The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Paris attacks could mark the end of Europe’s open borders, if the far right has its way

Marine Le Pen is leader of France's far-right National Front party. (GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO/European Pressphoto Agency)

For years, a small but vocal fringe of right-wing political parties across Europe have argued that the European Union imperils their countries' futures. They felt that their nations had lost their hard earned sovereignty to a bunch of clueless E.U. bureaucrats. That the shared economic policies across the continent would only harm their stronger nations. And that the E.U.'s immigration policies and border-free dream would eventually threaten the security of their citizens.

In the aftermath of last week's deadly attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead, many feel that the last concern appears to have been vindicated. With it, the European dream of borderless integration is facing difficult new pressure.

The suspects in the Paris attacks seem to have used a lack of coordination between European security forces and the Schengen area's control-free borders to aid their preparation for the attack. Weapons and bomb-making supplies appeared to have been taken across borders with ease. One suicide bomber had a fake Syrian passport on him, and it is believed he may have traveled through Greece to Europe along with tens of thousands of other refugees and migrants in recent months.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the France's far-right National Front, released a statement on Monday calling on the French government to immediately stop all immigration, adding that the party's warnings about a "possible jihadist presence among the migrants" heading to Europe had been borne out by the attacks in Paris.

The outrage wasn't limited to France. All across Europe, right-wing leaders have taken aim at the Schengen agreement, which has seen the gradual removal of border controls in an area that encompasses 26 European nations with a combined population of over 400 million, and Europe's failure to control immigration. Many argued that the free movement of people no longer just endangered their economies — now it was endangering the very lives of Europeans.

Geert Wilders, the outspoken Dutch politician known for his harsh stance on Muslims, called on the Netherlands to immediately shut its borders and stop "turning away and denying." Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain's U.K. Independence Party, said in a speech on Monday that the Schengen agreement should be scrapped and that Europe’s dream of free movement has resulted in the “free movement of jihadists.”

In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka suggested that security on the outer Schengen border was not "reliable" and that his country had to consider its own security. "We have no idea who we are opening our doors to," Sobotka said of the refugees and migrants entering Europe. On Saturday, the incoming Polish government, led by the conservative and eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party, announced it would no longer accept refugees under the E.U.'s resettlement plan.

The rhetoric seems to mark a shift away from the response to the shootings in January, where the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket were targeted by attackers. In the aftermath of that attack, much of the debate centered around free speech and religious freedom. Now, right-wing parties seem to have more tangible targets in Europe's borders and immigration policy.

Many of Europe's right-wing, anti-immigrant parties had already been buoyed over the past six months as it became clear that the refugees and migrants reaching Europe represented a surge that the E.U. had perhaps not been able to prepare for. In countries like Sweden, a country with a tolerant reputation where many new arrivals headed in the hope of asylum, the far right Sweden Democrats have enjoyed unprecedented success for opposing immigration. “When people say that one culture can live side by side with another, it’s a lie," Dennis Dioukarev, a young leader in the Sweden Democrats, told The Washington Post just a few months ago.

After the Paris attacks, Germany, one of the most influential E.U. members, is finding that its far-right populists feel their own anger has been proven correct. Siegfried Däbritz, one of the organizers of the weekly anti-Islamist Pegida movement's marches through the center of the east German city of Dresden, blamed an “immigration policy, which invites people with a completely alien culture and a completely different set of values” for the deadly attacks.

While the number of Pegida protesters remained relatively constant when compared to the week before, the populist right-wing AfD party already seems to have benefited from its anti-immigrant stance. A poll published by the German daily Bild on Tuesday showed that it gained 0.5 percent when compared to the week before, with a record 10.5 percent of Germans saying they would vote for the party, if elections were held on Sunday. AfD Chairwoman Frauke Petry had posted on her Facebook page on Sunday: “Security urgently needs to be re-established in our country! [...] Open windows are an invitation for burglars. It's similar with open borders.”

There were signs of discord in Chancellor Angela Merkel's political alliance about her immigration policy. Shortly after the attacks, Christian Social Union (CSU) politician and Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder had tweeted: “#ParisAttacks change everything. We must not allow illegal and uncontrolled immigration.” In an interview published on Sunday by daily Die Welt, Söder called on Angela Merkel to admit that opening up the border for refugees for an unlimited period of time had been a “mistake."

"In Germany, the risk of linking the migration to the terrorist angle is potentially explosive," Almut Möller, head of the Berlin office and senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told WorldViews. Möller says that without a pushback from European parties from the center, right wing groups across Europe only need to sit back and watch their message grow.

The growing political backlash mirrors a rise in violence. According to the French daily Le Monde, several mosques were vandalized in the country over the weekend. As of Monday, the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation counted 714 attacks against refugee homes, including 116 violent offenses, such as arson and assault. In the entire year 2014, the overall number had only been 199 with 28 violent offenses.

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