The EU has missed the historical opportunity to significantly influence the bloody conflict still unfolding in Syria and Iraq since its beginning but it can still contribute to combating terrorism in the region and beyond – this is the main conclusion of a study recently released by The Finnish Institute of International Affairs. The phenomenon of foreign volunteers in wars is definitely not new. The current number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, which is estimated to be about 15 000, is not very different from comparable historical events. According to numerous studies, only 1 in 15 to 20 fighters plans to continue with terroristic activities in his home country. Thus, out of 3000 EU citizens fighting in Iraq or Syria could prove problematic in the future around 150 or 200 persons.
The study proposes different instruments that are at disposal on the level of individual EU Member States as well as EU institutions. One of the possibilities is to operate in the place of the conflict, though the EU itself admittedly does not have sufficient military capacities. Another area where the EU could intervene is, for example, the blocking of terrorists’ financial transfers. The next imaginary territory, where the war against ISIL could be waged, is cyberspace. As the terrorists aptly use social networks for the purpose of propaganda and member recruitment, the EU could resist that by supporting independent journals, whose reporters will bring undistorted information from the key areas.
Another significant area is, of course, the internal space of the Union. There are two approaches concerning the sanctioning of the potentially dangerous returnees from ISIL. The inclusive approach aims at de-radicalization and the return to ordinary life. The exclusive approach then targets the criminalization of dangerous activities and the isolation of radical individuals by imprisonment or prevention from entering into the country. Last but not least, the EU can act diplomatically in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey.