Tech & Rights

#HumanRightsDay: Europe Closes Down, But Europeans Must Not Let Down on Freedoms

Since the Paris attacks, fear driven by terror and migration has made Europeans prioritize security over the rule of law. But in our efforts to strengthen security, we must not give up on our own freedoms.

by György Folk
"The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home." ― James Madison, fourth president of the United States

A poll of Germans taken in the wake of the Paris attacks found that more than nine in ten support the government increasing security measures in the country. ARD televison’s Deutschlandtrend poll showed that 91 percent of Germans support "appropriate security measures" such as heavier police presence and more security checks, while only five percent were afraid that these measures would threaten their constitutional rights.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, the week-long highest terror alert level during the hunt for the last suspect of the Paris attacks brought the governing anti-immigration coalition partner N-VA into limelight. Bart De Wever's New Flemish Alliance has in recent weeks been bent on overhauling the central power structures.

"This is Europe’s 9/11…It changes public opinion. And just like we’ve seen in the United States, you’ll now see new laws being voted across Europe," said De Wever.

National Front is biggest winner of Paris attacks

The latest sign of fear-driven politics conquering freedom and human rights is the claimed winning of France's far-right National Front (FN), which came first in the first round of regional elections with a 27.9 percent share of the votes.

Elsewhere, 53.1 percent of Danes voted against deeper integration with the EU by refusing to join EU justice and home affairs policies.

Even moderate political forces like Germany’s Christian Democrats have lately capitalized on anti-immigration and security rhetoric.

What we see today is a revival of the debate over surveillance policies in the United States. Both France and the UK recently announced plans for enhanced surveillance and other measures meant to thwart terrorism at home.

'The quota increases the terror threat!'

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán earlier this year inflamed the European public debate on migrants by building a fence along his country's southern border, and recently launched a media campaign against the EU’s quota plan to distribute asylum seekers across the continent.

Full-page newspaper adverts and a television ad attacked the plan, against which Hungary and Slovakia have filed a case at the European Court of Justice. The Czechs are considering joining the case as well, while Poland simply announced that it will no longer participate in the relocation plan.

A government website campaigning against the quota system says Hungary, with a population of 10 million, would be forced to take in as many as 160,000 people. However, the country is only slated to take in 1,294 people from the total of 160,000 to be relocated.

Couldn’t come at a worse time

As the aforementioned events demonstrate, European politicians have not hesitated to capitalize on the fears of citizens, and even those countries most welcoming of migrants are closely linking immigration rules with new security measures. Public reaction to the attacks will presumably end in increased xenophobia and rejection of the existing migration and refugee laws, while national interests will prevail against common European values.

Likewise, it was in this same spirit that media headlines across the member states declared that one of the most palpable added values of the EU, the border free Schengen area, is at risk.

Lastly, the presently discussed rules on the collection of airline passenger data would give European authorities new surveillance powers, while the new regulations from the European Commission on access to weapons will most probably make strides in the same direction.

We must learn from the past

It is high time, therefore, for all Germans, French, Italians, Hungarians - all Europeans - to ensure that the European Union and its national governments do not repeat the mistakes made by the United States after 9/11 and end up in foreign wars and mass surveillance scandals that threaten the freedom and human rights of citizens.

On this Human Rights Day, we need to articulate loudly and clearly that authoritarian misrule ultimately fosters terrorism. Indeed, radicalism thrives under conditions of repression, corruption, and state failure.

By György Folk, Editor-in-Chief of Liberties.eu