MEPs adopt new laws to stop foreign fighters at EU borders

ISIS militants (Cyprus Mail/Creative Commons)

Lawmakers strongly voted in favour of new anti-terror legislation on Thursday (16 February), in a move to prevent further attacks as the ones carried out in Paris and Brussels in the past two years.

MEPs voted by 469 to 120 to adopt measures to respond to terrorist threats in Europe and EU citizens joining terrorist groups in conflict zones, such as Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

The rules amend the Schengen Borders Code (SBC), and make member states carry out systematic checks on all persons crossing EU external borders against databases of stolen and lost documents, the Schengen Information System (SIS) and other relevant EU databases.

The checks will be mandatory at all air, sea and land borders, on both entry and exit.

“Securing our external borders means building up a strong shield against terrorism in Europe and preserving the right to life, which is the corollary of all rights,” said centre-right Romanian MEP Monica Macovei, the rapporteur in charge of the dossier.

There are more than 5000 EU citizens, so-called foreign fighters, currently suspected of having joined the fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Czechs call on EU to act over Balkan terrorism threat

At least 3,000 EU citizens have left for conflict zones in Syria and Iraq to fight for Islamic State. Some received training in Balkan countries, according to a Europol report which has raised alarm in the Czech Republic. EurActiv.cz reports.

At least two of the Paris attackers were French citizens who had been trained in Syria. The new EU law aims at  better coordinating checks at Schengen border checks and helping detect foreign fighters returning to the EU from war zones to cause havoc in European cities

The Greens voted against the legislation because of concerns regarding the definition of terrorist offences and the risks posed to fundamental freedoms.

“What the directive defines as terrorism could be used by governments to criminalise political actions or protest. We risk a situation in which climate campaigners, or civil rights activists, could find themselves charged with terrorist offences if their actions cause economic damage. Likewise, the new criminal offence of public provocation could undermine freedom of expression,” said Greens/EFA Justice and home affairs spokesperson, Jan Philipp Albrecht.

The Greens are also sceptical about the move to criminalise travel, even within the European Union.

“It appears that for the sake of being seen to be tough on terror, the very freedoms that terrorists want to undermine will end up diminished,” added French Green MEP Eva Joly.

Commission calls for closer cooperation to combat foreign fighters

Poor information sharing between security services is one of the great shortcomings of European cooperation. About 5,000 Europeans are thought to have joined extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, but only 1,615 appear on Europe’s official list.  EurActiv Spain reports.

“Rather than creating lists of new and unclear offences, we should establish mandatory and automatic exchange of information between member states and ensure closer cross-border cooperation in investigating known suspects,” she added.

The new EU laws will give EU countries one year to criminalise travelling to third countries with terrorist intentions, being trained for terrorism, financing of recruitment, training, or travelling abroad for terrorism.

“Every life that we save by unveiling a potential foreign fighter is worth the journey, and systematic checks against databases are a mandatory step towards this minimum protection that we have a duty to ensure for our citizens,” said Macovei.

The legislation also lay down provisions for ensuring that victims of terrorist attacks receive proper assistance.

Anti-terrorist measures in EU go in all directions

EU member states have reacted in different ways to the security threat highlighted by the Paris terrorist attacks, pointing to how difficult it would be to put in place a common European response to the challenge. The EurActiv network reports.

Background

Germany discusses new law to crack down on foreign fighters

Under a new draft law, German authorities could soon be able to confiscate the IDs of suspected terrorists. But opposition parties in the Bundestag warn against considerable risks for security policy. EurActiv Germany reports.