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Europe’s porous borders abet terrorism

The idea of a united Europe, embodied in the European Union, is noble. The idea of a borderless Europe is dangerous.

A classic case of the law of unintended consequences: Blur the borders of Europe in order to eliminate the relentless wars among its nation states, and end up with terrorists easily slipping across those borders with their lethal weapons.

From Caesar to Charlemagne to the founders of the League of Nations, the idea was to eliminate the causes of frequent, bloody national conflict on the continent. Beginning with the visionary Jean Monet and his post-WW IICoal and Steel Community, the European Union gradually came into being. How wonderful, how naive, it sounded:Let the Germans share their coking coal with the French, and let the French share their iron ore with Germany, and both nations (and many other participants in the “community”) would make steel. And while they were making steel, they would not make war.

It worked — up to a point. Not even a visionary like Jean Monet could see into the global world in which we now live.

The European Union, and its attendant myriad institutions, was driven by noble purposes. After surviving two of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, Europe had had enough. So the two poles of European conflict — France and Germany, along with the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg — found economic cooperation as the first and firmest road to peace and political union.

War between century-old enemies was to become, in the words of French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, one of the key proponents of a post-war European community, “unthinkable, but [also] materially impossible.”

As the European idea advanced, the initial rights incorporated into the original concept were extended. The free movement of persons was part of the original Treaty of Rome. While once the community allowed for the free movement of workers only in the coal and steel industries, successive treaties extended free movement to the citizens of all community member states in all industries. By now, under the Schengen Agreement, travel to and from member states has become passport-free — regardless of whether the traveler is a citizen of a member state. No more identification checks, even when boarding a flight, so long as its destination is within the Schengen Zone. 

The potential for abuse by terrorists and weapons salesmen is obvious. While the coveted United States of Europe is all but here — well, it isn’t safe. It isn’t compatible with today’s security realities and challenges.

There’s an American parallel. The Fourteenth Amendment grants citizenship to any person born in the US. It too was designed to right a wrong — in the American case, the Dred Scott determination that a slave could not be a US citizen. Post-Civil War lawmakers enshrined the citizenship of black Americans in the Constitution. A century later, this right is often abused by individuals smuggled into the US to give birth. The Fourteenth Amendment is not compatible with today’s security realities and challenges.

When the EU was founded, world conflict was still viewed through a classical prism: great powers in battle for power and influence. Germany vs. France. Western Europe vs. Eastern Europe. Capitalism vs. Communism.

Now the prism is this: terrorism vs. civilians. The geopolitical landscape has changed.

The founders of the EU didn’t reckon on homegrown terrorism, influenced from without by rogue states and non-state, transnational networks. Terror from within the EU’s porous borders is a new reality that must be addressed even at the modification of the European Union. A European community may be needed more than ever, to provide a united response to a problem that threatens its various member states, but the European Union must recognize its borders and its limitations. It must continue to share intelligence and launch joint operations. But it must also reinstate border controls.

The reason, as we say, is all too obvious, and ironic: Europe’s successful cooperative efforts in security have a perverse parallel: the successful cooperative efforts of terrorists.

Two of the terrorists in the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the Kouachi brothers, were on the US no-fly list. What’s the use of a no-fly list if identification of the passengers does not occur —as in the case of travel within the Schengen Zone, of which the brothers were resident?

Great Britain realizes this, which is why it never joined Schengen and maintains control of its borders. The benefits of free movement are clear; but the risks are too great. The rest of Europe should now follow the British example.

Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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