EU ministers vow new counter-terrorism rules after Paris attack
Top officials at an international ministerial meeting in Paris on Sunday (11 January) vowed an immediate response to last week's Charlie Hebdo attack.
As well over a million people attended a march in Paris, a handful of EU ministers along with US attorney general Eric Holder announced their intentions to step up counter-terrorism efforts.
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"Only if we work together, through sharing of information, by pooling our resources, will we ultimately be able to defeat those who are in a struggle with us about our fundamental values," said Holder.
The meeting, which was also attended by the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator and the EU commissioner for home affairs, laid out a list of policy priorities to tackle what is seen as the growing threat of foreign fighters returning home.
The fear is that the some 2,500 EU nationals that have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight along Islamic militants may come back to the EU even more radicalised.
The Jewish museum shootings in Brussels last year and now the Paris attack have led to intensified calls to shore up security at the EU’s external borders, increase Internet surveillance measures, and pass new laws that could criminalise foreign fighters.
Ministers from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK attended Sunday’s meeting.
Latvia, holding the EU presidency, has called for an EU-wide ministerial meeting of home affairs this week in Brussels to discuss new counter-terrorism measures.
"The fight against all forms of expression of terrorism is high on my agenda and Latvia as the current Presidency of the Council of the EU will definitely draw specific attention to this issue,” said Latvia's interior minister Rihards Kozlovskis.
This includes making travelling for terrorism or related training a serious criminal offence.
The idea stems from the legally binding UN security council resolution 2178, adopted last September, which calls upon national governments to insert the offence into their legal systems.
EU home affairs ministers backed it in October and then again in December after Gilles de Kerchove, the EU's counter-terrorism coordinator, proposed revising the so-called EU 2002 framework decision on combating terrorism.
France inserted the new rules into national law in November. They impose sentences of up to ten years and fines of up to €150,000 on “anyone found to be simultaneously in possession of dangerous objects or substances (such as explosives and weapons), and consulting terrorist websites or receiving terrorist training.”
According to transparency NGO La Quadrature du Net, the French government, in the immediate aftermath of the Paris attack, passed further decrees that allows authorities to shut down, without getting a court order, websites advocating or provoking terrorism.
Other member states are also in the process of following the UN resolution demands, Spain's interior minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz told the El Pais newspaper on Sunday.
Proposals also include tightening the EU’s external borders by amending the Schengen Borders Code governing free movement.
National governments already have the right, under strict conditions, to impose temporary internal border controls.
Diaz hinted more border controls are needed to counter the jihadist threat.
Countering radicalisation on the Internet, widely seen as a recruitment tool for potential jihadists, also figure on the counter-terrorism list.
Major internet providers are being asked to help “combat terrorist propaganda” and stop the spread of “hatred and violence” on the web.
Ministers also want Belgium to set up a so-called Syria strategic communication advisory team (SSCAT), bankrolled by the EU.
The SSCAT would be tasked to help national governments "support messages countering terrorism".
Sunday’s ministerial has also added to pressure on the European Parliament to sign off on a EU data-sharing bill that would require airlines to hand over customer details to the police.
The bill has been stuck for the past three years, amid concerns by several MEPs that it will violate fundamental rights, like privacy.