France is now nine months into a state of emergency set to last for an unprecedented 14-and-a-half months. The measures involved are supposed to make the country safer. But after a bloody July mourning more than 80 deaths in Nice on Bastille Day, then the killing of a priest in the middle of mass on July 26, the question seems inevitable: Are they working?
The emergency laws enabling heightened army and police presence, warrantless searches, house arrests, and restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly have retained broad political support since first imposed after the November 2015 Paris attacks. But two security analysts and one human rights-advocate I talked to suggested that, whatever the perception, the state of emergency likely won’t do much on its own—in fact, to combat terrorism in France and elsewhere in Europe, coordinating existing procedures might be more effective than these temporary measures suspending elements of due process.
“Essentially all the [terrorist] networks, whether in France, Germany, or wherever, what they do is they take advantage of the soft underbelly of the European legal system—systems, actually,” said Florence Gaub, a senior analyst with the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris, in a phone interview. She pointed to two major issues: the 26-country Schengen area’s permeable borders with other member states—criticized and to some extent curtailed in the past year during the migrant crisis—and the general barriers built into most Western legal systems when it comes to targeting people based on a potential threat rather than an actual offense. “The system is geared to people who don’t move around much within the European system, don’t use these multiple exit and entry points, and of course are already convicted of a crime. So if you’re radicalized and haven’t acted yet, then the system will simply not be able to apprehend you because it’s not wired that way.”