EU pushes to finalise security laws
The European commission is hoping to push through three bills on security before the end of the year, amid intensive lobbying and criticism from experts.
Julian King, the commissioner for security union, told MEPs on Monday (29 November) that the EU must respond to terrorism, cyber-crime and serious and organised crime.
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"Neither terrorism nor organised crime respects national borders," he said.
A directive on combating terrorism, a directive on firearms, and an amendment to systematic ID checks for every EU national are on track to be finalised in the next few weeks.
A senior EU source said "a stable text" had already been reached on the terrorism bill.
The proposal, which now awaits to be ratified, seeks to make it a criminal offence to travel to and from conflict zones with the "intention" of committing terrorist acts.
But leaked drafts of the bill have riled human right defenders for its wide definition of terrorism.
"Any glorifying remark you could make about Nelson Mandela or Che Guevara, in principle, it is part of the definition," Dr Marloes van Noorloos, assistant professor of criminal law at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, told this website last week.
A few outstanding issues also remain on efforts to reform EU-wide rules on firearms.
The bill restricts the circulation of heavy duty military automatic and converted semi-automatic weapons.
Vicky Ford, a British conservative MEP who is spearheading parliament talks on firearms, said further talks are needed to iron out differences on exemptions for the "legal shooting community" like sport shooters and hunters.
Another round on inter-institutional talks is set for the start of December.
The bill is being heavily lobbied by what one EU official has described as the European version of the "some harder edged NRA [US National Rifle Association] stuff".
"I mean it really is a libertarian movement, who seem to think that holding a gun, including heavy duty military automatic machine guns is somehow part of your right as a citizen," noted the official.
Moves are also being made to ID check every EU national who leaves and enters the European Union.
The plan is to amend the Schengen borders code to introduce systematic checks for EU citizens at the external borders of the EU free travel area.
But negotiators are having trouble agreeing on when EU states need to implement the new rules given the "transitional" requirements needed at some airports to make it work.
The new checks aim to catch any returning EU national who went and fought alongside the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Europol, the EU police agency, says some 5,000 have gone. Other estimates suggest just half this number remain because many have been killed or gone missing.
The EU commission also plans to introduce a first set of proposals before the end of year to reinforce an EU level police database known as the Schengen Information System (SIS).
The database is used by police and border guards but is riddled with problems and badly managed.
The proposal intends to make sure fingerprints are properly fed into the system and grant access to the new EU border and coast guard agency. They also want to create a new alert category for "wanted unknown persons".
"We need to introduce some kind of rigour of how people feed information into the system, so that it works better," said an EU official.
In 2017, the EU commission also intends to table a plan to make existing database systems for law enforcement and security "interoperable".
It also want to allow authorities to query all these databases from a "single interface". Another set of proposals is likely to step up the removal of terrorist propaganda from the internet.