A counter-terrorism agenda for the EU: anticipate, prevent, protect and respond

In December 2020, the  European Commission presented a new Counter-Terrorism Agenda to the European Parliament, the European Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions.

The recent spate of attacks on European soil have served as a sharp reminder that terrorism remains a real and present danger. As this threat evolves, so too must our cooperation to counter it. The transnational nature of terrorist networks requires a strong collective approach at EU level, one that safeguards and upholds our pluralistic society, common values and our European way of life. Citizens have the right to feel safe in their own homes and streets, as well as on the internet. The EU has a key role to play in helping to deliver that security.

The EU remains on terrorist alert. The jihadist threat from or inspired by Daesh, al-Qaeda and their affiliates persists. Threats from violent right and left-wing extremists are on the rise. The nature of attacks is also shifting. The vast majority of recent attacks were carried out by individuals acting alone – often with limited preparation and readily available weaponry – targeting densely crowded or highly symbolic spaces. While single actor attacks are likely to remain prevalent, more sophisticated attacks cannot be excluded. The EU also needs to be prepared for threats from new and emerging technologies, such as the malicious use of drones, artificial intelligence and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material. The spread of radical ideologies and of terrorist guidance material accelerates through the use of online propaganda, with the use of social media often becoming an integral part of the attack itself.

Firstly, we need to be able to better anticipate existing and emerging threats in Europe. Information sharing and a culture of cooperation that is multi-disciplinary and multi-level remain key for a solid threat assessment that can form the basis of a future-proof counter-terrorism policy.

Secondly, we need to work to prevent attacks from occurring, by addressing and better countering radicalisation and extremist ideologies before they take root, making clear that respect for the European way of life, its democratic values and all it represents is not optional. This Agenda sets out ways of supporting local actors and building more resilient communities as a matter of priority, in close coordination with Member States, taking into account that some attacks have also been carried out by Europeans.

Thirdly, to effectively protect Europeans, we need to continue to reduce vulnerabilities, be it in public spaces or for the critical infrastructures that are essential for the functioning of our societies and economy. It is essential to modernise the management of the EU’s external borders through new and upgraded large-scale EU information systems, with reinforced support by Frontex, and ensure systematic checks at the EU’s external borders. This is necessary to close what would otherwise be a security gap when it comes to returning foreign terrorist fighters.

Fourthly, to respond to attacks when they do occur, we need to make the most of the operational support EU Agencies, such as Europol and Eurojust can provide, as well as ensure we have the right legal framework to bring perpetrators to justice and to guarantee that victims get the support and protection they need.

Finally, international engagement across all four pillars of this Agenda, facilitating cooperation and promoting capacity building, is essential to improve security inside the EU.


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