Terror in Spain: Reflection on the Future of EU’s Counter-Terrorism Policy

Written by | Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

In mid-August, Barcelona joined the ranks of other European cities such as Nice, Stockholm, Berlin and London, to have become the victim of a vehicle ploughing into pedestrians gathered in city centers. The European leadership is often put into spotlight following such events with regard to the EU’s ability – or inability – to deal with the threat of terrorism and prevent such events from happening. As a matter of fact, the EU has dynamically acquired some experience in counter-terrorism policy while Brussels has introduced a great deal of counter-terrorism legislation over the last 20 years and the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 consolidated and expanded the Brussels’s competence in this field.

However, the series of the most recent attacks require a new strategy. The next phase of EU policies on fighting terrorism should focus on reinforcing EU principles and social trust in coordinated actions and common policies. The EU should also test the effectiveness and efficiency of the new policy hand-in-hand with a detailed assessment of the extent to which current instruments and priorities are suitable for this purpose. This should include a formal evaluation of counter-terrorism policies and actors as well as legal instruments, international agreements, information-sharing databases, tools, projects and funding schemes and the work of all relevant EU Justice and Home Affairs agencies.

The major challenge of EU policies is how to formulate a revamped, accurate and holistic diagnosis of the actual dilemmas and issues posed by current instruments. Similarly, in testing the effectiveness and efficiency of existing EU laws, special attention should be paid to the phases of their implementation and operationalization by domestic and EU authorities. The EU can add value especially by investing more in advancing cooperation in traditional policing and criminal justice as well as in fighting terrorism itself. More attention should be paid to making sure that information and electronic data meet the standards of ‘evidence’ in criminal justice procedures, and to sharpening the analytical capacities of law enforcement actors so that terrorists can be prosecuted.

Another priority is also to further develop the use and added value of existing EU databases in relation to controlling the acquisition and possession of firearms, explosives and other weapons as well as the national implementations of EU rules. In particular, these databases should be made accessible to member states with decentralized regional police and law enforcement forces. To ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of EU counter-terrorism policies, particular attention should be also given to the compatibility between all existing tools that have been developed since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force. Post-2009 legal instruments now provide a set of common EU standards that must be guaranteed in European and member states against terrorism including international cooperation.

If the next generation of counter-terrorism policies is to be successful, it must be based on firm and solid foundations and the European Parliament must be centrally engaged in EU counter-terrorism policymaking. A newly planned Special Committee on Terrorism is an example of an initiative that presents great potential in ensuring the much-needed democratic accountability of EU security policies and their implementation.

‘Reflections on the Terrorist Attacks in Barcelona: Constructing a Principled and Trust-Based EU Approach to Countering Terrorism’ – Policy Insights by Sergio Carrera, Elspeth Guild and Valsamis Mitsilegas – Centre for European Policy Studies.

(The Policy Insights can be downloaded here)

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