Members' Research Service By / March 10, 2023

Understanding EU counter-terrorism policy

Terrorism in the EU is far from being a new phenomenon: a number of EU Member States (such as France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) have a long history of fighting domestic terrorist groups.

© Victor Moussa / Adobe Stock

Written by Piotr Bąkowski.

Faced with a persistent terrorist threat, the European Union (EU) is playing an increasingly ambitious role in counter-terrorism. Primary responsibility for combating crime and ensuring security lies with the Member States, but the EU provides cooperation, coordination and (to some extent) harmonisation tools, as well as financial support, to address this borderless phenomenon. Moreover, awareness of the connection between development and stability, as well as between internal and external security, has come to shape EU action beyond Union borders. EU spending on counter-terrorism has increased over the years, to allow for better cooperation between national law enforcement authorities and enhanced support by the EU bodies in charge of security and justice, such as Europol, eu-LISA and Eurojust.

The many new rules and instruments that have been adopted in recent years focus, among things, on harmonising definitions of terrorist offences and sanctions, sharing information and data, protecting borders, countering terrorist financing and regulating firearms. However, implementing and evaluating the various measures is a challenging task. The European Parliament has played an active role, not only in shaping legislation, but also in evaluating existing tools and gaps through the work accomplished by its Special Committee on Terrorism (TERR) in 2018.

In line with the Parliament’s recommendations, as well as the priorities set by the European Commission and its counter-terrorism agenda presented in December 2020, EU counter-terrorism action has recently focused on doing more to anticipate threats, counter radicalisation, and reduce vulnerabilities by making critical infrastructures more resilient and improving the protection of public spaces. The EU will also continue to address the online dimension of various forms of extremism, in line with the laws on dissemination of terrorist content online and on the provision of digital services in the EU that have recently entered into force.

This briefing updates an earlier one, entitled Understanding EU counter-terrorism policy, published in 2021.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Understanding EU counter-terrorism policy‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Terrorist attacks in the EU, 2020-2021

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