Terrorism is not a new phenomenon in Europe. It poses a threat to our security, to the values of our democratic societies and to the rights and freedoms of European citizens.
In 2016, a total of 142 failed, foiled or completed attacks were carried in EU members states. Of the 142 victims that died in terrorist attacks, 135 people were killed in jihadist terrorist attacks. 1002 persons were arrested for terrorist offences in 2016, most of them were related to jihadist terrorism.
The phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters from Europe travelling to different locations to fight the jihad, and the security threat they may pose inside the EU when they return, are also likely to persist in the coming years.
- Response to foreign terrorist fighters and recent terrorist attacks in Europe (background information)
Since these threats do not recognise borders, they must be confronted at both a national and international level.
The EU counter-terrorism strategy aims to combat terrorism globally while respecting human rights, and to make Europe safer, allowing its citizens to live in an area of freedom, security and justice.
The European Union member states are committed to jointly fighting terrorism and providing for the best possible protection for its citizens. To this end, in 2005 the Council adopted the EU counter-terrorism strategy.
The strategy is focused on four main pillars: prevent, protect, pursue and respond. Across these pillars, the strategy recognises the importance of cooperation with third countries and international institutions.
One of the EU priorities in the field of counter-terrorism is to identify and tackle the factors which contribute to radicalisation and the processes by which individuals are recruited to commit acts of terror. To this end the Council adopted an EU strategy for combating radicalisation and recruitment to terrorism. In light of evolving trends, such as the phenomena of lone actors and foreign fighters or the growing potential of social media for mobilisation and communication, the Council adopted a revision of this strategy in June 2014.
In December 2014, justice and home affairs ministers adopted a series of guidelines for the revised EU radicalisation and recruitment strategy. These guidelines set out a series of measures to be implemented by the EU and member states.
The second priority of the EU counter-terrorism strategy is the protection of citizens and infrastructure and the reduction of vulnerability to attack. This includes the protection of external borders, the improvement of transport security, the protection of strategic targets and the reduction of the vulnerability of critical infrastructure. In this area, the EU is currently working on legislation regulating the use of passenger name record (PNR) data for law enforcement purposes.
The EU is working to hinder terrorists' capacity to plan and organise, and to bring these terrorists to justice. To achieve these goals, the EU has focused on strengthening national capabilities, improving practical cooperation and information exchange between police and judicial authorities (in particular through Europol and Eurojust), tackling terrorist financing and depriving terrorists of the means by which they mount attacks and communicate.
In May 2015, the Council and the European Parliament adopted new rules to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.
The fourth objective of the EU counter-terrorism strategy is to prepare, in the spirit of solidarity, to manage and minimise the consequences of a terrorist attack. This is done by improving capabilities to deal with the aftermath, the coordination of the response, and the needs of victims. Priorities in this area include the development of EU crisis co-ordination arrangements, the revision of the civil protection mechanism, the development of risk assessment or the sharing of best practices on assistance to victims of terrorism.
Priorities in recent years have included:
- the definition of the arrangements for the implementation by the EU of the solidarity clause, through a Council decision adopted in June 2014
- the review of the EU emergency and crisis coordination arrangements, replaced by the EU integrated political crisis response arrangements (IPCR) in June 2013
- the revision of the EU civil protection legislation at the end of 2013
Engagement with international partners
The security of the European Union is closely linked with the developments in other countries, particularly in the neighbouring states, and so the EU counter-terrorism strategy needs to be on a global scale.
In the strategic guidelines for justice and home affairs, adopted in June 2014, the European Council called for an effective counter-terrorism policy, which integrates the internal and external aspects. On 12 February 2015, the EU heads of state and government stressed the importance for the EU of engaging more with third countries on security issues and counter-terrorism.
In the relations between the EU and third countries, the counter-terrorism agenda is present in many ways, through high level political dialogues, the adoption of cooperation clauses and agreements, or specific assistance and capacity building projects with strategic countries. The EU cooperates on counter-terrorism with countries in the Western Balkans, the Sahel, North Africa, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and North America, as well as in Asia.
Cooperation with the US is a fundamental component of the EU's strategy. In recent years, cooperation agreements have been reached in areas such as the financing of terrorism, transport and borders, mutual legal assistance or extradition. US authorities are working more and more closely with Europol and Eurojust.
Another important part of the external dimension of the fight against terrorism involves working closely with other international and regional organisations to build international consensus and promote international standards for fighting terrorism. The European Union works with international organisations including the UN and the Global Counter Terrorism Forum, and regional organisations such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the League of Arab States or the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation.
As part of its cooperation with the UN, and following a number of UN Security Council resolutions, the EU has adopted certain restrictive measures against persons or entities associated with the Al-Qaeda network.
Following the terrorist attacks in Madrid on 11 March 2004, the European Council adopted a declaration on combating terrorism. Among the measures included in this declaration was the establishment of the position of a Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.
On 19 September 2007, then EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, appointed Gilles de Kerchove as EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.
In this function, he is in charge of:
- coordinating the work of the Council in combating terrorism
- presenting policy recommendations and proposing priority areas for action to the Council, based on threat analysis and reports produced by the EU Intelligence Analysis Centre and Europol
- closely monitoring the implementation of the EU counter-terrorism strategy
- maintaining an overview of all the instruments at the European Union's disposal, to regularly report to the Council and effectively follow up Council decisions
- coordinating with the relevant preparatory bodies of the Council, the Commission and the EEAS and sharing information with them on his activities
- ensuring the EU plays an active role in the fight against terrorism
- improving communication between the EU and third countries in this area
In the strategic guidelines for justice and home affairs (June 2014) the European Council reaffirmed the importance of the role of the counter-terrorism coordinator.
Most recent areas of activity
Monitoring of existing tools
The Counter-Terrorism Coordinator regularly presents to the Council reports on the functioning and implementation of the existent counter-terrorism tools at EU level. Following the statement of EU leaders on counter terrorism on 12 February 2015, he has regularly presented reports to the Council on the state of play of implementation.
Statement by Gilles de Kerchove on EU response after Paris attacks, 12 January 2015.
- State of play of implementation of agreed measures, 4 March 2016
- State of play of implementation of the statement of the members of the European Council of 12 February 2015 on counter-terrorism, 30 November 2015
- Follow up to the statement of EU leaders on counter terrorism: state of play on implementation of measures, 5 October 2015
- Fight against terrorism: implementation of short-term actions, 5 October 2015
- Follow up to the statement of EU leaders on counter terrorism: report on implementation of measures, 10 June 2015
Tackling online extremism
The fight against online extremism is a key theme for 2017. In March 2017, the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator travelled to Silicon Valley with the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos. He attended meetings with senior representatives from the IT industry to discuss how to tackle online extremism.
In December 2016, the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator attended a ministerial meeting of the EU Internet Forum. As an outcome of the meeting, the industry decided to create a shared database to help identify potential terrorist content on social media and prevent its reappearance on other platforms.
Foreign fighters and returnees
The Counter-Terrorism Coordinator regularly briefs the Council on the issue of foreign fighters and returnees, with particular regard to those travelling to Syria and Iraq.
He also submits progress reports to the Council on the implementation of measures agreed by the ministers, as well as proposals for future work. In addition, he meets with authorities from third countries and international institutions to discuss the threat and identify possible areas of cooperation.
Following recent terrorist attacks in Europe, the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator has taken part in the discussions on enhancing the EU's counter terrorism response, both from an internal and from an external perspective.
In March 2017, the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator attended an international conference in Malta to discuss the threat from returning foreign terrorist fighters. He spoke to senior officials from across the EU and north Africa, highlighting the need for greater information exchange in order to tackle threat from returnees.
- Response to foreign terrorist fighters and recent terrorist attacks in Europe (background information)
As part of his role of fostering better communication between the EU and third countries in the area of counter-terrorism, the coordinator participates in dialogues with government officials and other stakeholders. To this end, Gilles de Kerchove has travelled to several countries to engage in high level political dialogues and speak with experts, policy makers and civil society. He has also examined possibilities for further cooperation and counter-terrorism capacity building, and attended and spoken at conferences.
In early March 2017, the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator led a senior delegation from member states for an exchange of views with the Lebanese government. They discussed how to design an effective national counter-terrorism strategy. The outcome was a joint declaration between the EU and Lebanon which commits both sides to intensifying their cooperation in the pursuit of a national counterterrorism strategy for Lebanon.
In 2016, the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator led efforts to develop stronger partnerships on counter-terrorism with a number of countries. Highlights of the year included a counter-terrorism workshop in Jordan in early 2016. The outcome was a joint declaration which committed both sides to stronger cooperation in fields such as countering violent extremism, terrorist finance and border security.
In June 2016, the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator led a counter-terrorism dialogue with a senior delegation from the Turkish government in Ankara. Both sides agreed to intensify cooperation on information exchange in order to tackle threat from foreign terrorist fighters.