European Union foreign ministers on Monday discussed setting up a new network of European security agents abroad, as they sought a united response to the threat from militant Islamists following the attacks in Paris on 7 January.
The meeting aimed to lay the groundwork for an EU leaders summit on 12-13 February in Brussels, which will cement the bloc’s strategy to deal with young European Muslims heading to Middle East war zones or returning radicalised from the region.
New methods of intelligence sharing should be found within the 28-member bloc, ministers agreed.
One idea is to place European security officials in EU overseas missions to collect and share information on the terrorism threat.
“It is a matter of having people on the ground that can liaise at the same level with security agents in the countries where we have delegations,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a news conference.
She said that the EU would also institute security attachés within its foreign delegations to help the exchange of information between member states. She denied that the move signaled the creation of an embryonic EU espionage agency.
Priorities also include a crackdown on arms trafficking, support for police in the Middle East and North Africa, stopping EU citizens leaving to fight abroad, and curbing radical Islam on the Internet to prevent them bringing violence back home.
In the next few days, interior ministers will consider a plan to withdraw the travel documents of EU citizens looking to go to Syria or Iraq, or of those seen as a threat in Europe.
The rules underpinning the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone, which removes border controls among most EU countries, could be used to empower guards on external borders to undertake systematic checks of EU citizens arriving from a third country.
The Paris attacks and a foiled plot in Belgium to murder police officers across the country, have also given new impetus to unblock EU plans to oblige EU countries to set up an EU-wide passenger list to collect data from flights to and from the EU.
The proposal, which would include names, phone numbers and credit card details of passengers entering or leaving the EU, was put forward by the European Commission in 2011 but has been stuck in the European Parliament over privacy concerns.
The meeting in Brussels, which was attended by the secretary-general of the Cairo-based Arab League, Nabil El-Araby, also agreed to appeal against a European Union court ruling that the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas should be removed from the bloc’s terrorist list.
The European Union has pledged closer cooperation in the fight against terrorism following the killing at Charlie Hebdo and subsequent attacks in Paris, in which 17 people were killed.
Two priority tracks were identified following a meeting of EU Home Affairs Ministers held in Paris on 11 January:
- Hampering the travel movements of terrorists, including so-called “foreign fighters” and European nationals crossing the EU’s external borders.
- Countering terrorist propaganda, particularly on the Internet, in order to tackle the root causes of radicalisation among young people.
One key issue to be discussed is a proposal for EU states to share records of air passengers – or PNR – a measure that has been held up in the European Parliament over privacy concerns.
>> Read our LinksDossier: From 9/11 to Charlie Hebdo: The EU’s response to terrorism
- 29 January: Interior ministers meeting
- 12 February: EU leaders to discuss anti-terrorism fight at summit meeting in Brussels