One of the staunchest defenders of free travel across Europe’s borders, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, said that Friday’s planned terror attack on a train traveling between Paris and Amsterdam (which was foiled by three quick-thinking Americans and one Briton) should prompt a rethink of one of the core pillars of the European project. The Telegraph:
“The Schengen Agreement is important for our economy and our citizens, but we are now faced with new threats in Europe and so we’ll maybe have to move towards new rules in identity and baggage checks,” Mr Michel said.
“It is certainly a boon to economic development and freedom of movement for those who have good intentions, but this freedom is also used in order to harm. The goal is not to suppress freedoms, but to deal with a threat.” […]
A major revision of Europe’s travel rules may require treaty change, and could make Mr Cameron’s demand to change the rules around welfare for migrants appear mild by comparison.
The European Commission, for its part, has been trying to shut such talk down since the incident on Friday, saying that the Schengen provisions guaranteeing freedom of movement were irreversible and “non-negotiable.” It added that increased security measures need not be in conflict with Schengen if they do not amount to the equivalent of border checks.
What the attacks really ought to prompt, in any case, is a rethink of how Europe’s various intelligence agencies share information and coordinate with each other. The man responsible for the failed attack, Ayoub El-Khazzani, had a security alert on his file in France. He was tracked departing from Berlin for Istanbul in May, in what appears to have been an attempt to reach northern Syria. However, officials have no record of his returning to Europe. A Schengen-wide security database exists, but is used inconsistently and only for high-risk routes (for people likely to be arriving from Syria, for example). Furthermore, many European intelligence agencies are reportedly reluctant to put some of their dossiers in the database.
All sorts of talk about reforming intelligence sharing emerged after the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, but the discussion hasn’t gained much momentum. Maybe this averted tragedy—coupled with the specter of ISIS operatives making their way into Europe amidst the huge groups of migrants arriving in the EU—will help focus minds in Brussels.