16 November 2015

The world currently stands in solidarity with France in the aftermath of the deadliest attack on its soil since the Second World War. In response to the threat of global terrorism, the EU and its member-states will have enact domestic policies to tackle the challenges of home-grown extremism, and to coordinate foreign policy to try and bring about a settlement to end the war in Syria. But on the home-front, the atrocities of Paris will soon strain the deep EU divisions on the migration crisis to breaking point.

Eastern and Central Europe push back on refugee quotas

Speaking on Saturday morning, Poland’s incoming Europe Minister Konrad Szymańksi argued that, “With regards to the tragic events in Paris we do not see [the EU refugee relocation scheme] as being politically possible to execute. Poland needs to retain full control over its borders, over its asylum and migration policy.”

However, following widespread criticism in Poland and abroad, the government has rowed back from the comments, with Polish politics website 300polityka reporting that Szymańksi was reprimanded for breaking ranks. Appearing on TVN24, incoming Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowsi said that Poland would take in refugees who want to come to the country but that their backgrounds would be intensively vetted – potentially yet another practical obstacle to the scheme.

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico announced that his government would double up on efforts to prevent radicalism in refugee camps in his country, arguing, “safety risks association with migration are enormous.” Fico added:

We respect that there’s a migration crisis but Slovak citizens and their security is of higher priority than the rights of migrants.

Robert Fico, Slovakian Prime Minister

Meanwhile, Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban cancelled a trip to Montenegro to deliver an address in the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest today entitled, “Attack on Europe.” He accused Brussels of “unchecked” invitations to hundreds of thousands of people, and told MPs, “Those who said yes to immigration, who transported immigrants from warzones, those people did not do everything for the defence of European people.” He continued, “In a deliberate and organised way, terrorists have exploited mass migration by mingling in the mass of people leaving their homes in the hope of a better life.” He also took a blow at the EU refugee relocation scheme, concluding that:

As long as this  government is breathing, there won’t be any [refugee] quota.

Victor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister

Amongst many other European politicians, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has  argued against making a direct link between link between terrorism and refugees, saying,“We should not mix the different categories of people coming to Europe. The one responsible for the attacks in Paris … is a criminal and not a refugee and not an asylum-seeker.”

How will Merkel fare domestically on refugee question?

Speaking to German media, Bavaria’s Finance Minister Marcus Söder of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CSU Bavarian sister-party, said, “The time of uncontrolled and illegal immigration cannot continue like this. Paris changes everything.” He called for a mea culpa from Merkel, commenting, “The CSU stands with the Chancellor, but it would be good if Merkel acknowledged that the opening of the borders for an unlimited period of time was a mistake.”

Paris changes everything.

Marcus Söder, Bavarian Finance Minister

Söder’s intervention has sparked a reprimand from Horst Seehofer, the Premier of Bavaria and leader of the CSU (notable recently for his ardent criticism of Merkel’s refugee policies.) He said that that it was “totally inappropriate to criticise the Chancellor at a time when we should all stand together,” adding that, “It is very important that we do not mix up the refugee issue with fighting terrorism or criminality.” Nonetheless, he urged for realism saying, “Not every refugee is an IS terrorist. But to believe that there is not a single civil-war fighter among the refugees is naive. France shows that in questions of security, we cannot make any more compromises.”

As we have detailed on our blog here, and here, Merkel’s strong consensus-building politics on the centre-right has never been as strained as it is now in the face of the migration crisis. How the Paris Attacks will affect her standing with the German public and within her own party remains to be seen. It’s worth noting that she had already moved significantly to tighten the asylum procedures in German before Paris happened, but a significant proportion of the population still feels that she no longer has control.

It is totally inappropriate to criticise [Merkel] at a time when we should all stand together.

Horst Seehofer, Premier of Bavaria and CSU Leader

Anti-immigration and far-right to capitalise

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, has already called for an “immediate halt” to France’s migrant intake, saying its assent to the EU-wide quota system for refugees was “irresponsible.” She added that Front National’s “fears and warnings of the possible presence of jihadists among the migrants entering our country” had now been borne out.

Remember, there is a lot to play for here with the French regional elections in early December. Le Pen’s Front National is already leading in several regional polls.  This sentiment will likely be echoed across Europe in the coming days and weeks: anti-immigration parties are polling at record highs in other countries too – including in Germany (where the AfD recently reached double digits for the first time on 10%), in Sweden (where one recent poll put the Sweden Democrats on the lead at close to 27%), and in the Netherlands (where Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom is on the lead, and twice as large as the Prime Minister’s VVD.)

Ultimately, there can be no all-encompassing policy that can counter the threat of global terrorism. But to start, the EU and its member states will have to ask difficult questions on how to tackle home-grown extremism, and to what extent they are willing to compromise to try and bring about a peace settlement in Syria. However, when it comes to the migration crisis itself, the Paris Attacks will serve to entrench bitter divisions.