Wednesday

22nd Feb 2017

EU terror bill casts wider net, raising rights issues

  • People continue to mourn those killed in terror attacks in Brussels and Paris. (Photo: Francesco Rivetti)

The EU is pushing ahead with sweeping legislation to fight terrorism that could limit rights and be abused by unscrupulous state authorities.

Negotiators from the EU institutions wrapped up their talks, last week, in an effort to reach a formal agreement on the EU's directive to combat terrorism before the end of the year.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Details of the final text remain unknown, given back-room nature of EU legislative deliberation, but a leaked document from 11 November provides insight on what to expect.

An EU diplomat on Monday (21 November) told this website that there was "no substantial modifications" between the leaked text and the final wording, despite some minor changes.

The bill still needs to be voted by member states before the end of the month and the EU parliament's civil liberties committee in December.

The proposal aims at criminalising terrorist related offences linked to traveling and training as part of a larger United Nations Security Council requirement. But the directive's broad definition of terrorism puts human right defenders on edge.

Left wing activism

Dr Marloes van Noorloos, assistant professor of criminal law at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, says the bill's definition of terrorism could be interpreted to include left-wing protests and animal rights activism.

"This will include extreme left terrorism, extreme right terrorism, animal rights actions, also groups like that and how will the state make a distinction between leftists activism and extreme left terrorism?," she said.

"Any glorifying remark you could make about Nelson Mandela or Che Guevara, in principle, it is part of the definition," she noted.

Van Noorloos, a member of the Meijers Committee, a Dutch independent experts' group, said the bill also fails to clarify such words as "purpose" when it comes to prohibiting travelling for the "purpose of terrorism".

"Countries can define it [purpose] in a different way, so it will give quite a lot of freedom to states who may want to punish their adversaries," she said.

People who inadvertently finance terrorism, for instance through a charity drive for Syria where money ends up in the wrong hands, could also be held accountable. An accumulation of such instances may lead to a criminal offence.

The bill also makes it criminal to receive terrorism training, which could include "obtaining of knowledge, documentation or practical skills," but excludes those used for academic research.

A state may also remove or block online content it deems as "constituting a public provocation to commit a terrorist offence". Such power is likely to trigger broader questions over freedom of speech.

Foreign fighter returns 'exaggerated'

The leaked draft justifies the measures given what it states is the "rapidly" evolving threat terrorism and that of returning foreign fighters.

The EU police agency, Europol, estimates more than 5,000 people across the EU have left and joined Islamist fighters in Syria. Many are thought dead.

Julian King, EU commissioner in charge of security, described the speculation of returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria as "sometimes exaggerated," last week.

"I want to be clear, it is not a new threat," he told reporters in Brussels on Friday (18 November).

With some EU governments like France and Belgium imposing more severe forms of national legislation against the terrorist threat, given the recent spate of attacks, the crackdown could create a 'chilling effect' on other forms of popular resistance.

France, for instance, is likely moving ahead with a plan to create a single "mega-database" to fight identify fraud. The government wants to collect the biometric details of all 60 million citizens despite larger concerns of hackers and state intelligence.

Last year, the country's highest court backed a law giving the state wide-sweeping surveillance powers concentrated in the hands of the prime minister's office.

Belgium had also passed controversial legislation to collect everyone's telecommunications for police access, despite glaring holes in its own work methods.

Earlier this month, Belgium media revealed investigators had lost a mobile telephone belonging to Paris bomber Brahim Abdeslam only to have found it months later beneath a stack of papers in a small Brussels police station branch.

EU split on semi-automatic weapons

Co-legislators disagree with EU commission plans to ban semi-automatic weapons that resemble their military grade counterparts.

EU pushes to finalise security laws

The EU Commission wants bills on terrorism, firearms and systematic ID checks on every EU national wrapped up before the end of the year.

EU terror law risks making protest a crime

An anti-terror bill is likely to sail through the EU parliament in December, despite serious concerns raised by rights groups over its broad understanding of what constitutes terrorism.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

Opinion

EU must tackle Poland's bad behaviour

Developments in Washington only serve to highlight the need for positive action in the face of an overtly nationalistic and anti-rights form of populism.

News in Brief

  1. Romanian parliament buries controversial corruption decree
  2. Dozens drown off Libyan coast
  3. EU ministers approve anti-tax avoidance directive
  4. Poland rejects EU criticism of court changes
  5. German nationalist leader met with Putin allies in Moscow
  6. German housing market overheated, says Bundesbank
  7. France invites three EU leaders for Versailles summit in March
  8. Greece agrees on new bailout reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  2. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  3. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  4. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  6. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  8. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  9. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  10. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  11. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  12. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship