The Commission announced Tuesday (28 April) a European Agenda on Security for the period 2015-2020 defining how the EU executive can bring added value to support the member states in ensuring security.
The 20-page document, presented in Strasbourg by Commission First-Vice President Frans Timmermans and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, replaces the previous strategy adopted in 2010 (the Internal Security Strategy 2010-2014).
It also fulfills a commitment made in the Political Guidelines of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who wrote in his political guidelines as candidate for President of the Commission, back in July 2014, that he believes in the need to work for a stronger Europe when it comes to security and defence mattes.
The document is also submitted against the background of the recent terrorist attacks on European soil. It recognises that the responsibility for ensuring internal security is first and foremost with the member states, but stresses that cross-border challenges defy the capacity of individual countries to act alone and require EU support to build trust and facilitate cooperation, exchange of information and joint action.
Timmermans said that the challenges of terrorism, organised crime and cybercrime call on Europeans to work better and more closely together.
“Through this shared EU agenda, we want to get national authorities to cooperate more effectively, in a spirit of mutual trust. Terrorists attack the democratic values we cherish. We will stand firm on fundamental rights and work to address the root causes of radicalisation, fostering a genuine culture of tolerance in our societies,” he stated.
Avramopoulos said that the Commission’s Agenda on Security concentrates in the areas where the European Union is able to make a real difference.
“This Agenda is not just a response to the recent tragic events. It is the renewal of our common Security Strategy in a new political and legal environment where we all agree that we need to trust each other, to effectively coordinate and exchange information to address evolving threats. The Agenda sets out concrete actions to turn these key principles into a practical reality: a set of strong measures which range from preventive action to protection, detection and enforcement,” he said.
The Commission has defined three areas where EU institutions and agencies and member states and national authorities could better cooperate. Those are: 1) preventing terrorism and countering radicalisation; 2) fighting organised crime; 3) fighting cybercrime.
The “key actions” envisaged are as follows:
- Countering radicalisation: the Commission will set up a Centre of Excellence to collect and disseminate expertise on anti-radicalisation, building upon the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), an EU-wide umbrella network launched in 2011. This will strengthen the exchange of experience among practitioners directly engaged in preventing radicalisation and violent extremism at local level.
- Updating the Framework Decision on Terrorism: to provide a more coherent legal framework to deal with the foreign fighter phenomenon. This will allow for intensified cooperation with third countries on this issue.
- Cutting the financing of criminals: cooperation between competent authorities in Europe (in particular national Financial Intelligence Units, which will be connected to EUROPOL) will be strengthened; the Commission will assess the necessity of new legislation to counter terrorist financing and improve confiscations of property derived from criminal activities.
- Enhancing dialogues with the IT industry: in 2015, the Commission will launch an EU Forum with major IT companies to counter terrorist propaganda on the internet and in social media and to explore ways to address the concerns of law enforcement authorities on new encryption technologies.
- Strengthening the legal framework on firearms to address the illegal trafficking and reactivation of weapons, to establish common standards, share more information and boost cooperation with third countries.
- Reinforcing our tools to fight cybercrime: the priority is to identify ways to overcome obstacles to criminal investigations online, notably on issues of competent jurisdiction and rules on access to Internet-based evidence and information.
- Enhancing the capacities of Europol, including through the creation of a European Counter Terrorist Centre which will help the EU Agency to step up support for national law enforcement authorities’ actions to tackle foreign terrorist fighters, terrorist financing, violent extremist content online, and illicit trafficking of firearms.
The Commission stresses that its new collaborative way of working has allowed for a comprehensive approach to security, with the Agenda including measures across the full spectrum of policy sectors from justice and home affairs to financial affairs, transport and the environment.
With Justice and Home Affairs policies now set on an equal footing with other EU policies, one of the Commission’s main priorities will be the implementation of the full range of existing instruments which are available for exchanging information, police and judicial cooperation and training and research. A strong emphasis will also be put on delivering pending proposals, such as the EU Passenger Name Record Directive and the Data protection reform.
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament welcomed the Commission's EU Internal Security Strategy presented today but nevertheless ALDE MEPs said they believed that whole agenda on security remains vague when it comes to achieving practical results.
Sophie In' t Veld (D66, The Netherlands), vice-president of the ALDE group, said: "The proposals to expand the role of Europol are certainly interesting. However, the Commission must urgently clarify how democratic oversight will be ensured. Now there is already no clarity about the powers of the Parliament, the European Court of Justice and the European Ombudsman to get access to information which is essential for oversight and protecting the rule of law.
We are also worried about the increasingly blurred lines between policing and intelligence and security tasks, and the inflationary use of the term "national security", without a proper legal definition. It also remains unclear what legal safeguards exist for citizens, in a system that is a strange hybrid of national and European powers. That is unacceptable in a democracy.
Maite Pagazaurtundua (UPyD, Spain), shadow rapporteur for the prevention of radicalisation and recruitment of European citizens by terrorist organisations, added: "We have only seen clear efforts from the Commission when it comes to the use of force. But we need more than the Commission's good will. Moreover, key principles such as the respect for EU values and for fundamental rights and democratic oversight should also apply to national laws on security, such as the Spanish law on Security or the French intelligence law. It is the duty of the Commission to safeguard that EU values are respected in all Member States.
Police action is vital to fight terrorism, but we cannot forget that prevention and the de-radicalization of fanatics play an extremely important role. The recruitment of European citizens by radical organisations, especially youngsters, proves that a broader and more ambitious strategy is needed".
Commenting on the proposals, Green civil liberties and home affairs spokesperson Judith Sargentini said:
"The Commission's predictable focus on mass data collection is disappointing, all the more as meaningful proposals to improve cooperation between national authorities in fighting terrorism are lacking. Stepping up mass surveillance and creating a vast data dragnet will involve enormous financial cost and divert resources from where they could be more effective: old-fashioned police work following terrorist suspects. Collecting more random data will not help: the Paris and Copenhagen attackers were already known to the police.
"The Commission needs to do more to prevent the radicalisation of members of our own societies. There is a need to promote wider social and education initiatives, addressing discrimination and exclusion and creating employment opportunities for people in communities at risk."
The EU supports member states in preventing and fighting terrorism through different instruments. The EU provides a legal framework to help coordinate cross-border law-enforcement actions. Notable tools include the European Arrest Warrant, the European Criminal Records Information System and mutual legal assistance mechanisms with third countries.
Secondly, the EU supports member states' efforts in countering radicalisation on the ground through the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), which allows experts and practitioners to exchange best practice.
Thirdly, the EU contributes to preventing the financing of terrorism through legislation against money laundering, the network of EU Financial Intelligence Units and the EU-US Terrorist Finance Tracking Program. More information is available on specific actions to fight terrorism in MEMO/15/3140.
Migrant smuggling and human trafficking is a serious cross-border crime that is high on the EU's political agenda. Since 2011, the EU has a Directive in place for preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims. The existing policy and legislative framework has contributed to increased and better cooperation between different EU agencies as well as at different government levels. In addition, reinforced action against the smuggling of migrants (for more information see also MEMO/15/3261) will be an important part of the forthcoming European Agenda on Migration.