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27th Nov 2021

EU unveils plan for new security networks

  • Back ribbon on EU flag, to mark the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The European Commission launched a beefed-up security agenda on Tuesday (28 April), but many of the measures depend on whether member states are prepared to better co-operate in the traditionally sovereign areas of intelligence gathering and sharing.

The 21-page Agenda on security is meant to enhance government co-operation against terrorism, organised crime and cyber crime.

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The issues, including preventing radicalization and extremism, have become a top priority following recent terrorist attacks in France and Denmark and a foiled plot in Belgium.

"The challenges are not new, but they have become more varied and complex. We need to do better. Our existing law enforcement tools and cooperation methods are not sufficient," commission vice-president Frans Timmermans told MEPs.

The security document notes "that member states have the front line responsibility for security", but adds they "can no longer succeed fully on their own".

"The European Agenda on security must be a shared agenda between the Union and member states. The result should be an EU area of internal security," says the document.

"For the first time, we proceed towards a comprehensive approach … with a vision to put together all the necessary tools and services," said migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos

The commission has set out a two-tier strategy, with closer co-ordination between EU agencies at one level and streamlined co-operation between member states through the EU agencies at another level.

According to the strategy the EU’s law enforcement agency (Europol), the judicial co-operation unit (Eurojust) and Frontex, the border control agency, will work more closely together.


A new European counter-terrorism centre will also be set up within Europol "to tackle foreign terrorist fighters, terrorist financing, violent extremist content online, and illicit trafficking of firearms".

Instead of a federal Europopl, the commission suggests a comprehensive network built around its agencies - “hubs” - where member states would bring data and expertise that other states could use when needed.

The agencies and national co-ordinators would serve as "one-stop shops" for member states.

Member states, for their part, are urged to improve their participation in tools such as the Schengen information system (about wanted and missing persons or objects), the Pruem system (DNA data, fingerprints and car-plate registers) or the Siena network (exchange of information).

The ECRIS (criminal records) and EPRIS (police record) systems should be updated and enhanced, as well as a new system on maritime surveillance data.

The commission is also calling for a quick introduction of the passenger name record (PNR) legislation - where the personal data of air passengers coming to and leaving the EU would be shared and stored. The law is currently blocked by the European Parliament over data protection concerns.

There are no incentives or sanctions to push members states to improve their participation in the different systems, however.

"There is no European security agency, but the spirit of the agenda is to answer the question of what is the added value of the European level," a source at the commission told EUobserver.

"We are here to help member states to co-operate and exchange information and help them with technical challenges," the source added.

Radicalisation

The commission also proposed new steps in the fight against radicalisation, which is often propagated on the Internet, and cybercrime.

An Internet referral unit will be established in Europol in July to bring expertise and technical support to countries faced with violent online content, while a centre will be set up to share anti-radicalisation practices.

The commission also plans to discuss encryption technologies and how to counter terrorist propaganda with IT companies and wants to work with third countries to block financing channels, stop arms and human trafficking or identify terrorists.

An existing €3.8 billion budget for security is to be used, as well as funds for research and development. The ideas are to be discussed by EU leaders in June.

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