Written by Piotr Bakowski and Laura Puccio
As the hostilities in Syria and Iraq continue and terrorism activities worldwide seem to be on the rise, EU Member States are increasingly confronted with the problem of aspiring and returning ‘foreign fighters’. Whereas the phenomenon is not new, its scale certainly is, which explains the wide perception of these individuals as a serious threat to the security of both individual Member States and the EU as a whole.
The problem has been addressed within international fora including the United Nations, which in 2014 adopted a binding resolution specifically addressing the issue of foreign fighters. The EU is actively engaged in relevant international initiatives.
Within the EU, security in general and counter-terrorism in particular have traditionally remained in the Member States’ remit. The EU has however coordinated Member States’ activities regarding the prevention of radicalisation, the detection of suspicious travel, criminal justice response and cooperation with third countries. The EU is seeking to strengthen its role given the widely shared feeling of insecurity in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. Existing and new paths for EU action are being explored, including the revived EU passenger name records (PNR) proposal.
Individual Member States have stepped up their efforts to address the problem using various kinds of tools including criminal law, administrative measures and ‘soft tools’, such as counter-radicalisation campaigns. The Member States most affected have also cooperated with each other outside the EU framework.
The United States has a particularly developed counter-terrorism framework now being used to deal with foreign fighters. Since 9/11, the EU and the US have cooperated on counter-terrorism despite different philosophies on issues such as data protection.