How Will the Paris Attacks Affect the Migration Debate?

By: Mark Rhinard

2015-11-14 |

The Paris attacks offer an opportunity to change the tone of the current migration debate. But it will take an unlikely amount of political courage.

France is currently sifting through the rubble of one of the worse terror attacks since September 11, 2001. The country's focus is on tending to the wounded and consoling survivors - and rightly so. But soon, the demand for answers will set in. Critics will no doubt turn to Europe's recent migration crisis and claim that it played some role in facilitating the attack. Such claims will be made not only by the far-right but also by countries seeking approval for more repressive measures against migrants (Hungary springs to mind). Considering the pan-European nature of the attack, the collective response to these claims could go in one of two directions.

Narrative one: national solutions

The first response would be to buy into these claims and let them shape Europe's response to the migration crisis. It would legitimize a narrative that Syrian migrants probably played a role in this tragedy, and that Europe's inadequate management of its borders is to blame. This narrative will turn its back on the EU and turn toward national solutions like closing borders, securitizing migrants (treating them as security threats), and implementing restrictive measures at home. Migrants will be blamed and protections will be withdrawn. Security will be prioritized over European values of fairness, openness and liberal principles. This response would accelerate the current, deteriorating debate.

Narrative two: values first
A second option is to reject these claims by reasserting the role of European values in handling the migration crisis. The current response has indeed been lacking - to say the least. Patchwork policies and poor coordination allows national authorities to run amok, turning their backs on moral obligations in favor of political expediency and security. But the aftermath of the Paris attacks will provide an opportunity to both change the narrative and reform the system. Yes, a more systematic and controlled approach is necessary. But better border controls, a more efficient resettlement processes, and stricter asylum conditions can be achieved as part of a narrative that places values first. Those wishing to risk everything to migrate to Europe will receive humane and impartial treatment with a thoughtful consideration of their cases and a real chance of resettlement in Europe. This narrative would place European values at the forefront of European action.

While the second option may be morally desirable, the first is politically likely and accelerates the current trend. That's a great shame, since recent history recalls how governments' responses to terrorism reshape their own societies. The USA is widely known to have launched a response to September 11 that was inconsistent with its own principles of freedom, liberty and openness. Norway's response to the Breivik attacks in 2011 is seen to have reinforced and strengthened its own values.

In the previous analysis "Migration and values in the European Union: Whither the European Council" we argued that Europe?s migration policy reflected poor convergence of common values. Now Europe has the unprecedented opportunity to reassert its collective values in the face of a major challenge. Let's hope that opportunity is not lost.

M Rhinard smallMark Rhinard is Senior Research Fellow and head of the Europe Research Program at UI.

Photo: "Peace for Paris" Illustration by @jean_jullien


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