Anti-terrorism Policy

With the suicide bombing attacks on London in July 2005, anti-terrorism has become the absolute top priority for the UK Presidency (June-December 2005) and for Europe. The EU anti-terrorism policy, in place since the 2001 US attacks and extended after the 2004 bombings in Madrid, is being stepped up and will be updated on an ongoing basis.

Europe has suffered from terrorism from various sources for decades (eg ETA, IRA) and a policy of increased judicial co-operation between member states had already been agreed as part of the Tampere Programme when the attack against the US took place in 2001. 

Immediate reaction to the twin tower attacks was the September 2001 anti-terrorism action plan, followed by a framework decision defining terrorist offences and aligning the level of sanctions between member states. Following the Madrid bombings, the Council issued a declaration against terrorism and appointed Gijs de Vries as counter-terrorism co-ordinator (see EURACTIV interview with Mr de Vries). The action plan is updated every 6 months, most recently in June 2005. From December 2005, the Commission will also produce a scoreboard showing the level of implementation of action plan measures.

The Hague Programme, adopted in November 2004 to succeed Tampere, includes a number of ambitious measures on exchange of information, border control, security of travel documents and police and judicial co-operation. In December 2004, the Council adopted specific measures on combating terrorist financing, civil protection policy, prevention of recruitment, critical infrastructure protection and external security policy.   

Following the London attacks in July 2005, EU interior ministers held an extraordinary meeting where they agreed that all measures already decided on should be implemented as a matter of urgency. These include: 

  • European evidence warrant;
  • strengthening of Schengen and visa information systems;
  • biometric details on passports;
  • combating terrorist financing (see below);
  • prevention of recruitment and radicalisation;
  • greater controls over trade, storage and transport of explosives.

In September 2005, the Commission came up with a further package including a proposed directive on data retention, a communication on radicalisation and a decision to allocate €7 million to prevention, preparedness and response to terrorist attacks. 

New EU Strategy

In December 2005 the Council of justice ministers approved a new strategy for counter terrorism. Its main aim is to set out EU policy clearly and comprehensively for the general public. A set of slides accompanied by written details explains the strategy under four broad objectives: prevent, protect, pursue and respond. 

Across these four categories, the strategy seeks to link strands from different policy areas and emphasise the close interaction of measures at member state, European and international level. 

European Arrest and Evidence Warrants

The European arrest warrant, introduced in Jan 2004, replaces old extradition procedures and has been implemented in all member states, the last being Italy on 21 July 2005. A Commission report in February 2005 held it to be a success, from the fact that 104 people have been surrendered under the warrants in an average of 45 days (the previous average was 9 months). There have, however,  been arguments in Germany and some other member states that implementing legislation breaches  national constitutional rights (see EURACTIV 19 July 2005). 

The December 2005 justice Council, reached agreement on a framework decision for a European evidence warrant. This will create a standard form warrant for obtaining objects, documents and data in cross-border cases. After translation as appropriate, it will be capable of immediate execution (ie without court approval).  (see EURACTIV 25 Feb 2005).

Exchange of Information

Specific criminal and therefore anti-terrorist measures are within the competence of the member states only. The main role of the EU, therefore, is co-ordination and the greatest emphasis so far has been on the exchange and sharing of information among member states. A specific programme to create a legal enforcement network (LEN) which will facilitate exchange of information between police forces has been launched. Other main agencies promoting co-operation are Europol, Eurojust and latterly, the European Border Agency. Also, within the Council, a body called SitCen brings together external and internal intelligence experts to co-ordinate strategies (see interview with Gijs de Vries).

The Hague programme introduced the idea of the 'principle of availability', meaning that information available to law enforcement officers in one member state should be accessible whenever necessary by their counterparts in all other member states. The concept is to be fully defined and introduced by January 2008.

A far more complex problem is the extent to which information can be shared with third countries. The European Parliament is not happy with the agreement reached with the US on passenger name records (see EURACTIV 19 March 2004).

Border and Travel Security 

From 2005, biometric data is to be included in passports and, eventually, visas, which will be made computer-readable. The Schengen Information system (SIS) already stores data on persons wanted for arrest, those to be refused entry to the EU, missing persons and persons to be put under surveillance. Biometric identifiers will be stored on the second generation SIS II (see Biometrics LinksDossier).

An External Borders Agency (FRONTEX) to co-ordinate between member states, provide training for border guards and carry out risk assessments formally opened in July 2005. A proposal for a corps of external border guards is under consideration.

The Commission has also put forward proposals to extend police powers of surveillance and pursuit of suspects in border areas (see Euractiv 20 July 2005).

Data Retention

A proposal that telephone companies and internet providers be compelled to keep details (not including content) of all phone calls, e-mails and website visits was first put forward by the UK, France and Sweden in 2004. It did not succeed following doubts over the legal procedure used and firm rejection by Parliament. In September 2005 the Commission published a new proposed directive whereby phone call data (mobile and fixed) would be kept for one year and internet communications for 6 months. The cost of the system is to be met by member states (see EURACTIV 21 Sept 2005). In parallel to this the Commission published proposals on 4 October 2005 for a framework decision on data protection, seen as necessary to balance the increased exchange of personal data between member states being necessitated by the fight against terrorism and organised crime. 

CBRN/ Prevention and Readiness

Following the US anthrax scare, fears have been raised that terrorists could resort to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapons. In June 2003, the Commission adopted a communication on preparedness and response to biological and chemical agent attacks. DG Health has issued guidelines on the management of specific bioterrorist disease outbreaks and general guidelines for the public.

The Council has also finalised a new CBRN programme which sets out steps to be taken to prevent an attack and (were an attack to happen) to limit its consequences (i.e. risk assessment, protecting critical infrastructure and co-operation between emergency services). This will be complemented by a European programme for critical infrastructure protection and a crisis alert system to be called ARGUS. (See also EURACTIV 14 Feb 2005.)

Terrorist Financing 

The third money laundering directive was adopted by the Council on 20 September 2005. It extends the existing provisions to terrorist crimes and is designed to reflect the recommendations of the international Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FAFT). It provides that suspicious transactions of €15000 or more must be reported to special national financial intelligence units by the bodies covered by the directive (e.g. financial institutions, accountants, lawyers, estate agents and casinos).  These measures have been highly  controversial. (See related Linksdossier). Further proposals:

  • regulation on information to be contained in fund transfers. This proposal compels banks to provide personal details of anyone sending money into and out of the EU (see EURACTIV 27 July 2005).
  • confiscation of proceeds of crime; 

  • orders freezing property or evidence;  
  • controlling the transfer of cash across external EU borders (see Euractiv 18 Feb 2005)
  • introducing a code of conduct preventing misuse of charities by terrorists;
  • signature by the EU of the Council of Europe Convention on financing of terrorism.

In December 2005, the Commission put forward a communication on terrorist financing with two aims:

  • develop a code of practice common amongst member states on generating and exchanging information that can lead to the cutting off of terrorist funding; 

  • tighten up the financial transparency and accountability practices of not-for-profit organisations through a code of conduct.

Recruitment and radicalisation

This strand of anti-terrorism policy, a new element in the 2004 action plan, is increasing in importance. Many are arguing, particularly since it was discovered that the London bombers had been living in the UK, that looking at the reasons why young men are resorting to such action is key. In September 2005, the Commission published a communication which analyses ways in which  the radicalisation of individuals can be deterred through education (both in schools and through the internet), integration policies, interfaith dialogue and the promotion of inter-cultural understanding. The December 2005 Council approved a paper outlining the work in this area.

External Policies

EU  leaders have pledged to deal with the roots of terrorism, i.e. the social economic and political problems on which Islamic fanaticism is built. The action plan involves using trade agreements to reduce the poverty that can lead to radicalisation. Technical aid will also be given to build up anti-terrorism capacity. Work with third countries, the US in particular, and international agencies continues to be of fundamental importance.

Fundamental Rights

EU action against terrorism has been predicated on the preservation of fundamental rights and liberties as enshrined by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Some of the member state actions, however, have been heavily criticised for riding roughshod over these principles and EU policies have been questioned for being overly influenced by the US, which has pushed its own approach at international level through the G8.

The Commission is advised by a network of experts on fundamental rights, made up of one expert per member state, who report annually on the state of fundamental rights in the EU and who have been critical on specific issues. 

In addition, in June 2005, Commissioner Frattini announced that a European Agency for Fundamental Rights would be established by extending the remit of the existing European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. A proposal for a regulation is underway.


Following the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, Commission President Barroso said: "We know that the threat that has struck London can strike again. It can strike anywhere in our member states at any time. In response to this threat against our common values, the European Union will stand together ever closer and intensify our mutual support and assistance."

Work to prevent radicalisation, stressed UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke, would involve working closely with Muslim communities and religious leaders. Justice Commissioner Frattini said that of extreme importance were education programmes to stop recruitment of young people to violence. 

Gijs de Vries, EU counter-terrorism coordinator, before the London attacks, pointed to a lack of co-operation between member states on counter-terrorist measures and a failure to implement those agreed. The immediate consensus found after the July 2005 attacks shows that this is no longer the case.

The Muslim Council of Britain utterly condemned the July 2005 attacks on London. Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General said, "We must and will be united in common determination that terror cannot succeed."

Experts from United States think-tanks, such as the Brookings Institution, feel that the EU is not doing enough within its own borders and in sharing information with the US. Experts perceive Europe as making minimal changes little by little instead of immediately taking rigorous action. William Pope from the US State Department has stated that in Europe there is an inability to successfully prosecute terrorists, lax asylum law and insufficient policing of borders. 

The EU network of independent experts in fundamental rights has expressed concern over the looseness of the definition of ‘terrorism’ in the 2002 framework decision, a definition most member states have simply taken in to their own legislation. As the commission of ‘terrorist’ offences is being met with the curtailment of ordinary liberties, a more precise definition is required. It also takes the view that member states must provide control mechanisms within their legislation to protect fundamental rights. 

Statewatch has published a report showing trends towards greater secrecy and less accountability in organisations dealing with terrorism. It details plans for information gathered by undercover surveillance (such as phone-tapping) to be available EU-wide, unproven intelligence evidence to be used in courts, the criminalisation of preparatory terrorist acts and  "control orders" in the UK. The author of the report, Statewatch editor Tony Bunyan, says that the initiatives "herald a new, dangerous, era of pre-emptive state action where the emphasis is shifted from bringing people before the courts to face criminal charges to targeting all those suspected of involvement or even allegedly "supporting" terrorism".

In April 2005, Statewatch also launched, together with the American Civil Liberties Union, an international campaign against mass surveillance, warning that anti-terror measures are endangering fundamental freedoms (see EURACTIV 21 April 2005).

  • New EU Strategy from December 2005.
  • The anti-terrorism action plan will be updated in December 2005.
  • The third directive on money laundering adopted on 20 September 2005.
  • New proposals on data retention put forward in September 2005. 



Subscribe to our newsletters