France and Austria push for new EU terror policy after attacks

Calls for reform of Schengen system and more security at borders after extremist violence

Europe should overhaul its open border system, ramp up policing at its external frontiers and crack down on extremism, the leaders of France and Austria have urged in a joint push to transform security policy following attacks in both countries.

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and French president Emmanuel Macron teamed up to demand a common European Union response following deadly Islamist attacks in recent weeks that have hardened rhetoric and attitudes, with both leaders facing domestic political pressure to take a tough line.

The two hosted a conference in Paris this week at which they called for the rapid implementation of policies that had previously been proposed in the wake of the 2015 Paris attacks but have not been implemented, including stronger cross-border police co-operation, better intelligence sharing, and common databases.

In addition, they called for the removal of terrorist content posted online within an hour. Citizens “won’t be able to accept for a long time that internal borders are kept open if we do not reform the Schengen area in depth”, Mr Macron warned.


The summit was attended remotely by German chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, European Council chief Charles Michel and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Ms Von der Leyen announced plans for the executive to develop a “new European agenda on combating terrorism”, which would include a “European action plan for integration and inclusion” to be set out later this month.

“The best means, the most effective weapon against every form of extremism is for young people to have prospects,” Ms von der Leyen said.

The push comes in the wake of a spate of attacks that have refocused attention on security in Europe. Last week, a 20-year-old gunman previously convicted of trying to join Islamic State killed four people in a shooting rampage in the Austrian capital Vienna.

Days before, a suspected extremist killed three people at a church in Nice in the south of France, which in turn followed the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty near Paris by an 18-year-old in revenge for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to students in a class about freedom of expression.

Free movement

Immediately following the attacks, EU national governments began discussing proposals to counter radicalisation, crack down on illegal content online and open up encrypted communications to counter-terror investigations.

The debate has increased focus on borders within the EU at a time when free movement in the bloc is already under pressure due to restrictions on travellers linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Macron said the EU must "radically overhaul" its Schengen area of passport-free movement, after it emerged that the 21-year-old Tunisian suspected of being behind the Nice attack had travelled through Italy to France.

“Every security lapse at the external borders or in a member state is a security risk for all member states,” he said.

France doubled its military and police presence on its borders in the wake of the attacks. The country has been patrolling its borders since the 2015 Bataclan attacks in Paris, under a security exception to the passport-free movement principle.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times