by Rahul Venkit
BRUSSELS, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) — With Europe still reeling from a wave of recent terror attacks in Germany and France, tough questions confront the continent as to how it will affect public opinion, politics and refugee policy.
In one week alone, Germany was rocked by an axe attack on a train in Wuerzburg, a mass shooting in Munich killing nine, a machete attack in which a pregnant woman was killed in Reutlingen, and a suicide bombing outside a music festival in Ansbach.
In France, two teenagers decapitated an 86-year-old priest during mass in a church in Normandy, while a man ploughed a heavy truck into a crowd celebrating French national day in Nice, killing 84.
A majority of these attacks were carried out by refugees and/or those pledging allegiance to Daesh or the Islamic State.
On one hand, this has stoked fears of public security and further terror attacks. On the other, it has polarized opinion on whether opening the door to refugees was the right decision.
‘WE CAN MANAGE IT?’
The spate of deadly violence on European soil has, in part at least, led to EU citizens citing immigration and terrorism as the biggest challenges that the EU faces.
According to a European Commission survey, terrorism was ranked the number one concern in eight EU countries and was among the top two in every EU country except Greece.
“The general public is clearly uneasy about the refugee crisis, but seem to be torn between the moral aim of helping and growing fears about the social consequences,” Iain Begg, research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told Xinhua.
Issues surrounding refugees, terrorism and free movement are often conflated in the eyes of the general public, which can distort the true picture, he added.
“The links between refugees and the attacks in Germany and France, — although in the latter, it is more French citizens of Maghreb origin — are seen through the lens of Islamist terrorism,” Begg stated.
However, it is important to note the number of incidents is, in reality, quite low in relations to the sheer number of refugees, he added.
Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week was unequivocal in maintaining her refugee policy, saying a rejection of the humanitarian stance could have led to even worse consequences.
Her mantra when it comes to dealing with the million plus migrants Germany has received remains: “Wir schaffen das (We can manage it).”
But the masses in Europe may not agree with Merkel.
STRENGTHENING OF THE RIGHT
Gauri Khandekar, Europe director at the Global Relations Forum, foresees a change in political leadership in both France and Germany.
“Globally there is a rise of nationalism and Europe is no exception,” she said.
“While mainstream politicians and political parties are not adequately addressing the deep concerns of the populations, far-right parties are increasingly making concerns such as Islamist terrorism, perceived rise of Islam in Europe and the influx of refugees from Muslim countries, their main speaking points,” Khandekar added.
Citing immediate repercussions such as strengthening of the political far right, threat of reemergence of neo-nazism and increased security measures, the foreign affairs expert stated: “Any political party in Europe today which maintains an open refugee policy will simply not come to or stay in power.”
Currently, Europe’s migrant deal with Turkey is looking shaky at best and several Central and Eastern countries have opted to pay fines instead of accepting migrants.
Upcoming elections in Austria, France, Italy and elsewhere will in the coming months reveal the mood of the public and the extent to which far-right parties gain ground in the continent.
EUROPEAN SECURITY ADEQUATE?
With every passing day, it is becoming increasingly clear that security and justice failures led to some of the recent attacks in Europe.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, for example, rued the fact that one of the attackers in Normandy had been released with an electronic tag pending trial on terror charges.
Focusing on a larger number of unpredictable suspects will require a re-thinking on counter-terrorism practices, said Edoardo Camilli, CEO & co-founder of Horizon Intelligence.
“On the one hand, we have lone wolves who use rudimentary methods to attack soft targets such as restaurants, bars, shopping malls and public transport. On the other hand, we have organized terrorist groups who carry out coordinated attacks in multiple locations using sophisticated methods such as suicide bombings and shootings,” he told Xinhua.
Countering the terror threat in Europe will be challenging, “considering that information sharing in Europe is first very limited, and secondly based on personal contacts between agents.”
European nations need to have a more structured system of sharing information both internally and between countries. In effect, a “fusion center” or database collecting operational intelligence from local, states and federal security agencies, Camilli said.
Stricter integration of databases containing records on terrorists with those of criminals is also vital.
“This is because some attackers had a criminal background before becoming terrorists, and because terrorists may rely upon criminals networks for forging documents and acquiring weapons,” he added.
Other tools at Europe’s disposal are improved surveillance of identified threats, requiring larger investment in technology, personnel and drafting of strong anti-terror laws, according to the security expert.
Amid the ongoing turmoil, the average European citizen finds herself soul-searching — does one give into fear and restrict outdoor activity or keep going as before?
For EU nationals in Brussels Meran and Wilf Moore, while they admit to the recent spate of incidents sparking personal safety concerns, they say they cannot and will not change their way of life.
“Yes, we feel we need to take extra precautions while being out and about, whether traveling to work or while on vacation. But we cannot be cowed down. If we do, then the terrorists win. We cannot let that happen,” the couple said.