Four political risks following the terror attacks in Paris

Four political risks following the terror attacks in Paris

The tragic terror attacks in Paris on November 13th bring simmering local and regional political risks to a boil. 

When calling Friday’s terrorist attacks in the French capital an act of war, French officials and citizens expressed their emotion following what will be remembered as the deadliest tragedy in France’s contemporary history. The latest reports count 129 dead and over 300 wounded.

Since Friday — as is frequent in this sort of situation — misinformation have been relayed on news channels and social media, making it hard to establish an accurate scenario and draw any conclusions.

IS claimed responsibility for the attacks on Saturday morning in a press release, in which it explained the attacks as a follow-up to the Charlie Hebdo killing in January, and as a response to France’s involvement in airstrikes both in Iraq and Syria. Since the beginning of 2015, France has been facing constant threats from IS. Several plots have been thwarted by French authorities and the suspected terrorists arrested.

As emotion slowly starts watering down and French authorities begin to gather reliable intelligence on the attacks, its organization, and the terrorists involved, four political implications will have to be watched closely.

1. Recalibrating French involvement against IS

Since France joined the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing campaign against Islamic State, its aircrafts have completed more than 1,285 missions against targets in Iraq and two in Syria.

Whatever the scale of IS’ actual involvement in setting up Friday’s coordinated attacks — the gap between the description of the attack in IS’ press release and the actual facts raise wonders — it is highly probable that Paris will beef up its participation in airstrikes, and could even launch training operations for local military forces.

Direct military intervention remains unlikely, as France would need the support of its international partners, particularly the United States. Although Obama showed compassion for the French, it is doubtful that the event would inspire him to switch his “no boots on the ground” strategy, even though it is being increasingly criticized in Washington D.C.

U.S. officials hope that the upcoming G20 meeting in Turkey will encourage more international partners and French allies (in Europe and the Middle East) to participate in the airstrikes, especially after other attacks in Beirut and Egypt.

Another way to resolve the Syrian chaos, and subsequently weaken if not eliminate IS, was discussed in Vienna on Saturday. The United States, Russia, Europeans and Middle Eastern countries outlined a plan for a political transition process leading to democratic elections within two years in Syria.

2. Rethinking of French security services and enhanced security at home

Many members of the French security services came forward in the past few days on the lack of resources and the weakness of the organization of security services against the terrorist threat.

Despite new security laws passed after the Charlie Hebdo attack, French services remain ill-equipped to keep a close watch on the 3,800 citizens listed as potential assailants in the country, and experienced analysts specializing in terrorist threats remain too few among the intelligence community.

This is particularly worrying for French officials as the country is making preperations to host the COP 21 when 127 heads of states will gather to the capital for two weeks of talks on climate change. The Summit has been confirmed, although it will be subject to enhanced security measures.

France is also set to organize the Euro Soccer Cup next Summer, with 24 European national teams and their supporters expected across the country. The bombs, which exploded around the stadium where a game was taking place between France and Germany, opened doubts on the country’s ability to safeguard the competition.

Canceling the Euro Soccer Cup would have grave consequences on the French economy, especially since it would probably discourage tourism — the total contribution of Travel & Tourism to French GDP was €194.6bn (9.5% of GDP) in 2013.

A review of security operations will be one of the main focus for the French government in the next few weeks. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy shared his views with Hollande on Sunday afternoon and called for a greater role of the EU, probably referring to the need for better intelligence sharing and services coordination between member states.

3. Challenges to refugee plans and to the Schengen area

The French have not exactly been leading the EU during the refugee crisis so far, and this is unlikely to change. But Paris just set border controls: originally planned for securing the COP 21, the measure will probably be extended indefinitely, and Paris will close the door to refugees trying to come in.

But the main risk is that the terror attacks will radically switch public opinion on the need to welcome refugees across Europe. A Syrian passport was found near the body of a suicide bomber, and Greece confirmed that the individual passed through Greece in October. This echoes worries that terrorists could pass into Europe with refugees — an argument that has been used by detractors of Angela Merkel’s welcoming plans across Europe.

Skeptical Europeans already came forward to criticize the German Chancellor. Poland’s European Minister Konrad Szymanski said the attacks should be a reason for canceling EU plans to distribute asylum seekers among Member States, and that the EU should better control its external borders.

In France, the attacks gave the opportunity for the National Front — an anti-EU and anti-immigration party — to revive some of its traditional political mottos: the end of the Schengen area — which allows for the free movement of people across the Continental bloc — and anti-immigration policies.

This could open a deep debate in Europe, as the UK also seeks to change the status of EU immigrants on its soil as part of a renegotiation of its membership in the bloc, and other Member States are under increasing pressure to reconsider Schengen.

4. National unity in France, but National Front the main beneficiary

After the drama, it is understandable for the French people to call for national unity under the strains of emotion. As in after the Charlie Hebdo killing, President Hollande will probably see his popularity rise a little, and his party could perform better than previously expected in upcoming regional elections.

But in a country where a discussion on the definition of its national identity has remained a taboo for decades and tensions between communities endure, such a tragedy usually feeds support for populist parties in the longer run.

In the next few months, we can expect the popularity of Marine Le Pen — the leader of the National Front — to keep rising. In her speech following the attacks, Le Pen did not only call for the end of Schengen and the closing of French borders for good. She also surfed on the Islamophobia sentiment by laying out proposals like closing mosques and annihilating Islamist radicals.

Le Pen already enjoys strong support among French voters, and she is expected to win a regional election in the North on 13 Dec. Her party has been rising in opinion polls since she took the lead in 2011 and has worked hard to turn it into a more moderate party, and she is considered a serious candidate in the 2017 Presidential elections — with most polls sending her to the run-off stage.

In the meantime, Le Pen knows that terrorism will boost her party’s popularity, and thus can focus on cultivating a respectable presidential image.

Mainstream parties already had trouble countering her popularity rise. Now the risk is that they will have to move their agenda to consider some of her proposals — particularly on issues like immigration — if they want to be able to compete.

Categories: Europe, Security

About Author

Julien Freund

Julien is an analyst with a focus on Europe. He has worked as a lobbyist in Paris and Brussels and has written extensively on the rise of nationalist parties. He holds two master's degrees in geopolitics and international relations and in European relations, and received his BA in economics and social sciences from the Catholic Institute of Paris.