EU and Terrorism

This week another terrorist attack in France: a man entered a supermarket and shot shoppers, killing 2 people and injuring 16 more. If it had happened in the US, it would hardly be called a terrorist attack since there was no religion or extremist motivation what so ever. It would probably be called just another mass shooting, but in France, everything is seen as a terrorist attack, as for the declaration of President Macron:

"I urge our fellow French citizens to remain aware of the terrorist threat, but to also be aware of the force and resistance our people demonstrated each and every time it was attacked."

Because of that, I thought it was important to do another episode of the Podcast, talking about terrorism and explain what the European Union is doing to fight this treat:

Security is a major concern for Europeans: the vast majority (80%) want the EU to do more to fight terrorism. However, European policymakers also realize that terrorism has no borders.

EU measures to prevent new attacks run from more thorough checks at Europe’s borders, to better police and judicial cooperation on tracking suspects and pursuing perpetrators, cutting the financing of terrorism, tackling organized crime, addressing radicalization and others.

Improving border controls:

In order to safeguard security within the Schengen zone, systematic checks at the EU's external borders on all people entering the EU - including EU citizens - were introduced in April 2017.

To record the movements of non-EU citizens across the Schengen area and speed up controls, a new entry and exit registration system was agreed by Parliament and EU ministers on 30 November 2017. These new external border controls are expected to become fully functional by 2020 at the latest.

Stopping foreign terrorist fighters

At least 7,800 Europeans from 24 countries are believed to have traveled to conflict areas in Syria and Iraq to join jihadist terrorist groups, according to Europol. Although there is a decrease in travel, the number of returning foreign fighters is expected to rise if Islamic State is defeated militarily or collapses.

In order to criminalize acts such as undertaking training or traveling for terrorist purposes, as well as organizing or facilitating such travel, Europe put in place  EU-wide legislation on terrorism that, together with new controls at the external borders, will help to tackle the foreign fighter phenomenon.

Making use of air passenger data

Airlines operating flights to and from the EU are obliged to hand national authorities the data of their passengers such as names, travel dates, itinerary and payment method.

This so-called PNR data is used to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute terrorist offenses and serious crimes. Negotiations took more than five years and Parliament insisted on safeguards for sensitive data (revealing racial origin, religion, political opinion, health or sexual orientation) and data protection.

Stepping up the exchange of information

The man who carried out the Berlin Christmas market attack used multiple identities to evade border and law enforcement authorities. This, and other similar cases show the importance of effective information sharing between different authorities (law enforcement, judicial, intelligence) in EU countries. Information is key.

The EU already has many databases and information systems for border management and internal security. The Parliament is currently focusing on rules that will enable the interoperability of the databases and allow for the simultaneous consultation of the different systems.

Europol, the EU's police agency, supports the exchange of information between national police authorities as the EU criminal information hub. In May 2016 the Parliament agreed to give more powers to Europol to step up the fight against terrorism as well as to set up specialized units such as the European counterterrorism center, which was launched on 25 January 2016.

Tackling the financing of terrorism

An effective measure to stop terrorists is to cut their sources of revenue and disrupt logistics. The Parliament wants EU countries to track suspicious financial transactions and charities and also look into the trafficking of oil, cigarettes, gold, gems, and works of art.

MEPs have completed the latest update of the EU's anti-money laundering directive, which tightens the rules on virtual currency platforms and anonymous prepaid cards.

MEPs also managed to secure additional resources in the EU's 2018 budget to better fight terrorism and organized crime. The European Commission recently set up a blockchain observatory in response to Parliament calls to monitor virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, to prevent them being used to financing terrorism.

Reducing access to dangerous weapons

The EU does everything possible to prevent dangerous weapons falling into the hands of the wrong people. The revised firearms directive closed legal loopholes that allowed terrorists to use reconverted weapons, for example in the Paris 2015 attacks. It requires EU countries to have a proper monitoring system while keeping exemptions for hunters, museums, and collectors.

Parliament is also pushing for better control of arms exports and an embargo on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

Preventing radicalization

Most of the terrorist attacks in Europe were perpetrated by home-grown terrorists. Parliament, therefore, proposed measures to fight radicalization and extremism in prisons and online by making use of education and social inclusion.