The Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies organized the 26th of September a conference focusing on the tools supplied by the EU to fight against terrorism and to enforce security across the European area.
M. Oldrish Bures from the Centre for Security Studies and Department of International Relations and European Studies at the Metropolitan University of Prague and Mrs. Christiane Höhne, Principal Advisor of the EU Counterterrorism Coordinator from the Council of the European Union detailed the general situation in the UE and its member states regarding their fight against terrorism.
The meeting began with a 09/11 reference and the assessment that the world could never be the same anymore. The emphasis was put on the fact that it was no longer possible to hide the dangerousness of the current international context. The recent developments, from the relationships between Russia and Ukraine, the struggle to manage the migration waves from the Middle East and Africa, or the failure to counter-terrorism, are worrying. Furthermore, the lack of reactions from our governments have created a strong feeling of helplessness and has enforced populism across the EU.
Mikulas Dzurinda, the Wilfried Materns President, invited the EU-institutions « to use this challenge as an opportunity » and to be « brave enough » to decide what should be done and manage the issue of a global insecurity caused by terrorism: « the time for action is arrived » and the need of cooperation, strengthen intelligence and a true European security is more than real.
M. Bures insisted on the impact of 09/11 on the European policy against terrorism. To be able to face the terrorism threat, further information sharing and cooperation across the EU is needed. Since the Twin Towers’ fall and the attacks in Europe, European policies have not been effective enough.
Despite security being a state prerogative, the EU-contribution in this area is real and needed. The main purpose of European agencies is to improve cooperation, notably through data sharing. It is central to keep in mind that Europol does not have investigation skills but needs to have access to data.
M. Bures explained that for a majority of member states, Europol is perceived as a foreign agency within the EU. For him the main barrier to further cooperation is the lack of trust between member states. This lack of trust is also further reinforced by language issues and a secret culture between member states.
Yet, opportunities to collaborate across the EU and with foreign countries are real: Europol’s headquarters are in Brussels, close to European institutions and various embassies.
In order to get real results, member states and other European agencies will need to cooperate with Europol. According to his report, Europol is the principal tool of cooperation and coordination in order to be effective in fighting terrorism.
According to M. Bures, a couple of decades are necessary to fix this problem of trust. Member states will have to make efforts as collecting data is one of the corner stones’ of fighting terrorism: having well-established databases is fundamental.
Mrs. Höhne sketched other tools to prevent and repress radicalisation and terrorist attacks.
She welcomed recent development that followed the attacks in Belgium, and France. Those member states began to cooperate closely with Europol. For her, collaborating with this agency is fundamental as it works as a virtuous circle: the more you give, the more you will get in return.
Even if security remains a nationwide priority, she proposed to create a common security Union. For her, it is the next fundamental step in the fight against terrorism.
Mrs. Höhne also highlighted the importance of databases and sharing information and even argued that Schengen information shroud be shared. Her ‘super point’ was that Daech is using data to manipulate opinions. The UE therefore needs to fight this organisation on this field too. Using data and new technologies is also the only way to collect evidences of Daech’s abuses and bring its members to Court.
Mrs. Höhne also preached prevention through education, formation, sport or democracy to create and / or enforce inclusion, positive opportunities and dialogue across the EU. Dialogue needs to happen at all levels; between countries, with the civil society and private companies; terrorism is a global issue, which needs global policies. Mrs. Höhne highlighted the need to strengthen partnerships with foreign countries to manage terrorism and its consequences. The European Commission seems to understand it as Commissioners have recently decided to allocate a more important budget to security and research in this area.
Despite Mrs Höhne emphasising the need to focus on prevention in order to tackle terrorism, the Bratislava Summit shows that the focus has recently shifted to security and defence. Prevention and defence are the two sides of the same coin, however, prevention is a longer process of which effects will only be felt in the longer term.
Radicalisation is obviously a fundamental and urgent issue – specifically because of free movements within Schengen. To be able to cooperate effectively, trust is key.
The EU and the international community need to find a balance between security and justice. The key of this dilemma is trusting each other to build a strong and cooperative network across Europe, its partners and the partners of its partners. This last point is another issue: currently, cooperation between EU member states and partner countries or third countries are not common and too often sector-specific. The role of the EU needs to gather its agencies and networks to support a global policy against terrorism including prevention and repression.