Sofija Voronova (European Parliamentary Research Service)
The phenomenon of foreign fighters, which means EU citizens traveling to conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq, has become an increasing threat to the Union and its Member States. Upon the return of the foreign fighters to the EU, there is a higher risk that they will get involved in terrorist activities. Most of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe were committed by so-called domestic terrorists of whom a few were returned foreign fighters. In early December 2015, the Commission therefore presented a proposal of a directive aimed at combating terrorism, which should bring the existing EU legislation up to date to reflect the current trends and international developments. What are the key aspects of the new proposal that the new proposal tries to solve and what changes will it bring?
The main changes concerning the possibility of prosecution for undergoing terrorist training, both in person and distant training via the Internet, traveling abroad for the purpose of terrorism, or organizing and arranging such a trip. Another important point covered by the proposal is the financing of terrorism. The scope of the provisions related to terrorist financing has been strengthened and broadened and the financing of trips abroad for the purpose of terrorism is newly included as well. The Directive states that funding should be prosecuted even if it is not directly linked to a specific terrorist activity. Finally, the proposal also addresses the problem of the facilitation of terrorist acts, for example, transportation or provision of weapons or shelter and extends the possibility to criminalize even attempted acts of terror.
The new amendment, which should improve security in the EU and reflect current trends, was, however, criticized by international stakeholders and civil society. The UN Security Council and its Committee on Counter-Terrorism has repeatedly reminded the importance of full compliance with international humanitarian law, especially concerning the measures directed at preventing the arrival of foreign fighters. Several human rights NGOs expressed their concerns about the vague definition of terrorism in this proposal and possible adverse effects on freedom of movement, expression and assembly. Therefore, they advocate for the inclusion of human rights safeguards in this Directive.
The new proposal has not yet been accepted and is awaiting tripartite negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. The talks should touch upon the proposed adjustments of the Directive and the extent to which it could endanger the universally recognized international human rights. The question remains: what price are we willing to pay for a safer Europe?
(The study can be downloaded here:http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2016/586628/EPRS_BRI(2016)586628_EN.pdf)