In a recent speech, you mentioned a body called SITCEN and it is mentioned in the Anti-terrorism Action Plan. Can you tell us about this body?
We have had for quite a while a group of analysts from our external intelligence services who work together in the Council Secretariat. They analyse trends in countries outside the EU – they are from the intelligence organisations of member states. And their analytical assessment is given to the foreign ministers and to Javier Solana to help shape our common foreign and security policy.
What is new is that we have added a dimension: analysts from domestic security services. So we now have, for the first time in Brussels, in the Situation Centre, which is what SITCEN stands for, an integrated group of analysts from our external intelligence services and the internal security services to jointly assess the terrorist threat as it develops both inside Europe and outside. So that we can have a "helicopter view" that includes the domestic dimension which we can also provide to our ministers of justice dealing with the domestic situation.
That is new. You can’t get closer to the heart of national sovereignty than national security and intelligence services. Yet in Brussels we have these analysts working together for the first time. But only on analytical co-operation – not on operational co-operation (what happens to individuals agents working in the field). That type of co-operation is done at bilateral/ trilateral etc level, not at European level.
Will SITCEN’s reports be made public at all?
The Council Secretariat, through Javier Solana, works to implement the Council strategies and the Council is accountable to the European Parliament. So the European Parliament can have dialogue with the Council of Ministers on the work of SITCEN. But the specific products that come out of this work will have to remain confidential.
Richard Falkenrath, former US homeland security adviser, has said that the EU urgently needs to "tear down the wall’ between military intelligence and civil law enforcement. Do you have any comments on this?
The experience in the US was that there was that lack of co-operation. It is indisputably true that police forces and security services serve a different purpose. Police forces collect information that is to be used in a public court to get people convicted. Security services gather information that does not necessarily lead to people being prosecuted and in many cases needs to remain confidential.
The important part is to try and make sure there is enough information exchange at national level between them for both to do their job effectively. That is why we made the recommendation in Dec that each country should look at its domestic information exchange systems. Because we can only work together at European level to the extent that we work together at national level between the different agencies.
There has been progress here in many countries.
The more we work together on exchanging information at European level the more we must look at questions like data protection. This is why the Commission has been asked to make a proposal on data protection and on access by law enforcement authorities to data held in European data banks.
The fundamental point of the importance of sharing information has been accepted by the EU.
My point is that we need to work at several levels. We need to work at national level; we also need to work at European level. Therefore, SITCEN and Europol should work together and they will.
So we should have co-operation rather than tearing down wall?
It’s the same. What wall? There is not really a wall. The key point is to share information.
Can structures be put in place quickly enough at European level for the terrorist threat to be guarded against?
It does take time but we are not working "ex novo". In the past year several major attacks in several EU member states have been avoided due to good co-operation between different national services across borders. So there have been a number of notable though silent successes. One success is the conviction in December last year in Paris of 10 people for their part in the planned attack to blow up the Christmas market in Strasbourg. That plot was discovered because of good co-operation between France and Germany. But it is true that these things do take time. That is why we insist on the double layered approached. National coordination and European coordination must proceed simultaneously.
Concerning biometric passports, there have been reports that the machines that read them might not be compatible and that chips could be read from a distance. There are also problems with biometric chips in visas. What action is being taken by the EU to resolve this?
We are looking at these questions in the global framework - the idea is to have global standards. There is so much travel that if you just had a regional standard it would probably ultimately have to be changed. So we try, working with the Americans to focus on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and work out these issues within ICAO. I don’t have the latest information on this particular point but these standards questions are of course critical. We need if possible to have global standards. The point about chips in visas which cancel each other out needs to be solved. And we said we’d look at that again in April.
So you don’t think that the rules were set down in a hasty manner before the technology was ready?
No. I have never come across a technology that doesn’t change. This is inevitable. You have to adapt your systems as technology develops. But this is in the hands of the experts. I haven’t come across any information that suggests these problems are insuperable.
Unlike the US, we have a huge muslim population within the EU and also in neighbouring countries, such as Northern Africa. Does this lead to a difference in European and US approaches?
It should not. Within the past few years there has been a huge conflict within the world of islam about the interpretation of islam, with a number of radicals trying to hijack islam for terrorist purposes, trying to give themselves the right to decide who is a true believer and who is an apostate. The majority of the world’s muslims reject that: they do not believe that terrorism is a legitimate strategy or that islam is incompatible with democracy.
There are different traditions within islam. Islam is not a monolith. It is a pluriform religious community just as much as christianity and judaism. The key to tackling islamist fundamentalism and terrorism from the islamist community is in the hands of moderate muslims.
Our strategy therefore both from the EU and the US should be to strengthen the hand of moderate Muslims.
For example, in Indonesia, the EU is trying to build an interfaith dialogue with Indonesia proposed by both the EU and the new President Yudhoyono . Indonesia feels that its experience with Islam deserves to be better known in Europe.
First, the Indonesians argue that we in western Europe tend to look at islam primarily through the prism of the middle east: we identify islam with the arab situation.
However the Indonesians rightly point to the fact that the majority of the world’s muslims do not live in the middle east but in Asia. Secondly they point out that democracy and islam are not incompatible the way Jemaah Islamiyah been saying they are. Jemaah Islamiyah has been trying to convince Indonesians to create an Islamist state. But last year, there were three free and fair democratic elections in Indonesia where the population of Indonesia rejected that appeal
I think that is a very significant example because it shows the compatibility of islam and democracy.
Look at Iraq; look at Afghanistan where at great personal physical risk people have gone to the polls and have rejected the appeal from Bin Laden and his allies to stay at home.
I want to stress the fact that there are important moderate muslim communities that we should strengthen and the EU and the US should work together on this. I don’t think our strategies should or need to differ on that score.
Of course it also means we have to work together on questions like the safety and stability of Iraq and the middle east peace process. The lack of progress on the middle east has been used as a recruitment tool by islamist radicals, blaming the west for one-sidedness. They have also abused the Iraq conflict in a similar way. If we want to tackle issues like recruitment, part of the answer is to make sure we demonstrate Iraq can become a peaceful and democratic country. We can’t do that from the outside but we can help moderate forces within and we must help progress on the middle east peace process which means the Americans must play a critical role more than they have in the past couple of years. That is the strategy of the European Union and we are pleased that we seem to making progress with the Americans on this now.
Are there any lessons that can be drawn from the Indonesian example that can be used in Europe?
Every country is different. Indonesia has two major muslim organisations, strong NGOs that play a very important role in society. In western Europe you have an entirely different picture. Muslim organisation tend to have low level of organisation. There is no European Federation of Turkish, Moroccan muslims. The communities in Europe are quite diverse and not organised according to the experience in Indonesia. Having said that, it would be very useful if leaders from different communities were in touch and discussed their joint experiences. But this is not a panacea – it is just one in a huge long list of things we have to do.
And this is not the major issue: it is a key issue but there are many others.
What does this mean in terms of concrete measures that could be taken to stop terrorist recruitment in countries outside the EU?
One has to be realistic there. The situation in countries outside the EU is within the power of local authorities. Foreigners can only play a limited role. What we can do is use the EU aid instruments to support moderate reformers in countries from Morocco to Malaysia. The EU also tries to use trade instruments. For example there is a proposal to create a free trade area in North Africa to liberate economic forces so that more jobs can be created for the growing young population. Part of the answer is more intra- North African trade but part is more trade with Europe. Again, this is not a panacea but part of the overall strategy of encouraging reform.