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17th Feb 2019

EU parliament groups want inquiry into terror failures

  • 22 people, including children, died in Manchester on 22 May (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Two main political groups in the European parliament are hoping to launch a special committee to probe failures by EU states in the fight against terrorism.

The joint-announcement on Wednesday (7 June) by the centre-right EPP and the liberal Alde groups comes on the heels of the latest round of terror attacks in Manchester, London and Paris.

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A draft mandate seen by EUobserver calls for a 12-month probe into "potential faults and malfunctions" that allowed the terror attacks to be carried out in Belgium, France and Germany.

It also wants to analyse, among other things, the lack of police cooperation and problems in cross-border investigations. Hearings with sensitive or secret information would be held behind closed doors.

German EPP group leader Manfred Weber said in a statement that the issue needs extra parliamentary attention given the "failure of cooperation in Europe in the field of anti-terrorism."

He noted many of the terrorists behind the recent spate of attacks were already registered in databases.

"The exchange of this data between member states has not worked," he said.

His views were echoed by the Belgian Alde group leader, Guy Verhofstadt, who said information between intelligence services was not being shared enough.

"In the attack in London, Italian authorities did warn their British peers about one attacker, having caught him in Bologna when he was trying to reach Syria," he said.

The British authorities did not react to the Italian warning, he also noted.

The plan is to reach a consensus among all the groups, but an EPP source said resistance had emerged from the socialists.

"It would be better to have everyone on board, but the socialists are not so interested for now," noted the EPP contact.

However, a spokesperson for the socialist S&D group, the second largest in the parliament after the EPP, said that it is yet to see an official proposal.

"We don't see what a special committee can do on top of what the Libe [civil liberties committee] can do, looking at terrorism," he said.

He noted that a special committee can also only look at infringements of EU law, and wouldn't be able to force intelligence agencies to reveal state secrets.

"This is basically a cheap attempt by Weber and Verhofstadt to use the latest terror attacks in London and in Manchester as way of rehashing an old idea," he said.

A joint endeavour

The proposal to set up the inquiry may be discussed next week among the group leaders and the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, during a meeting of the conference of presidents.

If launched, it would seek to invite intelligence services to give testimonies and explain their work.

The joint endeavour is part of a broader political agreement reached between the two groups earlier this year.

Alde had agreed to back Tajani, a centre-right Italian, as EU parliament president. In exchange, the EPP group agreed to support Alde's political priorities.

The European Commission has been working with EU member states to figure out how to improve data sharing and increase the interoperability between EU-level databases.

EU commissioner for security Julian King told MEPs in the Libe committee in late May that the effective sharing of information was a key tool in fighting terrorism.

"Unfortunately, as we've seen following some of the horrible attacks over the last two past years, there are, on occasion, weaknesses in the way our information systems are built and in the way they work," King said.

Interior ministers are also meeting in Luxembourg at the end of week to discuss the EU's largest criminal database, the Schengen information system (SIS), as well as other databases.

IT security system threatens EU rights

EU commission wants to link up all information systems on security, border, and migration, drawing a rebuke from own rights agency.

EU vows to mend terrorist data share failures

The EU is rolling out plans to improve a large police database in an effort to avoid repeats of allowing terrorists, like Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam, from slipping by police due to poor data quality.

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