Katja Theodorakis is a PhD scholar at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, where she is focusing on Jihadi ideology, radicalization and foreign fighters. She publishes and regularly presents at seminars and conferences on the topics of national security/terrorism, jihadism and Middle East politics. Katja holds a First-Class Honours degree in International Development from the Australian National University and has previously lived in the Middle East, where she was engaged in educational projects and NGO work in Syria. She can be found on twitter @KatjaTheo. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: Islamic State (IS) inspired terror attacks have highlighted weaknesses in the European Union’s (EU) collective response to such security challenges. Note: This article does not conflate increased security concerns with the arrival of refugees. Rather, border security and immigration control is linked here specifically to undetected criminal activity, unauthorized overstays, and the easy proliferation of existing terrorist networks.
Date Originally Written: February 7, 2017
Date Originally Published: February 23, 2017.
Author and / or Article Point of View: Author is an academic terrorism researcher, objectively assessing contemporary security challenges and the threats emanating from militant jihadism. As an Australian citizen and resident, the author’s research is supported by an Australian Government Scholarship, but this article is not written from a particular political or national security perspective. Having lived and studied in a number of European countries as well as the U.S., the author seeks to analyze security issues, which are often highly politicized, from a wider, comparative point of view.
Background: The security situation in Europe is at a crossroads after a string of IS-inspired terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016. The events witnessed in Paris, Brussels, Nice, and Berlin, as well as various smaller-scale attacks and foiled plots, have highlighted systemic weaknesses in the EU’s security architecture. While the backgrounds and radicalization journeys of the individual attackers vary – including ‘homegrown’ jihadists as well as recent migrant arrivals – the common denominator is that they were able to take advantage of existing vulnerabilities in the EU’s approach to security, border control and immigration.
Security cooperation within the EU is reflected in the ‘Schengen’ zone, which allows for free travel as its member states surrendered some of their national powers to the supranational ‘Frontex’ border agency. Likewise, under the Dublin Regulation, the European Asylum Support Office is supposed to coordinate the registration and processing of asylum seekers within the zone in a fair manner, and relevant security information is to be shared under the Schengen Information System (ISI). Yet, the arrival of more than one million refugees and migrants in 2015 alone has plunged this already strained system into severe crisis.
The dangerous confluence of security failures, both at the national and the supranational level, became especially evident in the case of Anis Amri, the perpetrator of the Berlin Christmas market attack. The rejected asylum-seeker and self-proclaimed jihadist from Tunisia escaped deportation after being found guilty of criminal activity in several European countries, avoided surveillance by security agencies, and managed to cross numerous European borders undetected. Such security gaps, visible also in some of the other attacks, have cast doubt on Europe’s collective ability to protect itself from these emerging security threats through a coordinated response.
Significance: Due to such attacks, the very survival of the Schengen project is now in question as national border controls have been partly reinstated across the zone. This temporary return to nationalized border protection raises the question of what the options are for European leaders and policy makers to enhance security and border control across the continent?
This issue is particularly pressing in light of the continued disintegration of Syria and the security challenges for the wider Middle East. Refugee streams will likely continue on top of ongoing migration flows from other areas of instability, such as Africa and Afghanistan. The inevitable loss of territory for IS could lead to a shift of focus and increase its underground activity, making further terrorist attacks in Europe more likely.
Option #1: EU countries return to national sovereignty over matters of border control, surveillance and immigration.
Individual member states can opt for more national self-determination and less cooperation with the EU on security issues. This renationalization of migration and border protection policies could include a number of different scenarios; these range from 1) the permanent re-introduction of internal borders within the entire Schengen area, as temporarily implemented by six member states at present; 2) a tighter, more controllable core Schengen area excluding countries such as Greece that have external borders; to 3) even a complete Brexit-style departure from the EU, as for example proposed by France’s far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
Risk: Full national control of internal borders could pose a financial risk, impede free trade, and slow tourism across Europe, with an estimated annual cost of 5 – 18 billion Euros for Schengen member states. It could also prove inefficient in terms of preventing terrorist attacks committed by ‘homegrown’ jihadis. Moreover, uncoordinated security measures and migration control by individual states run the risk of creating political divisions and could inhibit more efficient information and intelligence sharing networks across Europe. Given the increasing nexus between jihadi activity and existing crime networks in Europe, a lack of cooperation could therefore prove detrimental.
Gain: A renationalization of border controls could provide more efficient security as it can avoid the lack of coordination and consistency inherent in EU-wide measures and allows for tighter surveillance. The permanent closure of open internal borders would directly restrict the secondary movement of refugees, irregular migrants, and returning foreign fighters (at least those known to security agencies) within the zone. This could have a positive effect on the overall security situation as asylum-seekers without documentation would remain in their country of arrival, thereby preventing those engaging in illegal activities to ‘fall through the cracks’ and evade deportation.
Option #2: An EU-wide overhaul and harmonization of existing border management and immigration schemes.
This option would be part of a streamlined new agenda, a ‘21st Century European Security Pact’, as proposed by EU leaders at recent summits in Bratislava (2016) and Malta (2017). Based on more unification and burden-sharing, this envisioned security agenda is to include increased military and security cooperation in the form of a European Border and Coast Guard, as well as increased Defense spending and a new ‘entry-exit’ system for non-EU arrivals to the Schengen zone where personal details are registered in a database.
Risk: Harmonization depends on the willingness of member states to cooperate and make concessions, which could prove difficult to achieve. If the project remains largely visionary and common institutions backing new mechanism are not sufficiently overhauled, not much would change and the challenges to Europe’s security could still not be countered efficiently. This would further undermine the credibility of the EU as a political project.
Gain: If successfully implemented, measures such as greater intelligence cooperation and a strengthened EU border force could be very beneficial to improving the continent’s security situation in the long run.
Other Comments: None.
 Pinja Lehton & Pali Alto , “ Smart and secure borders through automated border control systems in the EU? The views of political stakeholders in the Member States”, European Security, January 2017, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09662839.2016.1276057
 Peter, Laurence  “ Berlin truck attack: Can the EU stop another Amri?”, BBC News, 6 January 2017. Retrieved January 22, 2017: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38517768
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