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Analysis
Wider impact of 13 November

Wider impact of 13 November

Why Islamic State may be targeting France

by John Nugée

Wed 25 Nov 2015

The murderous attacks in Paris on 13 November and the aftermath of fear and insecurity across Europe have a variety of repercussions. Among these, it may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the Schengen agreement on a border-free Europe – an accord to which the UK is not party.

Even before the Paris atrocities, the agreement was close to collapse anyway after the failure of recent European Union-wide efforts to find political answers to the migration challenge. Like the euro, Schengen may go down in history as a good and noble idea poorly (and incompletely) executed, with flaws which became near-fatal when the system came under stress.

To work properly, a common area with free movement inside the zone demands a common border against the outside. The Schengen zone should have had a Federal Border Agency with a common, jointly run border force. The present arrangements fall far short of this.

France, for example, has surrendered control of who can enter its territory not to an agency in Brussels, where it would have a voice (though even this would be a step too far for the UK) but to the authorities in Athens, Rome or Budapest. And they, in turn, have devolved responsibility to their agents in Kos, and Lampedusa, and any tiny village on the Serbian-Hungarian border now being besieged and overwhelmed by desperate people.

It is no great surprise that those who wish Europe harm see the mass movement of people as an opportunity to infiltrate and damage the continent.

The EU regards the free movement of people as even more of a central tenet than the single currency. In principle, Schengen may remain fully in place. But in practice its implementation may be suspended, much as the free movement of capital was suspended between Cyprus and the rest of the euro area in 2013, and in Greece during summer 2015. The border controls that President François Hollande has reinstated in France may stay in place for some time.

The larger question is, indeed, why France has been singled out by Islamic State. For many Islamic militants, French military activity in Syria will provide a valid enough reason. The downing of the Russian aeroplane at the end of October showed IS is prepared to strike against civilian targets in states which use military force against it.

Beyond that, IS may be focusing on France for a more sinister reason: as a weak link in the EU. France is economically struggling and ill at ease with itself, facing the running sore of its failure to integrate its Muslim population – a larger proportion of the overall populace than in comparable states, and less at home in their host country than many. The Parisian banlieues are home to many young Muslim men who feel ghettoised and unwanted. They are a ready recruiting ground for militant jihad.

France, as the second largest economy in the euro area, represents a significant prize for those who wish the EU ill. Destabilise Britain, and encourage the native population to turn against immigrants, and you may knock one country out of the Union. Destabilise France and you may bring the whole Union down.

This may be grossly overstating IS’s ambition. But for the hate-filled chief strategist of IS, turning the European family inwards would be a natural way to try to destabilise western societies.

John Nugée is a Board Member and Senior Adviser of OMFIF.

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