Saturday

20th Apr 2019

Counter-terrorism sparks hot debate in EU parliament

  • The EU anti-terror chief has limited powers (Photo: EUobserver)

A day after security services in Denmark and Germany foiled imminent bomb attacks, lawmakers in the European Parliament criticized EU capitals for failing to fill the bloc's anti-terrorism post, vacant since March.

The position was created after the attack on Madrid commuter trains killing 191 people in March 2004, but the chair has been empty after previous anti-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries stepped down from the job six month ago.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

According to the centre-right leader Joseph Daul, the fact there is still no successor "shows the great deal that remains to be done" in the fight against terrorism.

Mr Daul urged EU governments as well as the bloc's chief diplomat Javier Solana "to appoint a new Mr or Mrs Anti-Terrorism as soon as possible... and equip him or her with adequate means".

It is exactly the weakness of the postion that has lead some countries to question the need to fill the post.

"Everyone knows that the inadequacy of means put at Mr de Vries' disposal did not allow him to properly conduct the fight against terrorism and to properly fulfil his task", France's Mr Daul told the plenary.

The liberals' chief, Graham Watson, added to criticism by saying "you tell us...you are reflecting on the best way of ensuring cooperation. Well, the terrorists had six months while you have been reflecting".

Portugal – currently at the helm of the 27-nation bloc – acknowledged delays, with the country's European affairs minister Manuel Lobo Antunes promising to improve Mr Anti-Terrorism's responsibilities and powers.

"We have to put our foot on the accelerating pedal", he concluded.

New counter-terrorism measures

The parliamentary debate on terrorism came just a day after three men, suspected members of an Islamic terrorist organisation, were arrested in Germany on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack against a US military base in Ramstein and Frankfurt airport.

In another operation on Monday night (3 September), Danish security services prevented a bomb attack, plotted by men said to be linked to al-Qaeda.

According to EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini, "all sources indicate that the threat of new terrorist attacks continues to be high...there is no room for complacency or letting our guard down".

Mr Frattini has confirmed he is set to table a new package of measures this autumn, including an EU-wide rapid alert system on lost and stolen explosives or a proposal to criminalize those who misuse the internet for terrorism purposes.

An EU-wide air passengers name recording system is also foreseen by the commission – something that would mirror the US' database on European air passengers.

"The time has come to change focus and devote resources to the security of the Union", the Italian commissioner told MEPs.

"The Union is at least as much a potential target of a terrorist attack as the United States and the use and analysis of passenger name records is an important law enforcement tool to protect our citizens", he added.

Security versus privacy

MEPs from across the main political groups unanimously backed stronger cooperation among EU states in combating terrorism and religious extremism.

But there were differences on what exactly the measures should be.

"Some really restrictive measures have been adopted", French socialist MEP Martine Roure said, asking for the right balance between security legislation and civil liberties.

"Here in parliament we should be insisting on sunset clauses for anti-terror laws so that legislation susceptible to abuse does not remain on the statute books any longer than necessary", Mr Watson added.

But according to Konrad Szymanski from the centre-right UEN group, "the concerns relating to data sharing should not block co-operation [within the EU]", arguing "international terrorism uses armed movements in an unprecedented manner".

For his part, Mr Frattini – representing the commission, the guardian of European law – said he would send EU governments a questionnaire on the anti-terrorism measures they have adopted looking into their effectiveness and human rights aspects.

"I am ready to share with you data and results of this exercise", Mr Frattini told MEPs.

Prison suicide rates in France highest in Europe

Suicide rates per 10,000 inmates in 2017 in France stood at 12.6, higher than any other European country. The latest figures are part of a much bigger report out Tuesday by the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us