France, Belgium step up security cooperation
By Eric Maurice
France and Belgium pledged on Monday (1 February) to reinforce their cooperation against Islamic terrorism and called for a "European security pact".
Meeting in Brussels, Belgian and French prime ministers Charles Michel and Manuel Valls also tried to diffuse tension between the two countries. Belgium was criticised after it emerged the authors of the November Paris attacks came from Brussels.
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"I never doubted for a moment the strength and determination of the Belgian government," Valls said in a joint interview with Michel on RTL-TVI.
"What is needed is to improve the information, intelligence and prevention systems, not only between France and Belgium, but at a European level," Valls said, adding that France and Belgium faced "the same threat".
The two leaders, who were joined by their interior and justice ministers as well as by intelligence, police and justice officials, decided to increase their police and justice cooperation.
A French liaison magistrate will be sent to Belgium to be "the interface" between the two countries' judiciaries. The two police will "systematically supply" the Schengen and Europol databases to reinforce the exchange of information.
Belgium and France also pledged to "develop as quickly as possible" their national passenger name record (PNR) database, where data on airline passengers is stored.
After many months of discussions between the member states and the EU Parliament, an agreement on a European PNR was found in December, but the final text still has to be adopted by the parliament.
Terrorism networks 'thwarted'
In a common statement, Michel and Valls said that efforts at a European level were "important … but not sufficient".
They said it was "essential" at EU level to: "make quick progress in harmonising incriminations in terrorism cases", "establish a tight cooperation between member states to improve cross-border access to internet communication data in targeted investigations", and "allow more resort to common investigation teams".
Belgium and France demanded a "quick adoption" of the proposal for systematic checks at the external borders of the Schengen area, including for EU nationals. The measure was agreed in principle in November under French pressure after the Paris attacks but has yet to be formally approved by the EU Parliament and member states.
They also pushed for the quick creation of an EU border and coastguard corps and said they were "determined to work more closely" with the parliament and other member states to tighten control of firearms.
Michel and Valls also said they were waiting "with the greatest interest" for the commission's proposal on fighting the financing of terrorism.
All these measures are needed, the French PM said, because "the threat is at unprecedented levels".
In an interview with France's Europe 1 radio, Michel said that Belgium "thwarted networks, at least of a logistical nature."
"Everywhere in Europe there are hovering threats, from Daesh, from the Islamic State. We cannot rule out that there is still ... in France, in Belgium and in other European countries people who have bad intentions," he said.