Europe after Paris attacks: Elites seek to exploit terror

As the initial horror and outrage of the attacks in Paris on November 13 subside, the impacts they are already having on French and European society are becoming clearer.

A state of emergency has been declared by the French government and will persist for up to three months.

French officials announced on November 17 that France would see an extra 115,000 police officers, gendarmes and soldiers deployed across the country.

In this context, rational debate is being restricted and progressive movements are on the defensive.

Refugees

Immediately after the attacks in Paris, numerous voices in the media and politics began to draw unfounded links between the attacks and the new wave of refugees entering Europe. This is despite the fact that so far none of the attackers in Paris were refugees, but were in fact French and Belgian nationals.

Yet this reality has done nothing to stop calls from right-wing politicians to halt the flow of refugees into France. Leader of the far-right National Front party Marine Le Pen criticised the European Union and demanded France “take back control of its national borders.”

French President François Hollande has promised to maintain the relatively small quota of 30,000 refugees over the next two years agreed upon several months ago with other European leaders. However, he stated that there would be increased checks to determine that refugees entering France don't pose a “threat” to the country.

The protracted period of a state of emergency — lasting as long as three months — will mean it is more difficult for asylum seekers to enter France, and when they do arrive, a heightened climate of state surveillance, militarised law enforcement, and social suspicion will greet them.

The timing of the attacks could hardly have been worse for refugees wishing to seek asylum in Europe. An unprecedented influx of refugees has hit the continent this year, peaking in October with more than 200,000 arriving in the month.

Well before the attacks in Paris, Europe's leaders were already failing to find humane solutions to the situation, and many countries had begun erected fences to halt the flow of refugees.

German Chancellor Merkel attempted to set a standard for European countries by adopting an 'open door' policy for refugee resettlement, as well as arguing for acceptance quotas from EU member states. However, in the weeks prior to the attack in Paris, even Merkel's resolve began to waver under pressure from her own party and her Bavarian allies the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Germany has begun to reverse some of its progressive refugee policies and is erecting controls and processing facilities on its border with Austria, decried as 'detention centres' by leader of the German Social Democratic Party Sigmar Gabriel.

This back flip from Merkel has emboldened the anti-migrant governments in Eastern Europe.

In this context, the Paris attacks are being used to push the discussion around refugees into dark territory, with a countries such as Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary now openly declaring defiance of Merkel's European quotas.

In Germany itself, CDU Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder said: “The days of uncontrolled immigration and illegal entry can't continue just like that. Paris changes everything.”

“When the government says 'we can't protect our borders alone', Bavaria will be able to undertake the task,” Soeder said. “We managed to do that in the past.”

Local elections and Marine Le Pen

This increased climate of anti-refugee sentiment has a particular impact on France, with its regional elections soon to take place in early December, despite some calls to postpone them.

Marine Le Pen's far right, anti-immigrant National Front, until recent years a “fringe” party, is on the advance. A November 6 IPSOS poll put her party at 26% across the country in the first round of voting, behind the “centre right” Les Républicains led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy on 32%.

The ruling Socialist Party lags at 20%, and the far left and ecologists — the only groups opposed to a militarised response to the attacks — split into a number of different coalitions from region to region, totalling 14.5%.

Despite this rise in support for Le Pen, the key issue of concern for the respondents of the poll was unemployment (38%), well ahead of security (26%).

Yet with a series of Islamophobic attacks taking place since November 13, and a consistent barrage from the media demonising Islam and refugees, Le Pen will be hoping to cash in on any new surge of xenophobia, and deflect people's concerns away from the economy.

Climate Summit

The attacks have also had profound repercussions for the climate movement.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that, while the COP21 climate summit will go ahead, it would be “without a doubt reduced to the negotiations”.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed on November 18 that “the government has decided to not authorise the marches for the climate planned for public roads in Paris and in other cities in France on 29 November and 12 December”.

Yet the motives of the French government are questionable.

Prior to the attacks, the French government had already come under fire for restricting immigration during the month of the climate summit, as well as denying visas to activists coming for the demonstrations.

In this context the ban on protest comes across as a political manoeuvre, in line with what Naomi Klein has called "the shock doctrine", where a crisis is used as a pretext for the state to push a pre-existing agenda, in this case restricting civil liberties and stifling dissent on contentious issues.

This attempt to silence voices calling for real climate action is particularly reprehensible at a time when, for the first time ever on record, the global average surface temperature passed 1 degree above average.

The climate movement has struck a defiant tone in response to the decision to ban the protests. A November 18 statement from Coalition Climat 21 (CC21), the main organising coalition for the demonstrations in France, said the organisers “will find an alternative form of citizens' mobilisation, to demonstrate that COP21 will not be left solely to the negotiators”.

350.org, one of the key organisers of the demonstration, released a statement earlier that declared the “Paris Summit is a peace summit”.

Drawing links between the refugee crisis and the climate crisis, the statement explained that “climate change fans the flames of conflict in many parts of the world — through drought, displacement, and other compounding factors,” and that it is our job to build a global movement of solidarity linking social justice and climate justice.

350.org also opposed any “unnecessary crackdowns on civil liberties and minority populations” in the wake of the attacks.

An earlier statement form CC21 also declared: “Our struggle for climate justice will not stop. We have a duty to stand up and continue to fight for a just and liveable planet for all. We will continue to mobilise to build a world free of wars, and atrocities, and the ravages of the climate crisis.”

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