Paris (CNSNews.com) – French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a virtual mini-summit on Tuesday in a bid to win broader European support for hardening borders in the wake of several Islamist terror attacks.
While Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz joined him in person in Paris, calling in remotely were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, European Council president Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
Macron told reporters afterwards the leaders pledged to work closely to find solutions to the terror problem. He’s proposing reviewing the Schengen accord that enables visa-free travel among 26 countries, developing common databases of migrants entering Europe from the south or east, and increasing the exchange of information and cooperation among E.U. member-states. The participants also discussed ways of strengthening controls at the bloc’s external borders.
Kurz said there were “thousands of foreign terrorist fighters who either survived the fighting in Syria [or] Iraq and returned, or who were unable to leave and are in prison,” describing such individuals as time bombs.
“In order to protect all of our freedom, we must restrict the freedom of these people,” he added, referring to those who are not already behind bars.
Michel called for exchanges between the national intelligence services, and for “common monitoring strategies to deal with the problem of people returning to Europe after having fought in the jihadist ranks.”
Participants in the mini-summit also stressed the need for full implementation of the passenger name record (PNR) system in the E.U. The database compiles information about airline passengers and makes the data available to national security services.
“It is essential to fully implement this system with databases linked together, because any security breach at the external border or within the member states is a security risk for all member states,” said Macron.
The European Parliament voted in favor of the PNR in 2016, after 12 years of debate. It was implemented later that year, although still needs to be ratified by national parliaments. Concerns about privacy have been a major hurdle.
Macron also spoke of the need to fight terrorist propaganda and hate speech online.
“The Internet is a space of freedom, our social networks too, but this freedom exists only if there is security and if it is not the refuge of those who flout our values or seek to indoctrinate with deadly ideologies,” he said.
Macron, who recently doubled the number of security personnel deployed along France’s borders with Spain and Italy (from 2,400 to 4,800), intends to present proposals on fighting Islamist terror to a meeting of E.U. leaders on December 10.
Merkel said the fight was not between Islam and Christianty, saying there was a “need for a model of democratic society to combat terrorist and anti-democratic behavior.”
In an attack for which the terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility, a gunman opened fire in the Austrian capital, Vienna, on November 2, killing four people and injuring another 15. Days earlier, a Tunisian man stabbed to death three people in a Catholic church in Nice, France.
Sabine Saurugger, political science professor at the University of Grenoble in southeastern France, said the Nice and Vienna attacks have provided Macron with “a window of opportunity” to press for support from other E.U. member-states for proposals he first announced last year. Those included proposals to strengthen Frontex, the European border and coastguard agency, and to engage in real dialogue with migrants’ countries of origin and transit countries.