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The EU’s counter-terrorism policy after 2015—“Europe wasn’t ready”—“but it has proven that it’s adaptable”

Abstract

The EU was not well-prepared to deal with jihadist terrorism in 2015, despite the indications of intensifying threat from 2011 on, nevertheless in 2019 it is much better aware of, and equipped to face future threats stemming from jihadist terrorism. Member States’ governments largely underestimated the rising threat at first, while practitioners, struggling to find the appropriate counter-terrorism measures, learned the added value of cross-border cooperation and of the tools the EU offers in operational cooperation. The latter realisation, compounded with the plethora of EU legislative measures introduced since 2015 provide for a much better preparedness for the terrorist threat.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

  2. Henceforth, the abbreviation EU MS will be used to refer to Member States of the European Union.

  3. The number of attacks stayed relatively steady between 150 and 250, Europol [47,48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55] TE-SAT Reports 2010–2018.

  4. From 2007, when the TE SAT Reports began to be published, the number of attacks has not increased, in fact 2007 and 2008 saw a combined number of 1098 attacks, however a combined number of 929 of these were of separatist nature. In 2008 and 2009 left-wing inspired terrorism and separatist attacks in Northern Ireland (which Europol is not allowed to analyse as per agreements with the UK), were on the rise as well. Europol, [44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55] TE-SAT Reports 2007–2018.

  5. Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning “Basque Country and Freedom”, an armed leftist Basque nationalist/separatist organization in the Basque Country

  6. Euskadi Ta Askatasuna [58].

  7. The number of victims comes close considering that it took ETA 32 more years and 3270 more attacks to reach a comparable amount of civilian victims to those of IS operatives in 2015–6. Ibid.

  8. Interview n. 16, 19 [73].

  9. The Irish Republican Army.

  10. The 2011 report looks at 2010. Europol’s TE-SAT Reports are published every June (since 2007) and discuss the previous calendar year.

  11. From 122 to 159, Europol, [50] TE-SAT Report 2013.

  12. From 46 to 91, Europol, [50] TE-SAT Report 2013.

  13. Europol, [52] TE-SAT Report 2015.

  14. From 2014 to 2015 the attacks rose from 4 to 17, and the victims from 4 to 15, Europol [52, 53] TE-SAT Reports 2015 and 2016.

  15. Europol, [52] TE-SAT Report 2015.

  16. The year 2016 also saw the first tangible increase in the arrests on travelling for terrorist purposes (which was not criminalised on EU level and many member states until 2016). Europol, [54] TE-SAT Report 2017.

  17. Europol, [55] TE-SAT Report 2018.

  18. 12 were assessed to have failed and 11 were foiled, mainly in France and the UK, Europol [55] TE-SAT Report 2018.

  19. Improvised Explosive Devices.

  20. Presidency and CT Coordinator, 2005 [60]. The document was modelled at the time after the new UK CONTEST strategy from 2003.

  21. Council of the EU, [7], 2015.

  22. Council of the EU, [6], 2015.

  23. European Council Press Release, [41], 2015. The Heads of State Conclusions were informed by the former two.

  24. From Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) [5].

  25. Interview n. 2 [73].

  26. European Commission, [30], 2016.

  27. Andreeva, [2], 2019.

  28. The announcement was made during the minute of silence ceremony, a day after the Brussels attacks, on 23 March 2016. Ibid.

  29. Ironically, an appointment that was doomed from the start, just three months following the Brexit vote.

  30. Interview n. 2, 13, 8, 9, 10 [73].

  31. Directive (EU) 2016/681, [9], 2016.

  32. The proposal that was ultimately adopted was proposed on 2 February 2011, however there had been previous legislative proposals in 2008 that were rejected at the time.

  33. Agreement published in OJ L 215 [1], 2012.

  34. European Commission, Eighteenth Progress Report towards an effective and genuine security union, [27], 2019.

  35. Interview n. 6 [73].

  36. Andreeva, [2], 2019.

  37. Regulation (EU) 2016/794, [61], 2016.

  38. European Commission, Press Release [31], 2017.

  39. Bures, [3], 2013.

  40. Interview n. 6 [73].

  41. Under the guidance of ECTC Director Manuel Navarette and former Europol Director Rob Wainwright. Interview n. 6, 14, 15, 16 [73].

  42. European Commission SIS-II Evaluation, [21], 2016.

  43. Interview n. 34, 35, 36, 38 [73].

  44. European Commission SIS-II Evaluation, [21], 2016.

  45. These statistics are obtained through eu-LISA annual statistical data on the usage of SIS-II. As eu-LISA has a limited mandate on the use of statistics, where it is only allowed to publish annual estimates without any analytical purpose (such as through graphs discussing changes in use), the author has calculated these increases through the figures on annual uses of SIS published by eu-LISA. eu-LISA, [10,11,12,13,14,15], 2013–2018.

  46. Ibid.

  47. In 2013, France had 2,782,929 alerts, while Belgium had 2,755,919, while in 2014 France had 3,721,127 and Belgium had 3,194,684. As a point of reference, in 2018 France had 11,625,459 alerts, while Belgium had 3,950,297. As pointed out, this represents a 317.7% increase for France and 43.3% for Belgium. Ibid.

  48. Regulations (EU) 2018/1860, (EU) 2018/1861, (EU) 2018/1862 [62,63,64], 2018.

  49. European Commission Press Release, [18], 2018.

  50. Interviews n. 7, 8, 9, 17, 28, 29, 30, 31 [73].

  51. A new database of European Criminal Records Information System aimed at third-country nationals.

  52. EU proposed and adopted legislation 2016–2018 [?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?].

  53. Interviews n. 7, 8, 9, 17, 28, 29, 30, 31 [73].

  54. Interviews n. 21, 21.2, 26, 27, 40 [73].

  55. European Commission, [23], 2017.

  56. European Commission, Press Release [29], 2003.

  57. From the French “Frontières extérieures” for “external borders”.

  58. Interview n. 40 [73].

  59. European Commission Proposal COM (2018) 631 final, of 12 September 2018, [35].

  60. Council Press Release, 1 April 2019, [8]; European Commission, Eighteenth Progress Report towards an effective and genuine security union, [27], 2019.

  61. European Council on Refugees and Exiles, [40], 2019.

  62. Interviews n. 18, 19 [73].

  63. Interviews n. 11, 16, 18, 19, 20, 32 [73].

  64. Interview n. 18 [73].

  65. Interviews n. 2, 6, 16, 18, 19 [73].

  66. Europol [55] TE-SAT Report 2018, p. 62.

  67. Interviews n. 2, 6, 16 [73].

  68. European Commission Press Release, [19], 2018.

  69. Andreeva, [2], 2019.

  70. Europol, [56], n.d.

  71. Regulation 2017/0158 (COD) on Import of cultural goods, adopted on 17 April 2019 [34].

  72. European Commission, Legislative proposal COM (2018) 213 final from 17 April 2018, formally adopted in April 2019, [37].

  73. Ibid.

  74. Europol, [55] TE-SAT Report 2018, p. 11.

  75. Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Weapons and their compounds.

  76. European Parliament, Legislative Train Schedule on Area of Justice and Fundamental Rights, [43], n.d.

  77. The deadline was 14 September 2018. Two months later the Commission sent notice letters of pending infringement procedures to 22 MS [27].

  78. European Commission, [25], 2019.

  79. Proposal COM (2018) 209 for a Regulation on the marketing and use of explosives precursors, proposed on 17 April 2018 and adopted in April 2019. European Commission, [33], 2018.

  80. Proposal COM (2018) 212 final from 17 April 2018, European Commission, [38], 2018.

  81. Europol, [53,54,55], TE-SAT Reports 2016, 2017, 2018.

  82. Europol, [57], n.d.

  83. European Commission, Eighteenth Progress Report towards an effective and genuine security union, [27], 2019.

  84. eu-LISA Statistical data on the use of SIS-II in 2018, [15], 2018.

  85. Interview n. 19, 19.2 [73].

  86. Eurojust, [16], 2018.

  87. Ibid.

  88. Ibid.

  89. European Parliament Research Service, [42], n.d.

  90. For example, Belgium has set up a victims’ unit in their judiciary branch for the first time after the 2016 Brussels attacks (Interview n. 19.2) [73].

  91. European Commission, [28], 2018.

  92. Lastly it was up for discussion in the European Parliament where it did not manage to pass under the 2014–2019 legislature.

  93. Interviews n. 18, 19, 19.2, 21.2 [73].

  94. European Commission, Annex to the Eighteenth Progress Report towards an effective and genuine Security Union, [20], 2019.

  95. COM (2018) 641 final, proposed 12 September 2018, European Commission, [36], 2018.

  96. Interviews n. 18, 19, 19.2, 21.2 [73].

  97. Modelled after the UK’s IRU.

  98. Council of the EU, JHA Council Meeting 12–13 March 2015, [7]; 60. General Secretariat of the Council, Press Release, Special meeting of the European Council, 23 April 2015, [59].

  99. Interviews n. 2, 6, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16 [73].

  100. Europol, [55], TE-SAT Report, 2018.

  101. Ibid.; Andreeva, [2], 2019.

  102. Interview n. 13 [73].

  103. COM (2018) 640, proposed on 12 September 2018, European Commission, [39].

  104. This provision has been controversial among both political representatives and practitioners, as it is considered unrealistic, while sanctions on such measures have been considered to be disproportionately harmful towards smaller service providers, who might not be able to afford extra personnel to enforce them. While the Parliament was considering extending the deadline from 1 h to 4 h, the far-right attack in Christchurch, New Zealand occurred (15 March 2019), which saw a video live-streamed on Facebook, which, even after its deletion, was reproduced numerous times on social media, thus allowing its quick dissemination. This event made it seem necessary to policy-makers to endorse instead the harsher deadline (Interview n. 26, 27) [73].

  105. Ibid.

  106. European Commission, Thirteenth Progress Report towards an effective and genuine security union, [4], 2018.

  107. European Commission, DG HOME, [26], n.d.

  108. Interview n. 38 [73].

  109. Middle East and North Africa.

  110. Interviews n. 2, 13, 20, 27 [73].

  111. Ibid.

  112. Interview n. 27 [73].

  113. COM (2017) 612 final, adopted on 18 October 2017. European Commission [24], 2017.

  114. European Commission, Eighteenth Progress Report towards an effective and genuine security union, [27], 2019.

  115. Interview n. 13 [73].

  116. C(2019)2335 final, proposed 26 March 2019, European Commission, [22], 2019.

  117. European Commission, [17], 2018.

  118. 2017/0225 (COD), awaiting publication in the OJ. European Commission, [32], 2017.

  119. Andreeva, [2], 2019.

  120. Ibid.

  121. Interviews n. 12, 19, 34, 35, 36, 38 [73].

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  73. Data collected by the author: The author has collected 40 interviews and 3 follow-up interviews from European and national practitioners—policy-makers and experts—in the period between November 2018 and May 2019. The dataset includes EU officials from: the European Commission, European Parliament, General Secretariat of the Council, DG HOME, Europol, Eurojust, eu-LISA, CEPOL, Frontex, FRA, as well as national experts from the UK, Bulgaria, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The types of experts include policy-makers, policy officials and government officials, analysts, police and intelligence officials, prosecutors, legal experts, researchers, etc.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to extend my gratitude to the late Prof. Robert Elgie, my PhD supervisor and mentor, who always provided me with constructive feedback and insightful input. I will be forever grateful for his invaluable support and guidance.

I would also like to thank the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at DCU, who supported the research carried out for this publication, and my interviewees, who agreed to share their expertise.

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Correspondence to Christine Andreeva.

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The title for this paper was chosen as a composition of quotations from two persons in two separate interviews that the author collected in researching this topic.

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Andreeva, C. The EU’s counter-terrorism policy after 2015—“Europe wasn’t ready”—“but it has proven that it’s adaptable”. ERA Forum 20, 343–370 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12027-019-00570-0

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Keywords

  • European Union (EU)
  • Harmonisation measures
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Terrorist threat
  • Jihadist terrorism in the EU