What after « Charlie »?
Member States and their citizens must choose between an integrated European Union and its disappearance!
The French political debate following the tragic events of early January remains so far consensual, reflecting the popular pressure which is demanding of its representatives to bury partisan interests and political manoeuvrings. The speech by PM Manuel Valls in Parliament was given broad cross party approval. Its contents, carefully weighted to avoid the pitfalls of a hasty and poorly thought through reaction, puts forward nevertheless – as was anticipated – a series of ideas, particularly in the field of security considered in its broadest sense.
Further afield throughout the world, and more specifically within EU Member States, parallel reflexions have been initiated, aiming at completing, where necessary, their respective administrative and legal tool boxes needed to counter the terrorist threat. The theme is also being raised at EU level by the Council, the Parliament and the Commission though in a fairly subdued way. Commission President Junker should attempt to galvanise MEPs into supporting a political project dealing with these matters.
In the absence of a common prior consultation and coordination process between Member States, this sometimes feverish reaction could harbour the germs of a process leading to the demise of the Union. Indeed, each country, under pressure emanating from its own public opinion, risks advocating measures that, in the name of efficiency, could violate existing European legislation: for instance border controls (free movement of people) or the benefit of fundamental freedoms. This trend is likely to surface as governments – in the name of “national unity” – will be tempted to make concessions to euro sceptic parties who will find there an opportunity to validate and reinforce their populist credo.
Before deciding precipitously, on one’s own, the measures that the situation requires, should one not examine whether the topic of “war against terrorism” does not fulfil all the requirements of “subsidiarity” so that it is dealt with primarily at Union level? It should be self evident both from an operational efficiency point of view and a cost of implementation vantage point, that no Member State is in a position to muster the necessary resources on its own. It would necessarily lead to a colossal waste of money as well as significant (therefore dangerous) delays resulting from a system based on “intergovernmental cooperation” which would be superfluous in an integrated approach.
If it is necessary to avoid the defects of the “Patriot Act”, enacted precipitously in the United States after the 9/11 attacks, it should by no means prevent us from considering the strong points of the American anti-terrorist arsenal, in particular with regard to the coordination of the various “federal” agencies concerned: for instance the existence of the FBI which has jurisdiction throughout the country as soon as interstate or international matters are concerned. It would indeed be absurd to manage these questions between 51 “sovereign” States in which the unrestricted freedom of movement prevails; it should also be so between the 29 EU Members. A similar reasoning should be applied to the surveillance of the Internet and of social media, aiming at developing appropriate cyber weapons within a unified regulatory framework.
The establishment of a European “FBI” would clearly entail a further transfer of sovereignty to EU level of an even greater magnitude than was the case with the introduction of the Euro. Indeed, it would imply a considerable expansion of the existing judicial apparatus, including the decentralisation of its premises, the possible creation of a European prison service (a possible answer to the isolation of radical terrorists) and a common legislation aimed at avoiding judicial “arbitrage” between Member States. Furthermore, one should, as a matter of coherence, consider the federalisation of immigration policy, of the external border controls and a restructuring of the EU budgetary framework so as to provide the Union with the adequate own resources to fulfil its extended responsibilities. Present circumstances may offer a window of opportunity in which citizens might be prepared to consider constraints that they would be tempted to shun in a more serene context.
It is therefore incumbent on us all to amplify and exploit the movement of solidarity that has emerged during the last few days. It is the question that should be considered as a priority during the forthcoming European, Council. Failing to bring a unanimous response and initiate the process of treaty amendment that it entails, it is the process of decline and ultimate demise of the Union that will be have been engaged.
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.
Tel: +32 (02) 6475310 +33 (04) 94732015 Mob: +32 (0497) 549259