Pittella: The ‘Trumps’ of Europe hamper cooperation on counter-terrorism

S&D-Vorsitz Gianni Pittella mit Martin Schulz.

The blind illusion of some governments that think they can tackle global threats unilaterally must be blamed for the lack of cooperation in Europe to fight terrorism and find a common response to solve the migration crisis, said S&D leader Gianni Pittella, in an interview with EURACTIV.

Gianni Pittella is the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) chief in the European Parliament.

Pitella spoke with EURACTIV’s Editor-in-Chief, Daniela Vincenti.

EU justice ministers on Thursday (24 March) agreed to set up a team of national counter-terrorism experts to strengthen Europol as a response to the Brussels attacks. Is that enough to deal the threats?

It cannot be enough. It is a positive step but there is a lot to do to make up for lost time. Paradoxically, the terrorism threat and the migration crisis could turn out to be an opportunity to finally turn Europe into a fully political Union.

Besides the shameful and clear shortcomings of the Belgium services, we must point the finger at the blind illusion of some national governments that think they can tackle global threats unilaterally. Intelligence services’ information is still jealously guarded and not shared amongst partners.

The sooner we realise that we need greater integration, the better we will protect citizens

This lack of cooperation is as evident as it is unjustified. It stems from the same silly attitude that prevents the setting up of a common European approach to the migration crisis.

The sooner we realise that we all need greater European integration, the better we will be able to protect citizens’ security and freedom.

Some insist that successful counter-terrorism cannot be carried out by security forces, it needs to be carried out by intelligence services. What’s your view?

I couldn’t agree more. It is clear that security is a right that has no political colours. It belongs to all citizens. In front of tragedies such as those that took place in Paris and Brussels, European leaders should put aside their national selfishness and be ready to think and act differently.

They must deliver a European Intelligence Agency. Europol already has great potential and its database represents a unique and strong asset for Europe. The cooperation with National intelligence services must be strengthened, starting with data sharing.

Starting with data sharing

The proposals coming from the Italian Premier, Matteo Renzi, go in this direction. Unfortunately, the idea of a common strategy against terrorism seems to be receiving only lukewarm reactions.

In fact, the Polish government took advantage of this tragedy to announce Warsaw won’t accept any migrants. This approach will lead to a dead end. It might take some time but the only possible answer to these challenges is more Europe and a more political Europe.

Actually, after Paris and Brussels attacks, it seems to be more and more widespread the idea to shut the borders and suspend Schengen ….

I would like to ask to our many little Trumps around Europe, how would suspending Schengen help in preventing terrorist attacks in Europe?

We have unfortunately learnt that these terrorists are European citizens. Young people who grew up in the suburbs-ghettos of our cities. We must ask ourselves the question: why are young Europeans turning to fundamentalism and terrorism?

We must invest in culture, integration and development

We need to improve our model of cultural integration by eradicating both marginalization and socio-economic injustices, which are the roots of hatred and violence.

As S&D Group leader, I urge us to forge an integrated strategy to improve security but also to invest in culture, integration and development of the less-well off areas.

Now a lot of intelligence today is carried out via technical means: satellite to telephone intercepts, but terrorists outsmarted these means. Shall we go back to the penetration of the command structure of terrorist organizations with spies?

We should realize that we are fighting against a new kind of terrorism – a terrorism 2.0. With over 50 thousand different Twitter accounts and more than 100 thousand tweets per day, Isis represents a new technologically savvy threat.

In this regard, we are far from winning the crucial battle on social media and against their Internet propaganda. National Intelligence services and Europol have very few capabilities to investigate online, while Terrorism 2.0 exploits new technologies to spread their message and finance their activities – through cyber-finance crime, sale of firearms and human trafficking.

Also in this regard, the EU must make up for lost time. Again, what is missing here is the political will from member states to invest in a European Intelligence agency.

Immediately after the attacks, Renzi called for a European Defence Community (EDC) with a pan-Europe military. How realistic is such an idea?

The EU defence community is a question of political will and therefore it is as realistic as Member States wish. There have already been attempts to set up such a policy – in fact the original European Defence Community was one of the first common policies to have failed due to national selfishness.

Now, this idea forms part of Mogherini’s initiative for a European Security Strategy and is in line with what Renzi has called for. This is part of the political Union we are asking for.

PNR and data protection rules could be voted in Parliament in May. These have been controversial with the socialists arguing that PNR would break EU law by storing personal data for too long and monitoring all passengers and not just a targeted groups of terrorists. In the wake of the attacks, have you changed your mind?

The S&D group is ready to back European PNR as soon as the Home Affairs Council approves the Data Protection Directive. PNR is one of an important set of tools to fight against organised crime and terrorism and it represents a positive first step towards the creation of a common European investigative and intelligence framework.

Socialists ready to back PNR, if ministers adopt data protection law

However, it must be crystal clear that alone it will not solve all our security problems.

Furthermore, I would like to ask all those who now urge for the adoption of the PNR why the exchange of PNR data between Member States has been not made compulsory in the final text.

Better information sharing is essential if we are serious about tackling terrorism, so I see major contradiction here and a good dose of hypocrisy from national governments and other political groups.

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