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8th Mar 2021

EU to tighten borders after counter-terrorism summit

  • The Charlie Hebdo murders saw an outpouring of solidarity (Photo: villedereims)

EU leaders meeting next week (12 February) aim to tighten border crossings and crack down on inflammatory online content in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders.

The draft summit conclusions, seen by EUobserver, say member states plan to make “a targeted amendment of the Schengen Borders Code, to allow for systematic checks against all relevant databases in order to detect and disrupt suspect movements, notably of foreign terrorist fighters”.

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They call for “monitoring and removal of content promoting terrorism or violence on the internet”.

They also urge MEPs to “adopt urgently the proposal on European Passenger Name Record (PNR) with solid data protection safeguards”.

The PNR scheme - on sharing the private data of suspect travellers - has been stuck in the European Parliament for the past three years due to concerns on privacy and on its compatibility with EU law.

The summit is the first after Islamist gunmen killed 17 people at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and in a Jewish shop in Paris earlier this month.

The conclusions describe the murders as an attack on “the fundamental values and human rights that are at the heart of the European Union … including freedom of expression”.

Given the rising popularity of anti-Muslim and far-right groups in Europe, the text adds the EU will “protect all from violence based on ethnic or religious motivations such as xenophobia, anti-Semitism, or anti-Muslim intolerance and racism”.

An EU diplomat told this website the text is at an early stage in the drafting process, with member states still “sending in their amendments”.

Most of the measures in the paper were already floated by EU officials and interior ministers in recent weeks.

But one idea mooted by the EU’s counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove - to make internet firms hand over the keys to their encryption systems - has not made the cut at this stage.

The other steps to be endorsed at the top level include: increasing police and intelligence co-operation; increasing intelligence sharing with Arab countries; tightening EU laws on illicit firearms; and strengthening the bloc’s anti-money laundering regime.

Echoing plans to counter Russian war propaganda, the leaders also call for “communication strategies to promote tolerance, non-discrimination, fundamental freedoms and solidarity throughout the EU, including through stepping up inter-faith and other community dialogue”.

They say “initiatives regarding education, vocational training, job opportunities, social integration” will also help stop “radicalisation”.

The summit is to feed into the EU’s revision of its internal security startegy, due in April.

Leaders also aim to follow up at a summit in June “on the detailed implementation of these orientations”.

With developments in the Ukraine conflict and on Greek debt fast unfolding, the 12 February meeting is likely to stray off the official agenda.

A second EU diplomat told this website the European Commission is expected to give an oral update on potential new economic sanctions on Russia.

But the contact noted the EU institutions are unlikely to have detailed plans ready in time, with another summit, in mid-March, to examine Russia relations in more depth.

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