Get a Grip, Europe!

get a grip

It is time for Europe to get a grip.

This week fundamentalist Islamic terrorists blasted the heart of Europe with suicide bomb attacks in Brussels that left over 30 people dead and hundreds wounded. In a deeply symbolic gesture they hit the center of European power, even targeting the Maelbeck subway stop outside the European Union Headquarters.

The scene at the Brussels airport after the suicide bomb attacks. Tuesday, March 22, 2016
The scene at the Brussels airport after the suicide bomb attacks. Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The attacks put into sharp focus Europe’s failure politically. The 28-nation group that started as an economic union has been unable to create an effective political entity. Now it is time for the EU to do that or allow the terrorist attacks at its heart become the catalyst that tears it to pieces.

Street scene in Brussels after bomb explode in subway station near the EU headquarters. March 22, 2016
Street scene in Brussels after bomb explode in subway station near the EU headquarters. March 22, 2016

In the past few years it has become clear that there are no official “European borders” monitored by an adequate “European police force”. It became brutally apparent this week that there is no effective Europe-wide intelligence and police cooperation, and it has been apparent for a few years now that Europe cannot come up with an effective policy for facing the onrush of migrants and refugees flowing in from Africa and the Middle East.

For a few years now some Europeans have been retreating into the safety of their nation-states, grasping on to what remains of their ethnic fiefdoms, hoping to somehow protect their historic identity. Nationalist movements from Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France to Matteo Salvini’s Northern League Movement in Italy have been promoting the end of Europe and, even worse, the British will vote in June on a referendum on whether to pull out altogether.

Great Britain, a former empire, the nation of Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill is shying away from a role in the creation of a politically strong Europe. Instead the British are talking about a “Brexit”, a British exit from the EU, pulling back like a snail into the questionable safety of its shell. The safety of the shell is “questionable” because the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels came from an enemy within. That could just as easily happen in Britain.

The first step for Europe to get a grip is to stop going to pieces and start acting. Just over a week ago when European leaders met in Brussels to iron out a deal with Turkey on migrants, a photo of their banquet was circulating on Facebook. This, while over 10,000 migrants were stuck in a filthy sprawling camp in Idomeni, on the Greek-Macedonia border, scrambling for an egg or some bread as aid workers threw food from the back of trucks. The contrast left the impression of well-fed, fat cat, clawless European leaders and bureaucrats unable to even scratch the surface of the migrant crisis.

Migrants reaching for food handouts from trucks in the village of Idomeni, Greece on the border with Macedonia. March 2016
Migrants reaching for food handouts from trucks in the village of Idomeni, Greece on the border with Macedonia. March 2016

The deal they came up with showed just that. To sum it up rather brusquely it is a deal paying Turkey a lot of money to take back the “huddled masses” of migrants. Of course Europe is eager to be nice to Turkey when it comes to taking back migrants that Europe doesn’t want. However, last June when Turkey arrested a Belgian citizen named Ibrahim El Bakraoui as he was trying to enter Syria and warned Belgium he was a suspected terrorist, the Turks warning was ignored. El Bakraoui was eventually deported and put on a flight to Amsterdam last July. He went on to become one of the two suicide bombers who blew himself up at the Brussels airport this week.

I think European governments will be more inclined to listen to Turkey’s warnings in the future. But Europe also needs to start recognizing the importance of Turkey for Europe’s future. The bottom line is Europe needs Turkey. As much as Europeans might have legitimate concerns over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s autocratic tendencies, it is critical to have a country as important and powerful as Turkey on its side. Europe can work with forces within Turkey, from NGOs to journalists and human rights activists, to push for democratic change and human rights, but cutting Turkey off from entry into Europe has been damaging.

So where does Europe need to start getting a grip? Answer: First, on its borders. From Lampedusa the Italian island closer to Africa than to Europe (see blog post “Lampedusa –Europe’s Port”) to the Greek Islands of Lesbos, Kos and Samos (all a short boat ride from Turkey) to the Spanish territory of Melilla in North Africa – Europe needs to have a recognizable border with controls handled by a unified European police force and border control.

This is not a proposal for a Trump-style wall to block migrants. Europe needs a common border control system. Europe has a common currency, why not an effective common police force instead of a de-clawed Europol or Frontex?

Police patrolling the airport in Rome following the terror attacks in Brussels. Freeze frame of video shot by Associated Press Photographer Alessandra Tarantino March 22, 2016
Police patrolling the airport in Rome following the terror attacks in Brussels. Freeze frame of video shot by Associated Press Photographer Alessandra Tarantino March 22, 2016

We saw this week how lack of coordination between French and Belgian intelligence services led to terror cells slipping between cracks in Europe. Instead of national intelligence services fiercely guarding their information, they need to work together to deter the common enemy.

The second place where Europe needs to get a grip is on the camps for migrants once they are inside European territory. According to the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), as of March 25th, 2016, 164,255 migrants have arrived in Europe this year by sea, 528 are dead or missing. Tens of thousands are living in camps and shelters across Europe.

We have all seen enough horrible scenes of migrants living in conditions ripe for disease with families out in the cold living in tents in the mud and rain. Just this week both the UNHCR and Doctors Without Borders have complained about the degenerating conditions in the migrant camps in Greece. Why can’t Europe build proper camps for these people?

Street scene in Molenbeck, Brussels. Photo by Teun Voeten
Street scene in Molenbeck, Brussels. Photo by Teun Voeten

Third, European leaders need to loosen their grips on their forks at their endless summit dinners and get a grip on the communities such as Molenbeck in Belgium or Seine-Saint-Denis in France where Islamic extremism has festered and grown. These communities have been allowed to become ghettoes with little integration into European societies. Getting a grip does not mean police control. It means engaging the Muslim populations. It means reaching out to the women. How many women end up becoming suicide bombers? Not many. It is fundamental to make sure Muslim women learn the local language, and that all children get into strong public schools and learn important European civic values such as freedom of expression, democracy and equality. Instead of leaving Muslim communities disenfranchised, poor and abandoned, perfect breeding ground for radicalism, Europe needs to reach out to them offering them a better alternative to extremism.

I have spoken to many migrants who land on the shores of Europe and have great hopes and dreams of a better future. Standing on the docks in ports in Sicily they have told me of their plans to find jobs and a decent life they did not have in the home they left behind. Smashing those hopes and dreams by cutting migrants off leads to desperation and extremism.

On Holy Thursday, just three days after the attacks in Brussels, Pope Francis did something that took courage, determination and humility. He went to a refugee center on the outskirts of Rome and got down on his knees and washed the feet of 12 refugees including three Muslim men from Syria, Pakistan and Mali, a Hindu man from India, and three Eritrean Coptic Christian women and one Italian Catholic woman.

Pope Francis washes foots of refugees as Castel Nuovo di Porto refugee center near Rome on Holy Thursday. March 24, 2016
Pope Francis washes foots of refugees as Castel Nuovo di Porto refugee center near Rome on Holy Thursday. March 24, 2016

Before washing their feet the Pope spoke directly about the attacks in Brussels saying:

“All of us, together – Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Coptics, Evangelicals are brothers, …who want to live together in peace, integrated…”

Muslim man in migrant center near Rome listening to Pope Francis give homily during Holy Thursday foot washing Mass. March 24, 2016. Freeze frame of video shot by Vatican TV
Muslim man in migrant center near Rome listening to Pope Francis give homily during Holy Thursday foot washing Mass. March 24, 2016. Freeze frame of video shot by Vatican TV

Then he brought up the attacks in Brussels saying, “Three days ago, a gesture of war, of destruction, in a city of Europe, a gesture by people who do not want to live in peace, who want war, not brotherhood.”

He concluded, “We are diverse, we are different we have different cultures and religions but we are brothers and we want to live in peace.”

I think he has the right idea.

Pope Francis reaches up to touch baby in arms of migrant woman after washing her feet. Freeze frame of video shot by Vatican TV. March 24, 2016
Pope Francis reaches up to touch baby in arms of migrant woman after washing her feet. Freeze frame of video shot by Vatican TV. March 24, 2016

Muslim communities should not be marginalized, they need to be integrated. The communities need to be included not excluded. Europe needs to make a huge effort to engage the moderates in the community and get their help in isolating and eliminating extremism.

Finally, what does Europe need to get a grip – Europe needs to harness the anger, fears and frustration over these terror attacks and direct it not at Muslims but at the lack of leadership and determination in Europe. Europe needs to find strong, courageous leaders who can get a grip and create in Europe an effective political union capable of offering effective solutions to crises from migrants to terrorism instead of covering the continent with band-aids.

Mains et mappemonde

20 thoughts on “Get a Grip, Europe!”

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Ginnie, you are so kind. Thank you for your comment. As you say, I think someone has to have the courage to begin…

  1. Brilliant piece, Trisha! A great focus on the many issues that have risen to the surface in the recent past as Europe faces this onslaught of Isis. The many breakdowns between agencies within the EU have been stunning. Even more enlightening for me (working in the legal field) however, have been the glimpses into the varying laws in Brussels that have made it so easy for the terrorists to ‘lay nest’ there. For instance, the police cannot perform raids between 9pm-5am, in addition privacy laws further deter any law enforcement ability to tap the phones of suspected terrorists even if they are on watch lists. All of the events of late have made me very sad and angry.

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Kay, I had no idea about the legal aspects that you mention. That is fascinating. I must look into this. Thanks for pointing it out.

  2. Excellent blog, you need to submit this to someone in the European Union. This situation is tragic, and these dear migrants, how sad, they deserve better. Good for you Trisha, enjoy your freedom and having your mother’s visit. Happy Easter to all.

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Happy Easter to you Sue! I think we are all trying to thinks of ways to bring peace to the world this Easter. Not sure anyone in the European Union would listen to what I have to say, but thanks for your support.

  3. With an appalling leadership deficit on both sides of the Atlantic, we need someone to step forward and not a populist with easy solutions. We need a political Pope Francis. You have provided and interesting agenda should someone decided to take up the challenge. Good work Trisha.


    1. Trisha Thomas

      Thank you Dad. Yes, I think we are all tired of hearing the hate-filled populists who want to build walls, erect barriers and fan the flames of racism. It is time for some strong, courageous leaders to step up to the plate.

  4. Brilliant writing! I so much applaud you for naming things no one else is naming, detailing the need for a Euro police force and borders, contrasting the elegant dinner of the EU summit with the migrants scrambling for bread, and talking about the inner dissension the right wing is sowing. Some commentators on terrorism here have named the lack of EU diligence in policing and monitoring, and have said that one reason this hasn’t happened here is that Homeland Security is far ahead of the EU in monitoring. They ALSO said the bigger reason is that Arab immigrants in the US and Canada are well integrated, not living in slums, have good jobs, their kids are in schools and friends with American kids, all this despite Trump and Cruz fanning prejudice. They cite European refusal to accept ethnic immigrants into society, and the fact that French and other European police do not speak Arabic, or anything but their own language, which makes for much hostility between the immigrant poor and the police. It is quite a battle now around the western world over immigrants. We read that Angela Merkel may lose her next election because of her embrace of them, and that Marine LePen has followers in Germany as well as in France. Trump and Cruz (identical in this regard – Trump more embarrassing but also more flexible, Crux more rabid) are trying to get elected on ethnic hatred and racial hatred. And we don’t yet know where this is going. Except that we know there is not likely to be a decent GOP candidate in the race. Please write on this again. I’ve shared your article on Twitter, there is no FB share button on your article, but perhaps when it appears on FB, I can share it from there. And I loved the Pope’s words, and the photo of him washing feet. Didn’t hear a word about this, not one word, on the news — what does that say?

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Nancy, thank you for your thoughtful comment. You raise a lot of points that I did not go into but are very important and I want to think more about. In particular the question of Arab immigrants in the US and Canada being well integrated, kids in schools, police speaking Arabic etc. I wanted to write about this but then stopped myself because I want to study more the history of immigrant integration in the US. If I take, for example, two cities that I have some familiarity with — Boston and New York — there used to be big, poor migrant slums with Irish and Italian migrants. The North End was the poor Italian community in Boston and South Boston was the Irish neighborhood. Both New York and Boston have significant China Towns. When did these places stop being slums? When did the Irish and Italians start inserting themselves into the local politics and police forces? How much are the Chinese involved in politics and police in New York city and Boston today? I believe both Boston and New York have had Irish and Italian Mayors. What about Muslims in the United States — do they hold positions in local politics and police forces? Can we imagine a Muslim Mayor in Brussels or Paris? Not any time soon. All this is to stay, I need to study up a bit more on all these subjects because they are interesting and fundamental for our future.

  5. Great post! The terrorism specialists on NPR this morning were saying much the same as you have here. Maybe you have a future in politics or as European terrorism czar, I know at least you would have thoughtful ideas on the immigration issue!!

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Thank you Gwen. It is interesting that I am saying the same thing as terrorism specialists. I feel I know so little about terrorism. I have witnessed a lot of the immigration though and Europe has botched it up completely. And I think the immigration and terrorism issues are intertwined. I am not saying that migrants are terrorists, obviously the majority of them are not, However, there is a huge problem with letting so many people into Europe and then leaving them to live in isolated ghettoes.

  6. Joan Schmelzle

    Amen, Trisha. Great piece! Should go out to each country’s leaders. Thanks for writing this.
    A presto, Joan

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Thank you Joan. I usually don’t do political opinion pieces on this blog — I try to stick to either stories I have reported on for AP Television or personal stories — but after living in Europe for over 20 years now I am starting to have some strong opinions about how things are going and couldn’t hold them back anymore!

  7. Trish for President!!

    I really like this post: enough with the fear and shifting blame, more action please!
    It is depressingly shortsighted of Europe to blame anyone else but ourselves when almost all the terrorists so far have been homegrown. There has been no soul searching from our leaders: how more convenient to point fingers and instigate racial hate.

    I am a fan of Pope Francesco but the whole Church has seemed to me to be preaching well but not acting that much on the refugee crisis: are they filling their Churches with families? Each priest welcoming and sharing?

    I am with you on education and integration: the Germans ‘confiscate’ schools and factories at night and offer compulsory night classes to refugees in language and work skills.

    Living in London I am acknowledging Brexit first hand and oh how sad! as every National Movement does, it seems to allow people to become racists again, and it’s coming out with surprising ardor. For the Brits, the main issue is the huge influx from East Europe that people seem to resent. They are not so worried about refugees since they have taken only a handful. At the end of the day, Brexit is really just a political move: Cameron promised it in order get elected, which is quite shameful as he himself is against a UK exit. From a financial point of view, it will be not much different from strapping a suicidal belt to the country. I would be curious to hear what the Professore has to say about it…..

    Still, Trish for President!!

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Allegra — thank you for your endorsement but I would be a terrible President. I have a hard enough time keeping my family in line! I am glad to hear that you agree with me thougt and I find your thoughts on Britain very interesting. You know much more about it since you live there and I would love to hear more of what you have to say. On the Church, I agree with you. Pope Francis has been very outspoken about helping migrants and pushing for their integration. But he is just one voice. There are some groups within the church like Sant’Egidio, for example, that are doing a lot, but the rest of the church could do much more. Let’s hope the European leaders can get a grip soon and start acting!

  8. Good morning Trisha! There are a number of issues your post raises – first, please stop using the term ‘Islamic terrorists’, these people are terrorists. Associating Islam/Muslims with terror labels ALL Muslims in the minds of the unthinking. We do not refer to the likes of Bush/Blair and others of that ilk as ‘Fundamentalist Christian Terrorists’ when they illegally bomb/drone/wage real and economic war on mostly Muslim communities in the Middle East and Africa. Why not? When you listen to their rhetoric and examine their actions isn’t the label apt?
    Europe, in the main, has been on-board with the US’ resource wars around the world. Countless thoughtful analysts have warned of ‘blow-back’ as a result. When people have seen their families murdered or maimed, communities destroyed and hope extinguished by the actions of the West ‘defending our national interests’ is it any wonder that they pick up a knife or a Kalashnikov or strap on an explosive vest or drive a vehicle ladened with explosives and, lacking multi-million dollar aircraft/drones/tanks, make one, last desperate statement?
    Obama boasts of sitting in the Oval Office every Tuesday and selecting those he decides should be droned to death along with countless innocent bystanders. I ask you, who is the worst Fundamentalist Terrorist?
    Radovan Karadžić has just been sentenced to 40 years in what amounts to an EU jail for the crime of refusing to be ‘our bastard’ – when will the rest of the West’s war criminals face the same sanction? Double standards are the stock in trade of Western politicians and most of the Western media. Unless or until that changes we can expect radicalised and/or desperate, hopeless people to fight back in the only way that is open to them. Is it right to kill innocents? Then the West should be the first to stop!

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Well Alan, point taken. I will stop using the term “Islamic Terrorists” and just stick with terrorists. I also fully comprehend your reasoning about why someone from the Middle East who has been victim of US attacks “seen their families murdered or maimed, communities destroyed” might want to fight back in the only way open to them. I also agree with you on the US or other nations attacking countries in the Middle East in the name of national interest. I think military intervention in Iraq/Afghanistan etc has proved to be useless for the West and devastating for those who live there and we need to get out. And I would never defend the use of drones for killing. But that was not what this blog post is about. It is about dealing with the huge flow of migrants that continue to come into Europe and how to integrate them into European societies. I also had some thoughts on Europe’s relationship with Turkey. I would be curious to know your thoughts on those topics.

  9. Hi T.,

    Thank you for your blog post about immigrants. I wanted to ask you a few questions about the post, as some of what you wrote was hard for me.

    First, I was wondering why you used the term “Muslim terrorist.” I remember the Oklahoma bombing, which was called a “domestic terrorist” activity. I also lived through the Boston bombing, that was called a “Muslim terrorist”
    activity. I think we have to choose our words very carefully. Labeling people it is a very easy thing to do and lots of people love to hear that term “Muslim terrorist.” Sometimes I worry that without noticing, we are helping those who would love to use that term.

    Second, I was interested to see that you are saying that Europe needs Turkey and was curious about how recent events in Turkey may impact your thinking. I also feel that if Europe needs Turkey just to shoulder the burden of all the refugees vs. sharing responsibility in a more distributed way, we may need to reconsider. Additionally, the current Turkish government is totally corrupt and dictatorial – and I am sure that the 3 billion Euros will not all make it to the refugees. I think Europe has to step up, keeping all of those refugees in Turkey will not solve the problem and may even make Turkey more unstable than it already is.

    I offer these questions with respect, but in the hopes that we can have honest conversation about it!


    M for mollusk

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Hello M–
      I am just seeing this comment now as I have not looked at my blog in a while or I would have responded sooner. Thank you for writing, I appreciate it. In response to your questions, I did not use the words “Muslim Terrorist”, I used the words “fundamentalist Islamic terrorists”. I would not have used the term Muslim terrorist. However, perhaps I should also have avoided using the term “fundamentalist Islamic terrorists”. You are the second person who has pointed that out to me in comments and if it is offensive, I will avoid it. You are correct — terrorists are terrorists whatever their religion, wherever they are.
      As far as Turkey is concerned, I certainly hope that my post was not seen as an endorsement of President Erdogan and his dictatorial tendencies. I am well aware of how terrible the situation is in Turkey right now but I don’t think Europe pushing Turkey away helps. I actually think if Europe had allowed Turkey into Europe years ago everything would be much better right now, both in terms of the refugee situation and in terms of the Turkish government. Finally, I definitely am not endorsing the idea of Europe paying Turkey to take the refugees back. I hope my blog post did not imply that. I think that Europeans needs to work with Turks at all levels supporting people inside Turkey who want positive change that means journalists, NGOs, human rights activists etc. Anyway, you know far more about Turkey so I hope you will write again and give me your opinion on what you think should be the future of European-Turkish relations.

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