The 22 March 2016 bomb attacks in Brussels have once again highlighted the security risk Europe faces from terrorism. It comes after the atrocities in Madrid, London, Copenhagen and Paris as a further reminder of the need for an ambitious EU security policy, which can measure up to the scale of the threats.
Working to ensure a high level of security for Europeans is an objective set by the Treaties and, as President Jean-Claude Juncker stated in his Political Guidelines of 15 July 2015, "a common European responsibility".
The European Agenda on Security has provided a clear framework for the EU to work better together on security and was the basis for the European Council's endorsement of a renewed internal security strategy. Terrorism is one of its three priorities, alongside organised crime and cybercrime. The UE Commission communication, one year on from the presentation of the Agenda, takes stock of the progress that has been made in its implementation as concerns the EU contribution to counter-terrorism.
The Treaties envisage the need to ensure a high level of security, including through preventive measures, and through coordination and cooperation between police, judicial and other competent authorities. For this, the EU and its Member States need to move beyond the concept of cooperating1 to protect national internal security to the idea of protecting the collective security of the Union as a whole. As President Juncker stated recently in the Parliament on 12 April 2016, now is the time for action.
Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos added: "The European Union is designed to deliver an area of freedom, security and justice, without internal borders for its citizens. The internal security of one Member State is the internal security of all Member States. Fragmentation makes us vulnerable. It is exploited to the full by terrorists and criminals, as the recent attacks in several of our Member States have shown. We need to overcome this and turn our commitments into action to achieve a true EU Security Union."
Under the fight against terrorism priority, the European Agenda on Security focussed on the threat posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters, the prevention of radicalisation and the sanctioning of terrorists and their backers. It underlined the importance of cutting the access of terrorists to funds, firearms and explosives, of improving the protection of citizens and critical infrastructures, and of addressing the external dimension of the fight against terrorism beyond EU borders. It also underscored the significance of better information exchange to effectively track persons engaged in terrorist activities. The full implementation of the European Agenda on Security is therefore essential to delivering concrete improvements in these areas.
These key areas of attention have been reinforced by Action Plans adopted in December 2015 on firearms and explosives, in February 2016 on strengthening the fight against terrorist financing, as well as in the Communication of 6 April 2016 on Stronger and Smarter Information Systems for Borders and Security.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: "Terrorism knows no borders. National authorities are responsible for internal security. But they need to be able to cooperate seamlessly to prevent terrorism and track down the perpetrators. The EU can and must provide the right framework and tools for this, but what will make the difference is how the Member States use them. Law enforcement authorities in all our Member States should both 'think European' and 'act European', as internal security is a shared responsibility."
Addressing the threat posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters.
According to a recent study2, of the 4,000 foreign fighters thought to come from EU Member States, around 30% have returned to their home countries. Returned foreign fighters have been linked to the terrorist attacks of 2015 and 2016. Some foreign fighters will have been instructed to return to Europe to commit terrorist attacks, spread Daesh propaganda and radicalise and recruit others. National authorities need to be fully informed of movements of foreign terrorist fighters, both outgoing and incoming and to share such information with each other and with EU agencies through the Schengen Information System and Europol's European Counter Terrorism Centre. By June 2016, the Commission will prepare in cooperation with the Presidency operational measures for better use of the Schengen Information System in relation to foreign terrorist fighters and will propose to revise the Schengen Information System to improve its added value for law enforcement purposes by the end of the year.
Moreover, member States should apply the Common Risk Indicators at border checks, ensure the systematic registration and security checks of all arrivals at hotspots, and second the necessary experts to Europol and Frontex, perform systematic interviews and screening of all returnees to assess the level of risk they pose and adopt in the Council and implement the Passenger Name Record Directive as a matter of urgency. By October 2016, the Commission will prepare an Implementing Decision on the interoperability of the Passenger Information Units for Passenger Name Record data exchanges.
The European Parliament and the Council should by June 2016 at the latest, adopt the Commission's proposals for a Directive on combatting terrorism, the European Border and Coast Guard and changes to the Schengen Border Code, maintaining a high level of ambition.
Preventing and fighting radicalisation
Priority must be given to the prevention of radicalisation and recruitment of European citizens by terrorist organisations. Member States need to ensure that those already radicalised enter de-radicalisation programmes and are prevented from spreading terrorist propaganda and hate speech and that information on those presenting a high risk of radicalisation is proactively exchanged. The Commission will adopt a communication on preventing radicalisation for the 2nd quarter 2016.
Sanctioning terrorists and their backers
The European Parliament and the Council should reach by June 2016 an agreement on the Commission's proposal for a Directive on Combatting Terrorism to strengthen the criminalisation of terrorist related offences such as terrorist travel and providing financing, housing, transport or material support to terrorists.
A key element in successfully preventing, investigating and prosecuting serious and organised crime and terrorism-related offences is rapidly securing and obtaining digital evidence, as highlighted in the joint statement of 24 March 2016 of the EU Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs and representatives of EU institutions on the terrorist attacks in Brussels. Relevant information is frequently held by private companies, on their servers, often located outside the territory of the investigating law enforcement agency and therefore outside its jurisdiction. Aside from mutual legal assistance procedures and a few limited rules in international agreements, no harmonised approach exists on how to access such information. As a result, a wide array of different national approaches has evolved, which poses problems for investigation. The Commission will engage with the private sector to facilitate cooperation based on a common understanding across the EU on access to electronic information and evidence, and propose solutions, including a legal instrument if required.
By summer 2017, the Commission will propose solutions, including legislation if required, to address the problems of obtaining digital evidence in relation to criminal investigations.
Improving information exchange
By June 2016, the European Parliament and the Council should finalise the revised Europol regulation and adopt by the end of the year the legislative proposals presented by the Commission to improve information exchange and interoperability of databases and information systems, such as the extension of the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) to non-EU citizens.
Member States should increase the number of expert staff seconded to the European Counter-Terrorism Centre as well as ensure as a matter of urgency that the Prüm framework is fully implemented, and make a more systematic and consistent use of Interpol's Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database.
By autumn 2016, the Commission will bring forward initiatives to upgrade the European Counter Terrorism Centre.
Strengthening the European Counter Terrorism Centre
The European Counter Terrorism Centre should be strengthened to become the law enforcement intelligence hub for threat analysis and to support the development of counter-terrorism operational plans. The Commission will bring forward initiatives to develop the Centre into a stronger structure, with the capacity for joint operational planning, threat assessments and law enforcement intelligence coordination. Joint threat assessments on terrorism and radicalisation should start being developed already now as a matter of urgency.
Cutting the access of terrorists to firearms and explosives
Member States should implement as a matter of priority the Action Plan on firearms and explosives and the Parliament and Council should adopt the proposal for the revision of the Directive on the control of the acquisition and possession of weapons presented by the Commission on 18 November 2015.
Cutting access of terrorists to funds
By June 2016, the Commission will adopt a legislative proposal to revise the 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive. Member States should bring forward the date for effective transposition and entry into application of this Directive to the 4th quarter of 2016 at the latest. The Commission will deliver on the Action Plan on fighting terrorist financing to help Member States strengthen the detection and prevention of movement of funds and other assets and to disrupt the sources of revenue of terrorist organisations.
By June 2016, the Commission will also adopt a Delegated Act to identify high risk third countries with strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering/countering terrorism financing (EU blacklist).
By December 2016, it will adopt several legislative proposals harmonising money laundering criminal offences and sanctions, against illicit cash movements, on the mutual recognition of criminal assets' freezing and confiscation orders and for a Directive on combatting fraud and counterfeiting on non-cash means of payment.
By 1st quarter 2017, it will adopt a legislative proposal reinforcing customs' powers and cooperation and addressing terrorism financing related to trade in goods.
By 2nd quarter 2017, it will present a report on a supranational assessment of money laundering and terrorism financing risks and recommendations to Member States on measures suitable to address those risks as well as adopt a legislative proposal against illicit trade in cultural goods.
Protecting citizens and critical infrastructures
Law enforcement and other key authorities need to be better prepared for security risk related to the vulnerability of critical infrastructure, ensure efficient exchange of relevant information, design preventive measures in a coordinated manner across borders and support research on future technological and capability needs.
Fighting crime and terrorism needs to continuously draw on new technologies and capabilities. Further measures are needed to address the challenges of detecting threats. The Commission will also direct research funds towards future technological and capability needs. Horizon 2020 Secure societies programme has a budget of €1.7 billion 2014-20. Work programmes for 2016-2017 have been agreed, with several actions relating specifically to the fight against terrorism. Future calls and the next annual programmes should have a heightened focus on counter-terrorism technology and capabilities, drawing on the work of the European Counter Terrorism Centre as well as national law enforcement and intelligence communities.
The European Agenda on Security underlined that a competitive EU security industry can also contribute to the EU's autonomy in meeting security needs. The EU has encouraged the development of innovative security solutions, for example through standards and common certificates. The Commission will come forward in September 2016 with proposals on airport screening equipment, to remove barriers to the Single Market and to enhance the competitiveness of the EU security industry in export markets.
Information systems are a key element of our society. While strong cybersecurity measures should be the first line of defence, we also need to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of crime targeting or exploiting those systems.
The external dimension
Greater coherence between internal and external actions in the field of security needs to be ensured. Drawing on the work of the EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator, the Commission and the EEAS, the EU should initiate anti-terrorism partnerships with countries around the Mediterranean.
By being better coordinated the Union can be more resilient, more responsive and more prepared in line with the Council conclusions on the renewed European Union internal security strategy 2015-2020. In today's world, terrorists and other criminals are operating on a cross-border and trans-national basis. To effectively address the threat they pose, European law enforcement authorities need to work seamlessly together, to pool their resources and intelligence, and to operate jointly. This is the only way to counter the terrorist threat effectively. The internal security of one Member State is the internal security of all.
1. Subject to the specific terms of Protocol 22 as concerns Denmark, and Protocols 21 and 36 as concerns the United Kingdom and Ireland which allow, but do not require, these two Member States to opt into initiatives in the policy area of freedom, security and justice while respecting their coherence and practical operability.