Commission calls for closer cooperation to combat foreign fighters

EU data sharing could help track thousands of presumed foreign fighters. [Daniel Lobo/Flickr]

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.

At the Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg on Thursday (21 April), the European executive asked the Parliament and the Council to finalise a new version of the Europol regulation as quickly as possible.

It also called on the institutions to approve the legislative proposals to improve the exchange of information and the interoperability of data bases and information systems, as well as to extend the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) to non-EU citizens.

EU interior ministers adopted the Passenger Name Record (PNR) directive at the Home Affairs Council. It will oblige air carriers to transmit information about their passengers to EU countries, in order to help the authorities combat terrorism and serious crime. MEPs had adopted the directive one week earlier at the Strasbourg plenary session.

MEPs approve PNR, strengthen data protection

After a series of delays and setbacks, MEPs today (14 April) adopted the controversial European air passenger data directive, though even its supporters accept it is no silver bullet for the EU’s fight against terrorism.

After the vote, France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve insisted that the directive should be accompanied with greater interconnectivity between the EU’s data services and an obligation for all data collected to be used.

Hypocrisy at the heart of the PNR debate

EU member states still refuse to share information on air passengers, fearing the data could fall into the wrong hands. France is pushing for the proposal’s adoption with one hand, while watering it down with the other. EURACTIV France reports.

The Commission stressed that countries should be “fully informed of movements of foreign terrorist fighters”, both on their departure from and return to Europe.

New information sharing system

The executive also called on member states to share the information they collect between themselves as well as with the European agencies via the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the Europol anti-terrorist Europol Information System (EIS).

Along with the Dutch Council presidency, the European Commission is working on an action plan to adapt the SIS to target foreign fighters. The revised system will concentrate on the expulsion of illegal immigrants, entry bans, the use of photos for biometric identification and new alerts for unidentified suspects.

Flight data deal is a reason for UK to stay in the EU, says Tory MEP

Timothy Kirkhope, the British MEP shepherding the controversial passenger name records (PNR) bill through the European Parliament, has named security one of the main reasons for the UK to remain in the EU.

Europol only has information on 1,615 foreign fighters, which it has received from individual EU member states. But according to a document presented to the EU interior ministers at the Home Affairs Council, reliable estimates of the number of people that have joined the Islamic State or other extremist groups in Syria or Iraq place the figure at around 5,000.

“These differences in the figures show that some countries do not feed all the shared data bases,” a source told AFP. “Some dangerous individuals could return without being detected,” the source added.

Fighting radicalisation

Among the measures announced by the Commission in its efforts to counter the threat of terrorism, the executive stressed the need to prioritise “the prevention of radicalisation and recruitment of European citizens by terrorist organisations”.

This responsibility falls to each individual member state, which must ensure that “those already radicalised enter de-radicalisation programmes and are prevented from spreading terrorist propaganda and hate speech”.

According to the executive, countries must also “be better prepared for security risks related to the vulnerability of critical infrastructure, ensure efficient exchange of relevant information, design preventive measures in a coordinated manner across borders and support research on future technological and capability needs”.

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