The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Inês Sofia de Oliveira, Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

The European Commission has put forward a proposal for a new Directive and Action Plan on Terrorism and illegal trafficking of firearms and explosives. The proposal intends to bring the European Union’s member states approaches closer together in their approach to foreign terrorist fighters, radicalisation and extremism, and cross-border intelligence sharing. Whilst the proposal is promising as regards the criminalisation of offences and the emphasis on cooperation, questions remain regarding the EU’s pursuit of a gut response to the latest attacks in Paris rather than on the drivers of extremism.

Following the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris the European Union (EU) is taking further steps to prevent the radicalisation of its citizens and, in particular, their travel to war zones to combat and support terrorist organisations. As a response to the security threat posed by terrorism the criminal justice approach now being pursued by the EU is a clear tightening of the common legal framework within the internal market borders and a somewhat exasperated attempt to address a growing and worrying problem for the majority of EU countries.

Brought forward by Frans Timmermans- first Vice-President to the European Commission – the European Commission proposal is divided into a Terrorism Directive and an Action Plan on illegal trafficking of firearms and explosives. Both proposals will among others offer a common definition for ‘foreign fighters’ – people who travel abroad for terrorist purposes and introduce a related criminal offence – defined in Article 9 of the proposed Directive as ‘Travelling abroad for terrorism’ – as well as harmonise terrorism response actions in the EU.

The Foreign Terrorist Fighters phenomenon has increasingly become a public concern as numerous cases have emerged of EU passport holders travelling to Iraq and Syria to support the Daesh ranks. The threat of foreign fighters to EU territory is particularly severe given the free movement possibilities and what this means for the expansion of the radicalisation movements, the added fundraising possibilities and the preparation of future attacks within EU member state borders.

Presenting the proposal to the member states earlier today Timmermans stressed: “The Commission is determined to do everything it can to help Member States address and defeat the terrorist threat. The increase in the number of EU citizens travelling abroad to become ‘foreign fighters’ means that an update of the EU framework on terrorist offences is needed to ensure a common criminal justice response. Cooperation at EU level and with third countries is also necessary to crack down on the black market for firearms and explosives. Our proposals will facilitate the efforts of national authorities to disrupt terrorist networks.

This proposal follows the early 2015 revision of the European Agenda on Security similarly aimed at harmonising provisions across EU member states and facilitating cooperation, intelligence sharing and investigations.

The European Agenda on Security addresses varied issues contributing to the spread and success of terrorism. The agenda focuses on border management and information exchange but also on promoting operational cooperation between member states. Among the many tools highlighted in the programme there is a clear focus on innovative cross-border information sharing and intelligence tools, namely the Schengen Information System – to facilitate searches for missing people and objects as well as general cross-border information on individuals – , the Prüm Decision – allowing for common searches in the DNA analysis files, fingerprint identification systems and vehicle registration data bases – and, the Eurodac database on immigration.

The Agenda furthermore covers the issue of radicalisation and its prevention in the European space. Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos emphasised“Tackling radicalisation head-on is a key priority in our fight against terrorism. Our European Agenda on Security made this very clear.”

The proposal presented in Brussels earlier today will further implement into EU law the existing Financial Action Task Force recommendations on terrorist finance and the existing Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA on combating terrorism, and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178(2014).

Whilst the broad effort to harmonise EU action in this field should be welcomed, the approach to terrorism and in particular the drivers of extremism are still very fragmented and not based on any particularly solid evidence, structural strategy or clear understanding of the problem. Today, as in 2002, the European response is triggered in reaction to threats rather than through a stronger preventive framework than the one put in place by the EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

The issue of radicalisation, thoroughly being addressed by the Radicalisation Awareness Network, is complex and driven by different elements. A recent RUSI/DFID report highlighted that “While the effect of political factors – governance deficit, state failure, and grievances – is significant, social/psychological factors concerning group and individual identity are also recognised as important”.

The report suggests that extremism is essentially sparked through the government failure to provide basic services, identity issues related to either ethnic or religious communities, especially when these compete with allegiances to states, inequality and discrimination in cases where this coincides with religious or ethnic fault lines, and finally the lack of stability and stability-providing bodies.

The proposal of criminalisation of terrorist related offences by the European Union, whilst welcome, should see additional programmes in place promoting commitment to address the causes of extremism, for example the presence of reliable state structures and identities. This will require a significant financial and across the board investment by all member states. However, if the latest Paris attacks have shown us anything, it’s that the EU and its member states can no longer afford inefficient and reactive policy-making in addressing terrorism.

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