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Nov 17, 2015 | 02:06 GMT

6 mins read

The Paris Attacks Will Have Far-Reaching Effects

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.

With the French and many others around the world still in shock after the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, French President Francois Hollande said Monday in a speech before the two chambers of Parliament that France is at war and announced a series of policies to fight terrorism. The attacks revealed the extent to which the situation in Syria, the immigration crisis in Europe and international terrorism are interconnected. The repercussions of the attacks will be similarly far-reaching.

The Paris attacks will seriously challenge the continuity of the Schengen Agreement, which eliminated border controls in Europe. As of Monday, the Schengen Agreement is effectively suspended in many places. France has re-established border controls, as have Sweden, Germany and Slovenia. Hungary built a fence to protect its border with Serbia, which is not a member of the treaty. So far, these actions are taking place within the framework of Schengen, which allows for the temporary reintroduction of border controls during emergencies.

The big question is whether Schengen will be formally abolished, or if countries will begin to opt out from it. The concept of a Europe without borders has become very difficult for governments to defend. As a first reaction, European governments could enact measures to improve intelligence sharing and increase cooperation between security forces in Europe while trying to preserve the agreement. But the future of Schengen is ultimately in the hands of European voters. If the popular sentiment turns against Schengen, moderate governments — or, after the next electoral cycle, nationalist governments — could withdraw from the agreement.

Meanwhile, closing off Europe's external borders without finding a home for the migrants could lead to serious problems in the Balkans, where migrants will be stranded. As several thousand men and women become involuntary immigrants to countries with high unemployment and latent ethnic tensions, the region's already fragile political and social structures will experience significant strain in the next few months.

The Paris attacks could accelerate the rise of nationalist parties across Europe. After the dust settles in France, voters could decide that Hollande's Socialist government has failed to protect them. In the upcoming municipal elections (scheduled for December), the center-right Republicans and the far-right National Front will probably have strong showings, paving the way for a strong performance for both parties in the presidential election of 2017. To different degrees, the two parties criticize Europe's policies on migration and, in the case of the National Front, France's membership in the eurozone.

The rise in Euroskepticism will be felt elsewhere in Europe. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has already changed policy to toughen regulations on asylum. In the coming days she will be under pressure from conservative forces to follow the policy changes with political changes, potentially including an admission of mistakes in the handling of the migration crisis. If anything, the Paris attacks could accelerate Germany's growing Euroskepticism ahead of the general elections of 2017 and especially after the vote.

The Paris attack will also make it hard for the European Commission to defend its plan to relocate refugees across the Continent. The plan was already in serious trouble: Only a few hundred of the 120,000 men and women included in the scheme have actually been relocated. Poland said it will opt out from the plan, and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe will probably follow suit. Brussels will be too weak to introduce sanctions against the countries that choose not to participate in the plan.

Before the Paris attacks, the European Union was already trying to enhance cooperation with Turkey to prevent asylum seekers from entering Europe. The Turkish government basically made three requests: money, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and a no-fly zone in northern Syria. The European Union has already approved giving Ankara some 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) to deal with the migration crisis. After the Paris attacks, Brussels will probably offer more flexible visa conditions for Turkish citizens.

Now the stage is set for Turkey to solicit firmer support from the Europeans as it tries to push forward its plans to establish a "safe zone" in northern Syria. Turkey and the United States already appear to be in advanced talks over stepping up military operations in northern Syria, and Ankara is looking for diplomatic cover from NATO members to proceed, preferably with the participation of European countries willing to put boots on the ground. There is no guarantee that Turkey will get that much of a commitment from the Europeans, but it can count on broader European involvement overall in the air campaign against the Islamic State. The major question is still whether Turkey and potential coalition partners can reach an understanding with Russia to quell the fighting.

In addition, the Paris attacks could compel more EU members to seek accommodation with Russia on the end of the civil war in Syria. Countries that were originally against keeping Bashar al Assad in power could decide to stick with the devil they know to slow down emigration from Syria. This could open the door for cooperation in other issues — most notably, Ukraine — but that would happen later in the process. The European Union is still likely to extend sanctions against Moscow when they expire in late January 2016, and the United States probably will encourage its European partners to keep pressure on Russia. Moreover, even with Russian cooperation, substantial challenges remain in Syria, given the disputes over which Syrian parties can be negotiated with, the presence of extremist factions in Syria that do not want a cease-fire to be implemented, and the vast number of armed factions in the conflict.

Europe also faces limitations when it comes to a military reaction to the Paris attacks. Airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq will intensify in the coming days, but Europe is unlikely to go beyond that. Germany may oppose any form of military intervention in Syria and will push for a diplomatic solution to the civil war in the country. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Italy could join the airstrikes in Syria, but they are unlikely to send ground troops to the conflict. Even U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that putting boots on the ground would be a mistake.

The Paris attacks will accelerate some processes that were already underway in Europe, such as resistance to migration and criticism of the Schengen Agreement. The attacks will also affect the European Union's already complex relationship with Turkey and Russia, but pre-existing factors — such as political divisions among member states on how to deal with Moscow and Ankara — as well as logistical constraints will continue to shape the European Union's foreign policy, regardless of what has been said publicly the past three days.

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