Europe Insight

The Ineffective and the Unthinkable

How far will France go to stop terrorists

Last year the French government spoke repeatedly of a war on terror and the resolve with which it must be waged. (A chronicle of how war had been declared can be found here.) Initially, loud proclamations were heard after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January, and then after the November attack in Paris centre. Both before and after these most shocking tragedies a whole slew of less reported, less bloody and more isolated attacks were also carried out. All of these acts of terrorism clearly manifested the problem with security and radicalism.

The government also understood this and took certain steps: stronger and tougher anti-terrorist legislation, new powers for special services, preventive measures introduced into the penal and education systems, and a state of emergency declared to last through the European football championship.

In other words, all the responsible services were already mobilised, all objectives were clear, and specific persons appointed to carry out these objectives had been provided with all of the necessary resources.

The state of emergency was to remain effective through 26 July.

But on 14 July, the day of France’s most important public holiday – Bastille Day – an act of terror was perpetrated that was shocking in terms of time, place, cruelty and victim count.

Here arises the question, how could this even happen?  Did the state of emergency (along with other implemented measures) become a mere formality once the European championship ended? Or was the state of emergency somehow not working at all?

If it is the former, then it means the incident was the product of negligence, carelessness and shortsightedness. This would be comparatively easy to explain away and remedy – a few resignations, some warnings. And prolonging the state of emergency (already under discussion in the government) will seem logical.

If, however, it is the latter, then the whole situation is very bad. It means that the implemented measures essentially do not create the required outcome. Was the objective not, from the very outset, identifying loners or autonomous small groups who have perpetrated terrorist acts before? And the fact that even one such attack was possible during a time of most heightened vigilance (the state of emergency had not been removed) indicates the vulnerability and inadequacy of the entire set of measures.

Moreover, the worst possible thing that could happen now is generating an impression of inefficacy. As this point of view is increasingly asserted and popularised, Pandora’s Box will be opened wider and wider. The full-scale search for alternative solutions (even taken into account the possibility of the right-wing National Front coming to power) and the desire to deal with these problems as soon as possible will propel France into taking drastic steps. What once seemed unthinkable will soon be deemed unavoidable and necessary. It will become reality.

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