If Europe doesn’t get serious about protecting its borders, it’s going to head back to the days of barbed wire and concrete walls. That’s what President François Hollande warned when he went before a rare joint sitting of France’s National Assembly and Senate to argue for an extended three-month state of emergency. His warning came in the wake of the half-dozen simultaneous bomb and machine-gun attacks in Paris on November 13, claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS), that left at least 130 dead.
Hollande’s standing with his countrymen has had something in common with that of Barack Obama. He came to power to replace a right-winger the broad public had come to loathe, in this case Nicolas Sarkozy. And Hollande soon settled into a pattern of permanent unpopularity that has left the man in the street counting the days till he leaves office, and the politically minded migrating steadily towards the opposite ideological pole. Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Front has for long stretches of the Hollande era been the most popular party in the country. Conservative former labor minister Xavier Bertrand called for the establishment of special tribunals for jihadists.
For now, it is easy to understand why Hollande is asking for emergency powers but hard to tell how he will use them. The new law would allow expanded use of house arrests, warrantless searches of computers, new airline security programs, and surveillance of various social groups. This week, police fired 5,000 rounds of ammunition into an apartment building in the city of Saint-Denis, north of Paris, in a raid that killed the ringleader of the November 13 attacks. It appears that Hollande, who describes France as being in a state of war, has been swept up in the security-consciousness of his countrymen.
But the situation is ambiguous. Europe—or at least the Western European politicians who claim to speak in its name—is managing two emergencies at once: terrorism and a mammoth overland migration of millions of Muslims, mostly young men. Some are refugees from the Syrian war. Others pretend to be such refugees in order to ease their path to political asylum. Almost assuredly these migrant flows will harbor a certain number of people who would be deemed terrorist threats. In a sense, Hollande is pursuing hard measures—like ransacking apartments in the slums—that would protect the French people from terrorists. In a sense he is avoiding hard measures—like repudiating once and for all Europe’s system of porous borders—and thus protecting the French political class from the judgment of the French people. He is also dodging the judgment of financial markets, using the attacks to wriggle out of the austerity budgets that the common European currency, the euro, has imposed on France’s state finances. (“The security pact,” Hollande says, “takes precedence over the stability pact,” as the budgetary targets are called.)
Hollande is not the only Western leader who is trying to insulate himself from accountability to voters as he deals with terrorism on one hand and seeks to avoid dealing with mass migration on the other. President Obama, speaking in Turkey, used his platform in Antalya not to deplore the Paris attacks but to belittle those of his fellow Americans who saw them as a reason to increase the vetting of would-be migrants from the Syrian war. This was the same week Turkish soccer fans booed the moment of silence for the victims of the Paris attacks and shouted Allahu akbar!
Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany has used the Syrian war as the occasion to launch a demographic revolution. Her estimate that Germany could receive 800,000 migrants in a year (a number that vastly exceeds the number of German births) has sped the onrush of Middle Easterners into Europe since August. This migration has been extremely unpopular in certain sectors of German society. There has been a great deal of violence by migrants in refugee housing—and, by some counts, hundreds of attacks against such facilities, most of them in eastern Germany. At the end of August Merkel gave a press conference that has been remembered for its declaration that thuggery would not be tolerated. Its real significance was that it, too, declared a sort of state of emergency. Merkel warned that the crisis would continue not for days or months but for a much longer period. Under the circumstances, she said, Germany would have to relax its traditional punctiliousness about the rule of law: “It is important that we say German thoroughness is super, but now is the time for German flexibility.”