Thursday

17th Jan 2019

Opinion

Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism

  • Aftermath of the Barcelona terror attack on August 17, 2017, which left 13 people dead (Photo: Wikimedia)

Terrorism is a heinous crime against humanity. It attacks our way of life and our fundamental values.

On 17 August it will be a year since the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils. While memories of several attacks in Europe are still painfully alive, and the attack in Westminster in London earlier this week shows that the threats against our security are not waning, we vow to build a Europe more resilient to the terrorist threat.

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A Europe that protects its citizens.

Building trust and solidarity between us, across the EU, is the only way we can achieve that. We are getting better at working together and trusting each other more.

Last year, our member states reported 33 planned jihadist terrorist attacks, of which 10 materialised.

A further 12 failed to reach their objectives, and 11 were successfully foiled. We have learnt our lessons and are building that trust and solidarity, which have proven to help prevention and preparation.

The 23 attacks that thankfully never occurred should be the benchmark by which we measure our actions from now onwards. We should not relent until our citizens feel absolutely safe.

This is a battle that we will need to fight on many fronts.

First and foremost, by denying terrorists the means to do us harm: by depriving them of access to firearms, explosives and money to perpetrate their attacks; by tightening security rules across Europe; by securing our public spaces, including through funding to erect barriers against truck attacks – like the one on Promenade des Anglais, London Bridge, Breitscheidplatz or on La Rambla – and making security a fundamental design principle for our urban planning.

Second, by reinforcing the security of our external borders.

We need to ensure that bona fide travellers can easily cross our borders, and those that pose security threats are quickly identified, or even locked behind bars if that's their place.

Our European Border and Coast Guard Agency has been operating since October 2016 and will soon be substantially reinforced in both personnel and resources.

New information systems, like the European Entry Exit System, are now being rapidly developed to ensure that our border guards have critical information to better manage our borders.

In the very near future EU security databases will become interoperable, connecting all the dots and making it very difficult, if not impossible, for a foreign terrorist fighter returning to Europe to slip under the radar.

Third, ensuring internal security also means looking at what happens beyond the EU borders.

Cooperation with neighbours and allies is vital here.

Our security cooperation with Europe's quintessentially strategic ally, the United States, is back on track. We are also working with partners in our neighbourhood.

North Africa

We are soon starting negotiations with Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and five other key countries to be able to share crucial information, including personal data.

No country can manage the challenge of terrorism in isolation. Neither can Europe.

But most importantly, we need to fight the battle for ideas inside our own house. We need to look deep inside our own societies to understand why European citizens are taking up arms against fellow citizens.

This requires a holistic approach starting from education, extending all the way to our prison systems, and especially the internet.

The internet cannot continue to be an easy echo chamber for terrorist propaganda. And here is where all of us, but particularly social media companies, need to live up to their societal responsibilities.

We cannot tolerate terrorist content on online platforms. The threat is real and urgent - people have died because certain individuals became radicalised overnight from watching terrorist videos. In autumn, we will propose legislation to ensure that terrorist content is effectively taken down.

With the attacks we have suffered in the past three years, we have learnt, unfortunately, the hard way.

Fighting terrorism within national borders makes us all collectively more vulnerable.

The terrorist threat is cross-border one and should be addressed as such. We are starting to learn that.

Europe is now building security on collective foundations with a genuine and effective security union, and a strong security role for Europe in our neighbourhood and in the world.

Dimitris Avramopoulos is EU commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship

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