Written by Wouter van Ballegooij and Piotr Bakowski,
In the wake of recent attacks, surveys show that combatting terrorism while respecting individual freedom, remains one of the key concerns of EU citizens. The EU fights terrorism through supporting various national measures and exchanges, including those preventing radicalisation and recruitment, measures addressing terrorist financing and regulating the possession and acquisition of weapons and explosives, as well as instruments aimed at strengthening security at the Union’s external borders. Moreover, the EU supports operational cooperation between national law enforcement authorities, as well as harmonising terrorism-related provisions in criminal law and procedure. This includes active cooperation with third countries and international organisations.
Gaps and barriers
Nevertheless, this Cost of Non-Europe report identifies a number of gaps and barriers in EU counterterrorism action, notably regarding:
- The accountability and oversight of – and the evidence-base for – policy and law making;
- The evidence base for – and fundamental rights compliance of – counter-radicalisation programmes;
- The scope of action related to the disruption of terrorist financing;
- Information sharing between Member States through various EU and national databases, in part due to the complex architecture of these databases and the lack of their interconnection due to legal and technical limitations and a degree of unwillingness among national authorities to share information;
- The awareness and use made of judicial cooperation tools; and
- The use made of the (analytical) support and coordination possibilities by EU agencies.
Impact of terrorism and counterterrorism measures
Further EU action in the area is imperative since, besides the impact on victims and their families, terrorism has a negative effect on the wellbeing of the population as a whole, affecting people’s life satisfaction, happiness, health and trust within communities and in national political institutions. Since 2004, terrorism has cost the EU about €185 billion in lost Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and around €5.6 billion in lost lives, injuries and damages to infrastructure. It is argued that terrorism also harms trade, foreign direct investment, tourism (where the consequences are immediate, but often short-lived) and transport. Inversely, the defence sector has benefited from increased investments. Moreover, in recent years, the EU counterterrorism budget has risen significantly, as illustrated by the €4 billion in commitments and €3 billion in payments towards the Commission’s Security and Citizenship programme in 2016. Finally, certain measures and practices under the guise of the fight against terrorism have had a disproportionate impact on suspects and wider groups within the society: not only have they violated fundamental rights, but they were also counterproductive. Examples include the rendition, unlawful detention and torture of terrorism suspects in secret locations, anti-radicalisation programmes conflating the Muslim faith with violent extremism (and thus further ostracising a community which already faces severe discrimination), as well as blanket mass surveillance by intelligence services.
Significant benefits could be achieved by the EU and its Member States by addressing the gaps and barriers described above, notably by:
- Making sure we know what works and what does not and ensuring people’s fundamental rights are respected in the fight against terrorism. This can be achieved through the development of an evidence-based EU criminal policy cycle involving the European Parliament and national parliaments. In this context EU institutions should conduct proper ex-ante assessments and ex-post evaluations of counterterrorism measures in line with better law making principles;
- In the same vein, monitoring the effectiveness and fundamental rights compliance of counter-radicalisation programmes;
- Depriving terrorists from their funding by further refining the framework for countering terrorism financing; and
- Fostering a European law enforcement culture with full respect for fundamental rights, in which relevant information is shared and analysed, judicial cooperation tools are properly used and seeking the support of EU agencies becomes a natural thing to do. This also requires the allocation of significant resources aimed at training and exchanges.
Beyond resulting in a more relevant, coherent, effective and efficient action in the fight against terrorism, such measures could increase the wellbeing of the population, reduce the material and immaterial impacts of terrorism, and ensure protection of fundamental rights when impacted by counterterrorism measures.
Read this study on ‘The fight against terrorism‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.