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Foreign Fighters
The EU’s Open Borders Problem

The “free movement of peoples” provided by the Schengen Agreement has been a cause of a good part of the discontent over immigration in the European Union. The problem is a template for many other EU dysfunctions: certain rules treat the EU as a single, homogeneous entity, while most of the country-level institutions still operate as if they were sovereign.

A particularly nasty manifestation of this issue is being felt in the struggle to track and contain radical jihadists returning home to various parts of Europe from the Syrian battlefield. The Financial Times:

With more than 3,000 Europeans estimated to be fighting as jihadis in Iraq and Syria, Schengen—the treaty that allows for the free movement of citizens across 26 European states, documentation almost entirely unchecked—has become a yawning security loophole. And, as European security chiefs increasingly admit, they see no easy way to close it.

“[Schengen] is the number one concern—the big problem that we are struggling with,” says one top European counter-terrorism chief. “To try and find a way to properly track all of these foreign fighters is already very hard. The lack of information because of Schengen makes it nearly impossible.”

The article goes on to outline some technological solutions being vetted as a stopgap solution. But the problem, as always in Europe, is that the continent’s constituent bureaucracies refuse to behave as if the EU were one state.

“It’s the old problem of spooks not trusting each other,” says Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute. “The last thing any security agency wants is for its intelligence to leak out and end up on the web.”

If a recent poll in Britain (notably not a Schengen participant) finding that one in ten Londoners and one in seven British youth under 25 reported warm feelings for ISIS is anything to go by, it’s only a matter of time before the next major attack roils the European project unless some changes are made. Kicking the can down the road, the favorite pastime of Eurocrats, just won’t cut it.

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  • rheddles

    Enoch Powell is looking more prescient every day

    • Pete

      Oh brother, was old Enoch ever right!

  • Andrew Allison

    TAI continues to avoid the real issue regarding Londoners’ “warm feelings for ISIS”, In January 2011 12.4% of the population of London was Muslim. In other words, virtually all Muslims living in London (and elsewhere) have warm feelings for ISIS. It’s time to face facts.

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