From 9/11 to Da’esh: What Role for the High Representative and the External Dimension of EU Counter-Terrorism Policies?

Written by | Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré (Istituto Affari Internazionali)

Acts of terror are not a new experience for Europe, though they have always been determined geographically. A turnaround came only after 2000 when the US together with Europe were newly faced with al-Qaeda and associated terrorist organizations operating at a global level. However, the EU, which should act as a whole in response to this threat, lacks the necessary maturity and readiness to fight this menace. The position of High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security was created precisely for these crisis cases, though its role and authority are still not sufficiently defined due to the schism between EU’s national and supranational character. Especially, the lack of independence from the political will of the individual EU Member States seems to be problematic.

Despite these obstacles, Javier Solana, the first High Representative during the time of the terrorist attacks in London, Madrid and New York, managed to gain support of the Member States for the European Security Strategy, which became the first document initiating external fight with terrorism. He also managed to depict terrorism as a pressing and real threat, which we should start to deal with seriously. In contrast to Javier Solana, Mrs Ashton in her role of a former High Representative did not play a sufficient role in changing the political agenda in a way that would make the EU capable of facing the risk of spreading terrorism in its neighborhood in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. In the case of her successor, Federica Mogherini, the situation has reversed once again. She has managed, thanks to her engagement and efforts, to encourage individual Member States to strive for a greater cooperation and seek to solve the problems in Syria and Iraq.

The efficiency of all three High Representatives depended not only on their skills but also on the type of a threat, which the EU was faced with at the particular period. In case of terrorist attacks in London, Member States and EU institutions were able and willing to cooperate more, which in turn had an impact on the efficiency of the High Representative. However, when we consider the Arab Spring events, which affected Europe only marginally, anti-terrorism measures generally received only lukewarm support. Today’s external and internal threats and Frederica Mogherini’s active role therefore offer a unique opportunity for a greater emphasis on the implementation of measures against various radical elements and terrorist networks.

(The study can be downloaded here :

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