21st Jul 2019

De Vries: EU fundamentally different from the US

The European Union’s role is that of supporting EU states in their fight against terrorism as the necessary instruments lie in the hands of the individual countries, the EU’s anti-terrorism co-ordinator Gijs de Vries said to the EUobserver.

"Practical day to day work at operational level is not something that most believe ought to be conducted centrally through Brussels", Mr de Vries said.

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"The role of the Union is one of support for the member states, support for their national agencies, national security services, and national judicial authorities. The Union can help by providing a legal framework which allows that co-operation to be carried out effectively across frontiers".

Mr de Vries also said that the measures that EU could take in response to terrorist attacks are different from those of the US, where the idea of creating a department of homeland security equivalent to that of the US is unimaginable.

"We’re not the United states of Europe where Brussels could engage in such an exercise."

Gijs de Vries, former Dutch deputy interior minister, started his job as the EU’s anti-terrorism co-ordinator on the 29 March – a new post created after the Madrid attacks and designed to boost co-operation between member states.

Sitting on the same floor as the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Mr de Vries has created a task force on terrorism which meets frequently, composed of people from different directorate generals inside the Council and which includes representatives of intelligence services and the military.

Europe not immune to another attack

Mr de Vries said that the Madrid attacks represent a change in the nature of the terrorist threat and warned that Europe is not immune from another serious attack.

"There have been changes. I think the Madrid attack represented a change towards 'soft targets'".

"We cannot in our open societies exclude that there will be at some point another serious attack in Europe. I think we have to be aware of the fact that no country can consider itself immune in that respect", he said.

But he added that a cross-border operation conducted by four EU countries on Tuesday, which led to the arrest of one of the possible masterminds behind the Madrid attack, "indicate there is a close and practical cooperation between the services concerned".

While saying that it is inevitable that the EU draws lessons from events that occur, he believes that the EU’s work should be more long term.

The Dutchman also reiterated the need for member states to implement anti-terror measures already agreed.

Delays in implementation have occurred with the European Arrest warrant, which would facilitate extradition between EU states, and the UN Convention against the financing of terrorism.

This Convention would allow the EU to urge non-EU countries to strengthen their own role in preventing terrorist financing.

But he stressed: "We can only do it credibly if we ourselves have implemented that instrument".

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