Terrorism Prevention in the EU

17 September, 2020

Terrorism is a threat that pervades every value of democratic society, a threat that illuminates the cracks in our security and freedoms in the EU. It is a threat that recognizes no borders and targets anyone regardless of where they call home. As cross-border and cross-sectorial threats have gained in complexity over the years, the imperative for closer cooperation across the EU on security matters has only grown. And now, during the coronavirus pandemic, the necessity of crisis preparedness and management in the EU has been put into a whole new light.

In 2018, the influx of over 1.5 million refugees and migrants into the EU drew more attention to security threats, causing immigration and terrorism to become the most important issues according to EU citizens, despite the fact that the majority of refugees are hosted in non-EU member states. Host-country nationals may have perceived the influx of immigrants as a threat to their society, especially as insiders are known to perceive outsiders as an unknown threat. But furthermore, the backgrounds of many of these refugees became a major way for far right extremists and political actors to politicize these immigrants’ very identity and draw lines between immigration and terrorism.

While all fatalities from terrorism in 2018 were the result of jihadist attacks, right-wing extremism has been on the rise over recent years. Extremists’ ability to entice others to believe in their conspiratorial narratives has always been an essential part of their strategy, but the recent growth of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ has extended their reach into everyday life. Far right activists in particular have taken advantage of the pandemic to utilize online tools in spreading their ideologies, espousing ideas such as closing borders to protect against ‘foreign diseases’, and manufacturing an overlap between public anxiety over the pandemic and extremist xenophobia. Especially in these times, there has been an increase in consultation requests regarding family members and colleagues who are concerned about other persons’ paranoid beliefs. How has the EU been combating the threats of extremism and terrorism?

The European Union’s Response

Tackling cross-border security threats such as terrorism is understood as a common European responsibility. No member state can secure such a threat alone, and all national actors have to coordinate in order to maintain the safety of their citizens. Because the EU is a very open geographic bloc, the EU has crafted a counter-terrorism response called the EU Security Union Strategy for 2020 – 2025. This strategy focuses on four strategic priorities, namely; creating a future-proof security environment, tackling evolving threats, protecting Europeans from terrorism and organised crime, and building a strong European security ecosystem.

Through these priorities, the EU aims to develop preparedness and resilience to ensure the quick recovery of critical infrastructure, as well as to ensure a more robust protection of public spaces. It is also working to build further resilience against cyberattacks by fortifying international partnerships and reviewing the Network and Information Systems Directive, especially as these attacks grow in frequency at a time when our lives depend so much on technology.

Furthermore, the EU is fighting terrorism by working on anti-radicalisation efforts, addressing the root causes of terrorism itself through early detection and also through rehabilitation and reintegration. Countering terrorism should not stop at only surveillance and security efforts, which is why the European Commission’s Radicalisation Awareness Network unites a network of experts from across all member states in order to craft the practices and skills essential to tackling violent extremism. The Commission has also created the Communication on Preventing Radicalisation to Terrorism and Violence Extremism in addition to the European Agenda on Security, culminating in an advanced effort to counter radicalisation. So far, these initiatives have shown promising results in countering terrorist propaganda and online radicalisation. However, the United Kingdom’s similar approach, the Prevent Strategy, has been proven potentially counterproductive due to its alienation of the British-Muslim community. The EU should learn from these mistakes and eliminate bias from its anti-radicalisation strategies.

On a multilateral level, member states are working against terrorism together by sharing crucial information across borders and promoting cooperation in combating international crime. Other essential tools include research and innovation, which the EU is exploring through the potential creation of a European Innovation hub for international security. Educating the public is also a priority, mainly through promoting knowledge of how security threats can be combated in daily life by simply increasing awareness.

The European Union also handles terrorism threats from outside the Union itself since many terrorist organizations have roots in other parts of the world beyond the EU. It is essential for the EU to build cooperation between the bloc and the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia as a strategy to reduce conflicts and promote democracy, as well as open dialogues between cultures and faiths. Any successful strategy must be comprehensive and international if it is to succeed.

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