Reactions to the Paris attacks in the EU: fundamental rights considerations

The events that took place in France and Belgium in January 2015 had tremendous impact across the European Union (EU) and beyond. In the immediate aftermath of the events in Paris, FRA collected responses across Europe, focusing on Jewish and Muslim community organisations, political leaders, civil society and the media. The current paper provides an overview of this material and should be regarded as a snapshot of a rapidly changing situation.

The attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices on 7 January 2015 that left 12 people dead framed the initial debate on the necessity of protecting the right to freedom of expression. However, the subsequent murder of four Jewish people in a kosher supermarket and the deadly shooting of a police officer in Paris, as well as the suspected attack on police in Belgium added other dimensions to political, media and civilian responses across the EU.

All of these events nonetheless had one aspect in common, which led to a reframing of the interpretation of the issues at stake: the perpetrators were young, Muslim, EU citizens with an immigrant background, who have been radicalised at home. The main focus of attention therefore shifted from issues of freedom of expression to preventing violent radicalisation and countering terrorism, as demonstrated by the raft of measures proposed in France on 21 January, with other EU Member States following suit. It is in this context that a discussion of fundamental rights, which are among the EU’s founding values, becomes particularly relevant.

There are numerous fundamental rights issues raised by the events in France and Belgium and responses to them, including the right to human dignity (Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU), freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 10), and freedom of expression and information (Article 11). They are furthermore closely related to issues of surveillance and civil liberties, community cohesion and marginalisation, and migrant integration and social inclusion.