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Countering terrorism in the EU

Written by Clare Ferguson,

European Union 2016 – Source : EP

Although no agreed definition of terrorism yet exists, modern international terrorism continues to pose a considerable threat to democracy, freedom and security globally. Terrorists such as ISIL/Da’esh continue to strike soft targets worldwide, murdering civilians of many nationalities. The number of people killed and the number of countries affected continues to grow. The trend suggests that further attacks are likely, as recent events in Belgium have made all too clear. In Europe, calls for measures to increase effective international counter-terrorism activities grow ever louder. However, the transnational nature of modern, fourth wave terrorism poses individual states with great difficulties in confronting global terrorists in isolation. Intelligence-sharing and judicial cooperation between states would appear to be the key to combating the threat posed to freedom and security. While attacks against public transportation systems are unfortunately not a new phenomenon, coordination between Member States on the possibility of a terrorist attack using non-conventional weapons such as chemical, biological, radiological or even nuclear materials is also now urgently needed.

Although competence on counter-terrorism in the EU lies with the Member States, the EU has naturally sought to act in the face of the terrorist threat to European and international culture and the economy, and to strengthen coordination of Member State activities. The EU has been particularly active in the areas of prevention of radicalisation, the foreign fighters phenomenon, the criminal justice response, and cooperation with third countries (including cooperation with the USA since 9/11). The United Nations considers prolonged unresolved conflict as one of the main factors conducive to the spread of global terrorism. To this end, 0.22% of the EU’s Multi-annual Financial Framework for 2014-2020, representing some €2 338.72 million in commitments, is earmarked for the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The policy is designed to preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security. Support for action to stem violence in the Middle East and parts of Africa could have positive international implications. Following the Paris attacks in 2015, the Commission proposed a Directive on combating terrorism which is currently under consideration in Parliament’s committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

The link between terrorism and organised crime is widely recognised; indeed some recent terrorist profiles have been linked to the trade in illegal drugs, as well as looting of heritage sites, and illegal trade in oil. In June 2014, the Financial Action Task Force concluded that convertible virtual currencies may also become a vehicle for terrorism financing activity, thanks to the high level of anonymity they afford. The EU Action Plan for strengthening the fight against terrorist financing specifically focuses on tackling the abuse of the financial system for terrorist financing purposes, and targeting the sources of terrorist funding. As part of that plan, it is expected that the fourth anti money-laundering Directive, which was adopted in May 2015, will be updated in the near future to include, amongst other things, provisions designed to counter the fear that terrorists may use virtual currencies to transfer funding.

Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs is also currently considering a Commission proposal on the European Criminal Records Information System, one objective of which is to reduce crime and foster crime prevention, including terrorism. This electronic system allows Member States to exchange information on previous convictions against an individual from a third country by criminal courts in the EU. The European Commission’s impact assessment indicates that the choices to be made (voluntary or mandatory fingerprinting for instance), will certainly be costly to implement, and are likely to be influenced by the volatile security situation.

Visit the European Parliament page on ‘The EU’s fight against terrorism‘.


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