by Vasiliki Kaidantzi, member of the International Relations & Foreign Policy Research Team

Terrorism. In the absence of its use, serene prevails, yet in the moments of its instant appearance, it effortlessly sparks the fear to each human soul around the world. Although it’s not the first time that Europe has experienced terrorism, for many Europeans this phenomenon appears to be the most dangerous form of political violence until today. The 1970s and 1980s were Europe’s most violent decades in terms of terrorism, after the WWII, as in its peak it claimed the lives of more than 400 victims per year, nearly double the number than those who have been killed in terrorist attacks over the last five years. In the late 1990s, terror attacks finally died down, however, the trend began to be reversed in the mid-2000s, with the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London, thus becoming truly European in the sense that terrorists through networks could live in a European country, perpetrate easily and afterwards hide without anyone noticing it. While it is true that terrorism as a phenomenon is on the rise, as the numbers of its victims increased by 80% between 2013-2014, the majority of attacks and fatalities occurred in non-European countries (Florence Gaub, 2017).

International Terrorism is characterized as a violent, criminal act committed by individuals and/or groups who are inspired by, or associated with, designated foreign terrorist organizations or nations (state-sponsored). Robert Pape argues that the most thorough exposition of terrorism as a war of attrition is suicide bombing. Based on his data, terrorists began to recognize the effectiveness of suicide terrorism with the 1983 Hezbollah attack against U.S. Marines in Beirut that killed 241 people. Since then, suicide terrorism has been employed in nationalist struggles around the world (Pape A. Robert, 2003).

In its essence, suicide terrorism is the most aggressive form of terrorism, and it is defined as “the rationality of irrationality” (Thomas Schelling), in which an act that is irrational for individual attackers is meant to demonstrate credibility to a democratic audience that still more and greater attacks are sure to come. What distinguishes a suicide terrorist is that the attacker does not expect to survive a mission and often employs a method of attack that requires the attacker’s death in order to succeed. These individuals come from a broad cross-section of lifestyles, and they may focus on individual motives, such as religion, especially Islamic Fundamentalism, or psychological predispositions, that might drive them into this act (Pape A. Robert, 2003).

Between 1980 and 2003, terrorism has been so successful since half of all suicide terrorist campaigns were closely followed by substantial concessions by the target governments. Various tactics, such as kidnapping individuals and blowing up buses, can be surprisingly effective in achieving a terrorist group’s political aims (Kydd H. Andrew and Walter F. Barbara, 2006). Moreover, over the past two decades, suicide terrorism has been rising largely as this method is now known to be successful in fulfilling their goals. Terrorism works not simply because it instills fear in target populations, but mainly because it causes governments and individuals to respond in ways that aid the terrorists’ cause. That is why terrorist violence is a form of costly signaling. Terrorists are too weak to impose their will directly by force of arms, hence they are forced to display publicly just how far they are willing to go in order to obtain their desired results (Pape A. Robert, 2003).

In 2015, a month after Charlie Hebdo’s attack in Paris that shocked the entire world, a shooting attack took place in a cultural center in Copenhagen, whereas in August 2015, a 26-year-old Moroccan, attempted to launch a killing spree in Amsterdam-Paris high speed train shooting (Nesser Petter, 2015). Likewise, after the latest terrorist attacks in Charlie Hebdo’s former offices, the nightmare crossed its borders and concluded in a massive terrorist attack in Vienna in November 2020, where an Islamic State “sympathizer” killed at least four people and left many more wounded.

Nevertheless, according to EU’s Trend Report on terrorism, the number of suspects arrested for jihadist terrorism from 2015 to 2019, showed a moderate decrease, but France along with Italy, Spain and the UK, still remain in the epicenter of the phenomenon, with the highest number of suspected terrorists on the european continent. A total of 119 failed and completed terrorist attacks were reported by a total of 13 EU Member States, 10 people died and 27 people were injured until 2019 (European Union, 2020). It is clearly seen that a lot of work still needs to be done, and the French Government is obliged to work closely with the EU so as to effectively tackle the phenomenon.  

French Foreign and Security Policy for combatting terrorism

France from her side, has always been a vigorous supporter of European integration, especially of its political aspects, as it’s one of the most active players in EU politics and policies, while preserving its national exclusivity and large foreign policy engagement. The term “Europeanisation” makes an intense appearance in France’s National Foreign and Security policy, as it’s considered a big proponent of EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

Europeanization represents the process of domestic adaption to European regional integration. The first acknowledged definition of Europeanization is the one provided by Ladrech in 1994, as an “incremental process re-orienting the direction and shape of politics to the degree that European Community’s political and economic dynamics become part of the organizational logic of national politics and policy-making”. In 2003, Europeanization was characterized as a set of processes of (a) construction (b) diffusion and (c) institutionalization of formal and informal rules, procedures, policy paradigms, styles, shared beliefs and norms which are first defined and consolidated in the making of EU decisions and then incorporated in the logic of domestic discourse, identities, political structures and public policies, according to Radaelli (Graziano R. Paolo and Vink P. Maarten, 2012).

From this point of view, France’s initial goals in National Foreign and Security policy always included the respect of human rights & democratic principles as well as the respect for state sovereignty & international law, a general war prevention and the co-operation among states & nations. Post-Cold War era brought significant changes in France’s security strategy, such as the rise of their dependency on making decisions, the building of national nuclear weapons and the emphasis on inter-block diplomacy. Her vision was the initiation of an inter-governmental community method as well as a common foreign and security policy. The breaking point soon appeared after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, with a complete twist in France’s reaction to the crucial challenges in international relations. As a principal European leader, France started promoting the respect of the key-role of United Nations in international security, the acceleration of building a Defense Union inside the EU, in the basis of structured cooperation, along with emphasizing in multilateral peaceful – diplomatic solutions to crisis and eventually the improvement of Europe’s military capacity (Pachta Lukáš, 2003).

Until 2015, France’s Foreign and Security-Defense Policy raised awareness in making the EU an effective player in the protection of its citizens, as it confronted new security parameters that altered its strategy. The growing interconnection between threats and risks due to globalization, as well as the one of domestic and foreign policy after the significant rise of terrorist attacks, serve as some of the causes that led France to reinforce its cooperation against terrorism and organized crime through the development of a European Operational Center for civil Protection. In addition, the UN has gained a central position in view of threats and natural risks that have taken on a global dimension, in contemplation of reinforcing international institutions, giving priority to multilateralism and reforming the Security Council, by authorizing the use of force in certain cases. France showed her support in regional security organizations, which would promote peace-keeping, disarmament, civil security and conflict prevention. Along with France’s support to humanitarian law, the framework of its national security strategy included among others, their priority to defend its population and territory, secondly their contribution to European and International security and thirdly the defense of the republican principles such as democracy, solidarity, justice and respect of human dignity. Knowledge and anticipation, prevention, deterrence, protection and intervention, constituted the five basic strategic functions that would allow France to achieve its overall national security (Nicolas Sarkozy, 2008).

The Islamist terrorist attacks in Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris, in January 2015, have changed the relationship between French Society and security. On the day of the attack, two gunmen shot the editor of the magazine, in the guise of having already published satirical cartoons of the Prophet (Nesser Petter, 2015). A couple of months later that year, another terrorist attack resulted in the deaths of 130 civilians, in the concert hall Bataclan, one of the deadliest jihadi attacks thus far in France. After the attacks, French Government implemented the so-called “state of emergency”, which allowed police forces and the army to protect sensitive locations such as airports, stations and touristic areas in Paris. Furthermore, it reintroduced national controls at the borders with the Schengen countries and supported the adoption, in the European Parliament, of the outstanding directive on the European Passenger Name Record (PNR), which would facilitate the controls of travelers inside Europe (Lequesne Christian, 2016).

Today, the government is taking action at every level with its international partners to combat terrorist networks in France and abroad. First and foremost, it is improving the available tools in the EU, through the implementation of new rules that would prevent terrorist financing and money-laundering; the reinforcement of Europol and European Counter-Terrorism Center; the strengthening of digital platforms within the framework of EU Internet forum and the bolstering of arms trafficking measures. From their side, French Government continues enhancing international co-operation by building up partners capacity to combat terrorism, controlling the fight against terrorist financing, taking determined military action and finally it is making an effort to stabilize liberated areas and seek political solutions to conflicts (France Diplomacy).

 Schengen Agreement

Borders constitute the root of modern states. They are multifaceted as they play a key role in the sovereignty over land as well as the economy, politics and cultural identity. Schengen Agreement, led the contracting parties towards the abolishment of their national borders, aiming  at building a resilient Europe towards international crime and terrorism as well as straitened transnational economic activities. By signing this treaty in Schengen, a small village in Southern Luxemburg, initially by only five EU countries – France, Germany, and Benelux – on June 14th 1985, they consented in the removal of internal borders and the cessation of border checks. They likewise, pledged to share responsibility and cooperation in order to maintain a high level of security within the Schengen area, as well as to manage their common external borders and establish vital cooperation with their non-Schengen neighbors (European Commission, 2014).

France and Germany were the two pioneering countries to take the initial step of a free movement concept, as they agreed to move towards the approval of certain required conditions that would ensure the free movement of citizens inside the Schengen Area (Schengen Visa Info, 2020). In 1990, the primal five countries along with Portugal and Spain, signed the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement, whereas these legal provisions adopted by the Schengen group, were later incorporated into the European Union’s framework by the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997. Starting from 5 founding members, the Schengen Treaty today includes all 27 EU countries, apart from Ireland, as well as a great number of non-EU states, such as Norway and Iceland (Eur-Lex l33020, 2020).

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 in New York and in March 2004 in Madrid, the role of border-controls was significantly increased. The growing importance of border controls in the EU’s counter-terrorism efforts was also confirmed by the EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy of  November 2005, which is based on four pillars: prevent, protect, pursue and respond (European Council, 14469/4/05 REV 4, 2005). Therefore, the EU has gradually identified five main objectives regarding the use of border controls for counter-terrorism purposes such as: strengthening external border controls, ameliorating identity document security, reinforcing the exchange of information relating to border controls, improving capacities for identifying terrorists at borders as well as coordinating the reintroduction of internal border controls (Sarah Leonard, 2015).

Through its mechanisms, the Schengen Zone manages its external borders and provides protection to its citizens. Visa Information System (VIS), is a supporting security system, which serves as an instrument to exchange data for short-stay visa applications between member countries. Schengen Information System (SIS), likewise, serves as a tool to exchange data between member states regarding suspected criminals, individuals who might not have the right to enter and reside in the Schengen Zone, stolen, misappropriated or lost assets, as well as missing people. In 9th April 2013, SIS II a more advanced version of SIS was launched, effectively replacing SIS (Hellenic Data Protection Authority). Eventually, European Dactyloscopy (EUROPDAC), ensures the security of the zone and the EU. EURODAC is a fingerprint database which is used to identify asylum seekers and illegal border-crossers, by comparing fingerprints datasets (Schengen Visa Info, 2020).

Latest Terrorist Attacks in France

September 2020. The time has finally arrived for the long-anticipated trial of the fourteen people who were accused of aiding the two jihadists carry out the 2015 terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, killing more than 12 people and marking the beginning of a wave of jihadist attacks across France that left more than 250 people dead. Charlie Hebdo marked the start of the trial by reprinting its controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, similar to the ones that had sparked anger and several protests in Muslim majority countries (BBC, 2020). Later, on September 25, a 25-year-old Pakistan stabbed two people outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Following the news of stabbing, appeared to push into similar action a 18-year-old refugee of Chechen descent; angered by a classroom display of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad from Samuel Paty, armed with a knife and two pellet guns, beheaded the history teacher on October 16 (N. Onishi, C. Méheut & L. Foroudi, 2020). In less than two weeks after the beheading of Samuel Paty, another terror attack took place in Nice, where a knife assailant left two people dead in neo-Gothic Basilica (N. Onishi & C. Méheut, 2020).

France’s Reaction and European Response to the terrorist threat

After Samuel Paty’s beheading, tens of thousands assembled in the streets of several French cities, so as to pay tribute to the last victims of terrorist attacks as well as to defend free expression and secularism. French President Emanuel Macron delivered an emotional tribute to the history teacher, declaring that: We will defend the freedom you taught so well and we will raise secularism. We will not give up caricatures, drawings, even if others back down. We will offer every chance that the Republic owes all its youth without any discrimination (NBC News, 2020). During his visit in the Franco-Spanish border on November, Macron announced that he will submit proposals for a reformed Schengen to EU in December, as he particularly declared: I am in favor of a deep overhaul of Schengen to re-think its organization and to strengthen our common border security with a proper border force. These statements for tougher border security appear at a time when French leader is under intense domestic political pressure to handle the issue of migration and terrorism in Europe (France24, 2020).

From their side, on November 2020, EU home affairs ministers released a joint statement on behalf of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe, where they condemned these unspeakable actions and reaffirmed their unity and solidarity in the fight against all forms of terrorism. Among other things, they referred to the reinforcement of a well-functioning Schengen area, through the implementation of a European Legislation on the new databases and their interoperability. They moreover cited the tightening control in external borders, as well as the ability to reintroduce and prolong temporary internal border controls in accordance with the Schengen Borders Code. They closed their statement, by indicating the importance of strengthening their relations with third countries, in order to efficiently expel any criminal offenders and the ones posing a terrorist or violent extremist threat (European Council, 2020).

Even before these latest attacks, Europe has experienced a series of terrorist threats, from 2014-2016, leading her and its member states in adopting various measures against related attacks. Their solicit approach concluded the reinforced checks at external borders and the obligation of member states to carry out systematic checks against relevant databases on every individual when crossing external borders, through the adoption of a regulation amending the Schengen borders code (European Parliament, PE-CONS 55/16, 2017). Along with the reinforcement of Schengen borders code, the last 3 years, EU has adopted a series of measures to combat terrorism, such as the enhancement of information exchange, the prevention of online radicalization, the improvement of firearm controls, the digitalization of judicial cooperation, the criminalization of terrorist offences, the harmonization of the use of air passenger’ data, as well as the financial cut of terrorism and the empowerment of cooperation with non-EU countries (European Council, 2020). 

Concluding, we came across with the efforts from France’s as well as from the European Union’s, to effectively build up a resistant and viable framework that would tackle this phenomenon. After the latest terrorist attacks that Europe has experienced, the idea of a resilient Schengen Agreement that would provide a stronger and more supportive border control at the external borders of the EU, intensifies progressively. Countries are demanding quicker and more functional reactions. It’s financially impossible to dissolve the Agreement and countries have addressed security concerns, which encouraged the protection of the nation and demoralized the openness of the European polity. These countries seem to walk in a tightrope that could easily destroy the idea of a united Europe. Therefore, they are pressuring European Institutions and the Schengen Agreement to act immediately and amplify the measures needed on external borders, before it’s too late. 



Bulmer Simon and Lequesne Christian (2012), The Member States of the European Union, Graziano R. Paolo and Vink P. Maarten, Chapter 2: Europeanization: Concept, Theory, and Methods, Oxford University Press, Second Edition.

Nesser Petter (2015), Islamist Terrorism in Europe, Hurst Publishers.

Sarkozy Nicolas (July 2008), The French White Paper on defense and national security, Odile Jacob.

Governmental Publications

France Diplomacy, Terrorism: France’s International Action. Accessed on December 2st 2020. Available here,

Academic Papers & Articles

Leonard Sarah (2015), Border Controls as a Dimension of the European Union’s Counter-Terrorism Policy: A Critical Assessment, University of Dundee, Available here.

Lequesne Christian (June 15th 2016), French foreign and security challenges after the Paris terrorist attacks, Contemporary Security Policy, Volume 37.

Pachta Lukáš (2003), France: driving force of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy?, EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy. Available here.


BBC (September 2020), Charlie Hebdo: Stabbings suspect “was trying to target magazine”. Accessed on December 1st 2020. Available here.

France 24 (November 2020), Macron urges Europe to strengthen border controls after terror attacks. Accessed on December 1st 2020. Available here.

John Silk (September 2020), France’s Macron refuses to condemn Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, DW. Accessed on December 1st 2020. Available here.

Kydd H. Andrew and Walter F. Barbara (Summer 2006), The Strategies of Terrorism, International Security, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 49–80.

Matt Bradley (Ocotber 2020), France has long embraced secularism. After beheading, will it be used to oppress?, NBC News. Accessed on December 1st 2020. Available here.

Norimitsu Onishi, Constant Méheut and Layli Foroudi (November 2020), Attacks in France Point to a Threat Beyond Extremist Networks, The New York Times. Accessed on December 1st 2020. Available here.

Norimitsu Onishi and Constant Méheut (October 2020), New Terror Attacks Leave France Embattled at Home and Abroad, The New York Times. Accessed on December 1st 2020. Available here.

Pape A. Robert (Aug., 2003), The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 3, pp. 343-361.

International Acts

European Council (last updated December 1st 2020), EU’s response to the terrorist threat. Accessed on December 1st 2020. Available here.

European Council (November 2020), Joint statement by the EU home affairs ministers on the recent terrorist attacks in Europe. Accessed on December 1st 2020. Available here.

European Commission Brochure (2014), The EU explained: Borders and Security. Accessed on November 30th 2020. Available here.

European Union (June 2020), Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, TE-SAT. Accessed on December 1st 2020. Available here.

Florence Gaub (2017), Trends in Terrorism, European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS). Accessed on December 3rd 2020. Available here.

Hellenic Data Protection Authority, Schengen. Accessed on November 30th 2020. Available here.

Schengen Visa Info (last updated August 3rd 2020), A Brief Summary of the Schengen Acquis. Accessed on November 30th 2020. Available here.

Schengen Visa Info (last updated December 2020), The Security System of the Schengen Zone. Accessed on November 30th 2020. Available here.

International Instruments

Council of the European Union, The European Union Counter-Terrorism Strategy, November 30th 2005, 14469/4/05 REV 4. Available here.

European Parliament, Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2016/399 as regards the reinforcement of checks against relevant databases at external borders, February 22nd 2017, PE-CONS 55/16.  Available here.

Summaries of EU Legislation for The Schengen area and cooperation, last updated 14/05/2020, EUR-Lex. Available here.