European left will never realize that this crisis may come down to a question of survival for our societies now and fifty years in the future. How much longer will Europe and the Member States avoid the tough decisions, like extending data collection and information sharing, and stepping up laws and measures on security – on the Schengen borders or domestically?
Ultimately, a failure to recognize that Europe has been attacked and that the threat continues to be serious means that Europe’s citizens will pay. If terrorists can continue to benefit from gaping holes on our borders and in our laws, if parliaments do not pass laws to facilitate prevention, in turn European citizens will have to pay not only for the extra policing, but pay extra also for their products that get held up at border controls, with their time spent at security screenings or while travelling over borders in the once borderless Schengen area. If external borders aren’t properly reinforced, if legislators do not provide the tools to fight terrorism, then security can only be maintained with a more robust police presence in cities and all crowded areas and events.
Only a handful of leaders have had the courage to speak plainly about the nature of the threat and put the resources of the state into action. Hungary, initially criticized for calling attention to the security threat and the need to strengthen Europe’s external border, has now changed the terms of the debate, at home and across Europe.
We can all hope for a day of greater peace and stability in the region, but until then, we have to confront difficult decisions. Business cannot go on as usual. If we want to maintain our freedoms, if we want to maintain Schengen, it’s time to take some of these tough decisions.