Strengthening European Union measures to combat terrorism: A response too late?

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Today, terrorism has turned member nations of the European Union into a “popular destination”, focussing on inflicting wounds to masses in anyway possible. A total of over 1,200 attacks shook nations of the EU between the years 2009 and 2015, including the ones intercepted by law enforcement agencies, those which were aborted or were successful in inflicting damages. These attacks left behind scenes of dead and injured concerning not only those members of from the law enforcement communities but also nations across the globe. According to some estimates of the leading law enforcement agency in Europe, Europol, until 2017 alone, over 170 militant attacks took place in Europe, massively targeting in France, Spain and the UK. Particularly on the grounds of religiously sponsored acts of terrorism, since 2015, European Union is witnessing a phenomenal rise of active violent non-state actors.

Religiously cynical militant groups participated in over dozen violent attacks, two in particular in 2013 and three in 2015 in UK and another three in France. Law enforcement agencies have identified more than a dozen cases that involved domestic militants who were self-radicalised, significantly organized, and well financed. The active enrolment of “self-radicalised individuals” were first appeared during the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015 followed by another “similar siege” in Copenhagen, along with terror attacks in Belgium.

The member nations of the European Union are also confronting the frequent travel of “self-radicalised” undertaking a sacred vow of “holy war” or jihad and travelling places particularly within Syria. Law enforcement agencies of the EU estimates this “transition” of youths in Europe to be around 3,500 and 5,000 who volunteered to become “foreign fighters” since the beginning of a civil war and surfacing of Islamic State in Syria, Libya and Iraq. They pose a grave threat to the domestic security of the EU particularly when they decide to return to their states. Furthermore, in an effort to effectively and adequately respond to such radical elements, the EU members extensively deliberated at the August session. As highlighted in the joint declaration signed by participating member nations of the EU along with invited international communities, EU is under eminent “multifaceted” threat which is posing a grave challenge direct to the values it stands for. On the eve of militant attacks in Paris, that not only shook the French but also the member nations of the EU, which left behind a carnage of over 152 dead and another 352 injured, the leaders of members nations at the EU, along with political leadership of European Commission and European Parliament signed a joint statement which stated that the attack on Paris was an attack “against all of EU. The EU shall unite in the stance against militants with all available assets in play and unanimously respond.”

The European Union responds

It isn’t the first time European Union has become a deliberate target. As early as 1970s, EU was threatened by far left. Terrorism was on the verge of “expansion” and strengthening its grip in Europe, when then law enforcement agencies supported by strong political leadership established a network of stringent laws under the pseudonym of TREVI network. This was the EU’s first intergovernmental network which was established under the Maastricht treaty dedicated to reinforcing its regional security and foreign policy.


The September 11 attack that shook New York, was partially planned in Europe, this factor was enough for European Council to accelerate the adoption of the security mechanism.

Europe, then witness repetitive terror attacks, Madrid was hit in 2004 and then London came under terror attack in the early 2005. In the wake of terror attack in Madrid, the then European Council unanimously agreed to “fight against radical fundamentalist elements” aggressively, in an effort to strengthen law enforcement agencies coordination and cooperation, the position of Counter-terrorism Coordinator was created. During the European Council’s meeting in 2005, the Council, deliberated on the need to enhance law enforcement powers while reinforcing these agencies with a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism. The strategy had four principle pillars:

  1. prevention,
  2. protection,
  3. tracking and then

The strategy focussed on the cooperation and coordination with third world countries and non-EU member nations along with many international institutions in the aforementioned four pillars. In the light of such aggressive manoeuvres, political leadership at the EU adopted numerous legislatures in an effort t strengthen the security infrastructure at the EU.

Measures taken by the EU

The European Union unanimously agreed on a definition on “terrorism” as early as 2002. This was a major step taken by the EU. Earlier only five-member nations of the EU, namely France, Germany, UK, Spain and Italy had derived the definition of terrorism in their respective legislations. For the first time, the definition was unanimously agreed, leaving behind much larger institution such as the UN.

Effective “aggressive” procedures at play

In an effort to give “teeth” to the law enforcement agencies in the EU, European Arrest Warrant was introduced in early 2002. After years of discussion and deliberation in numerous forums, the European Arrest Warrant became operational on January 1st, 2007. Before its formal introduction, its predecessor procedure would take at least a year to finish extradition procedures. Today, this process has reduced to 16 days, particular for “handing over” the surrendered wanted individual to a third state. This procedure has further strengthened the “teeth” of law enforcement agencies reinforcing their fight against terrorism. It remains to be a single “most frequently” used procedure by law enforcement agencies in EU, highlighting its effectiveness.

Furthermore, the EU has taken stringent actions against “financing of terrorism” by adopting effective strategies. This strategy was adopted in 2004 and was again revised, re-structured before adopting in 2008. This new “counter-money laundering” strategy reinforces the efforts of law enforcement agencies to “trace” accounts, making it impossible for terror factions and their sympathisers to launder money within the EU. In an effort to reinforce this strategy, the EU further signed an agreement with the US on Terrorism Finance Tracking Programme, which came into action on August 2010.

Furthermore, the “strict” border regulations established by member nations of the EU was further reinforced with “compulsory actions”, which not only focussed on common rules followed by border patrol units throughout the check points within EU but also thoroughly checking masses at the external “vulnerable” fronts of the EU. This resulted in the formation of “Schengen Borders Code” that was “born” from legislatures implemented by the European Council which added a temporary clause of “no-checks” on the internal borders. However, this is temporary in nature, which, in the light of serious threat to public safety and order or a through to internal security, particularly the possibility of a terror attack, could be reintroduced at the internal borders, but this re-introduction would be temporary in nature which means, it would be active for a limited time.

Moreover, the activation of Schengen Information System since 1995 reinforces concerned law enforcement agencies with the real time update or request generated by any state or a state seeking information regarding a wanted individual, could be recorded easily, making it easier for member nations to exchange information or queries with each other. Furthermore, the SIS is further reinforced with biometric data – photographs, retina scans and finger prints – besides crucial information about the individual, such as the number of vessels the individual has along with receipts along with a record of the individual criminal activities. In the light of such advance technologies, the EU has remarkably turned its external borders into “smart borders” which could further strengthen the border guarding forces with crucial information on any foreigner who intends to enter the border.