We are two young Parisians, who could have been out enjoying our evening in the same districts where acts of terrorism took place in our city. Fortunately for us, we were safe during the attacks and learned through Facebook that our closest friends and families were safe too.
Nevertheless, the days following the attacks were unbearable and we are still shaken to our core. Despite the hashtags like #NotAfraid that littered social media, we are afraid. We are still afraid when we take the metro, when we go to cinemas, to concerts, to exhibitions or simply to drink coffee on one of the terraces by the Canal. We are afraid to live and to enjoy what makes Paris so special.
We were not even born when the Schengen Agreement was signed, which is probably why we take it for granted. Drinking coffee, going to concerts, or walking in a park in Berlin, Madrid or Rome is our present and a future that we don’t want to question.
Today, this unique space of security, peace, solidarity and opportunities is called into question because of the Paris attacks and the refugee crisis. Last Friday, European ministries of home affairs discussed the reestablishment of border controls. We hear here and there that border controls should be re-established, that Europe is incapable of defending itself and that its political project is irretrievable. Part of this is no doubt true and we unfortunately witnessed it in Paris a month ago. But from our point of view as young Parisians, we know too that solidarity in security is paramount to the European project. Given the extent of ISIS’ network in Europe, we know that it must be fought against at the supranational level.
These terrorists who reject everything that Europe stands for have managed to take advantage of the opportunities of Schengen; shared security cooperation needs to be re-thought so that Schengen is not swept away. Rather than condemning Schengen or calling for its termination, we would instead call for it to be strengthened and expanded. We need a Europe of practicalities, not just a Europe of ideas. The instruments of this policy are already in place, they “just” need to be implemented, strengthened or even re-discovered. In these distressing times, one is tempted to lament on the failures of Frontex that mirror the failures of Europe as a land of freedom, opportunities and security. Another example is probably the role of Gilles de Kerchove the EU Counter-terrorism coordinator: his voice and opinions have unfortunately not been heard enough or at all, for that matter.
In the light of this situation, we call for the upholding and protection of our unique Schengen Area. It cost Europe 130 lives to learn that terrorists can travel across our borders and attack us and realise that our security needs to be thought of and managed at the supranational level. How can we deal with a French citizen living in Belgium who should be convicted for terrorist attacks in Paris, conducted with weapons probably bought in Germany? The only way to face the Europeanisation of the threat is to Europeanise our police and judicial systems. It is high time too to think about a European intelligence service, with the appropriate human and financial resources.
To restore their trust in the European idea for Génération Bataclan, the importance of both Schengen and of a reinforced European cooperation needs to be highlighted. To reinstate border controls would mean going backwards on the uniqueness of the European project and the hopes it has created around the world.
We are at the eve of a major political landmark in France, as in less than a week the Front National (FN) – a far-right, eurosceptic and populist party – might well win over several of the regions in France. Some may say that they are just local elections, but favourable results for the FN could act as a force multiplier and enhance the importance of this party in France today. FN rejects everything that Europe stands for, calls for the termination of Schengen, the end of the Eurozone and the creation of a new diplomatic axis with Moscow.
The rise of the FN can partly be explained by a crisis of the solidarity which is at the core of the European project. The FN acceding to power would mean a rejection of our shared values and thus the end of our common project. As two French women, Europe is more than a political project, it is how we conduct our daily life and something we aspire for the next generation to enjoy. We had taken for granted that the European space is here to stay – that we can enjoy a coffee in Warsaw, a concert in Brussels or and an ECFR conference in Paris – but now we need to fight for its survival.