The downing of a Russian jet on November 24 over Turkey’s border with Syria is indicative of the security challenges that Europe faces. To deal with Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and the refugee crisis, Europe needs to neutralise Islamic State and stabilise Syria to stop the flow of refugees. That means that the EU, Turkey and Russia need to respond coherently to Syria.
The stakes are unimaginably high – with the EU already divided internally over its policy on refugees, failure in Syria risks making things worse. That could undermine the EU at a time when the terrorist threat needs the union to be as tight-knit as possible.
First, the EU’s internal situation. Since the surge of refugees over the summer, the new position of Europe’s increasingly strident right – particularly in eastern Europe and Russia – is that people’s skin colour determines their inclination to terrorism. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, recently said that “all terrorists are immigrants”. Led also by Poland – which is taking an increasingly hard line on migrants – the conservative right in the region wants to draw a boundary that is white, native and Christian on one side and non-white, non-Christian and immigrant on the other.
The sad fact is that the most homogenous countries have been the least able and willing to cope with the influx of refugees – and this has had substantial knock-on effects. When Croatia shipped newcomers to the Hungarian and Slovenian borders within hours of arrival in October, Hungary responded by extending its notorious fence to close the border between these two EU members. Meanwhile, Slovenia transported all its new arrivals to the Austrian border, which increased the disproportionate burden that Austria and Germany had assumed on behalf of the newer EU members.