Blog AnalysisPolice Terrorism

Faced with terrorism, Frans Timmermans tempers. We'll talk about it again in May!

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans in a difficult exercise, how to say nothing in the face of a "huge challenge" that is terrorism (credit: CE)
The Vice-President of the Commission, Frans Timmermans in a difficult exercise, how to say nothing in the face of a “huge challenge” that is terrorism (credit: CE)

(BRUSSELS2) Jean-Claude Juncker had promised a very political European Commission. Its commissioners then repeated it in all languages…

Listening to the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, who came specially to report to the press this Wednesday (January 21), on the first discussion that the European Commission had on terrorism (*), we can have some doubts about this desire which is more a matter of good intention than reality…

Timmermans' responses to all concrete questions were very timid, and certainly not up to the challenges that present themselves today in terms of defending freedoms. The Commission has always had difficulty reacting in the event of a crisis, overcoming its own internal quarrels and offering citizens a compromise between the necessary security and the search for freedoms.

Great values…

The First Vice-President responsible for the rule of law certainly made a very beautiful lyrical outburst on the need to keep European values ​​– “tolerance (…), the rule of law, respect for the law”. And a few short sentences: Terrorism “ is an immense challenge facing the European Union ". Space " Schengen is part of the solution and not part of the problem ". We must facilitate the integration of everyone, “ not lose part of the population, and avoid exclusion ". " Everyone, whatever their race, their religion (…) Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists, has their place in society. And the Commission will do what is necessary in the future through all its instruments.” In passing, he echoed the concern of the Jewish community: “ In certain Member States, a majority of the Jewish community is not sure of having a future in Europe, this is an immense challenge to the very foundations of European integration ". A message which strangely resonates as a replica of the message from the Israeli Prime Minister, calling for aliyah for French Jews.

… but few concrete answers

After this introduction, when the time came for concrete questions, Commissioner Timmermans kicked the question every time: he either passed the ball back to the Member States, admitted his ignorance, or answered the question beside the point. A possible position on the withdrawal of travel documents, passports and identity cards from people wanting to fight in Syria or suspected terrorists: “it is the competence of the Member States ". A common position on foreign fighters? “I have no answer to give, I don’t know if there is a common discussion ". The expenditure that the Member States will have to incur and compliance with the Stability Pact: it is up to each State to reflect, “ we have to make choices ". The question of telephone tapping: “a vast question”. Internet surveillance and dialogue: “ I am not aware ". The only slightly concrete point: a possible modification of the position of the European Commission on PNR, the recording of aerial data. As for the European security strategy, it is experiencing a sudden acceleration. Instead of “before summer”, it is promised for the month of May. Oooh…

Member States on the front line

In fact, it seems that the European Commission has decided to leave control and initiative to the Member States on an issue as sensitive as terrorism, even if it means reframing one or two initiatives if necessary. It was, in a way, the “non-message” that Frans Timmermans conveyed politely, intelligently, in all languages ​​as he knows how to do well. This “strategy” is undoubtedly very fine but very difficult to understand in public opinion which, paradoxically, expects a lot from Europe. The Juncker Commission thus falls into the same trap as the Barroso Commission of a Commission that “supports” and not “takes the initiative”. This difficult to understand message from a Commission that claims to be “political” is coupled with a small neighborhood quarrel which ends up confusing the picture.

A slight lack of coordination of European structures

In this meeting, one man was missing, in fact, essential because he is the one who knows the subject best, the coordinator of the anti-terrorist fight, the Belgian Gilles De Kerchove. Of course he is not a member of the Commission. He's just a senior official, reporting to the Council of the EU. That is to say on the other side of the street. “ Why invite him? But he is not a member of the Commission. We had to have a debate within the college » replied someone close to Juncker, somewhat taken aback by this question. However, De Kerchove has knowledge, a perception of what the Member States want, a certain capacity for analysis which would be very useful to the Commission today. He has been following the subject for years. And he " listen a lot » he likes to repeat. And listening to him, there is a lot to do…

What could the Commission do?

Certainly the fight against terrorism is the responsibility, first and foremost, of the Member States, which have control over the police, intelligence, justice - no one disputes this - but there is a series of projects or reflections which could be initiated by the Commission, according to an initial analysis. It has, in fact, several tools, legislative or financial. A (slight) harmonization among 28 of certain practices would therefore not be useless: for example a definition of the European terrorist fighter (often wrongly called “foreign fighter), a modification of the 2001 decision on terrorism, the establishment of channels of exchange, supervision of telephone tapping, more concrete monitoring of financial support for terrorism, etc. A small financial boost to certain structures (such as Europol or the EU delegations in third countries) or to the radicalization network would not be so negligible (a provision provided for by the Treaty in the event of a terrorist alert) .

Implement the UN resolution urgently? …

The European Commission has completely ignored UN Resolution 2178. Wrongly… The United Nations had, in fact, asked its member states “ to apply fully and immediately » and of all « urgency » a set of measures (exchange of air information = PNR, exchange of information at regional level, reinforced border controls, fight against radicalization (details published on the club: Faced with EIIL, the expanded anti-terrorist blacklist. The extensive legislative and police arsenal (UN). This resolution dates from 4 months ago (24 September). What has Europe done since then to apply it?

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)


(*) Two very weak commissioners

The Commission preferred to shelter the main commissioners concerned, starting with the commissioner in charge of Internal Affairs, the Greek Avramopoulos. In the middle of the electoral campaign in Greece, delicate... to send a political leader to the press - who some in Greece predict could return to the country in a few weeks to occupy one position or another. As for the Justice Commissioner, the Czech Vera Jourova, she has completely disappeared from the radar. The political reality is also that the Avramopoulos-Androuvra couple is not really up to par with the previous Malmström-Reding couple who had a verve and knowledge of subjects that the two new commissioners do not have. The Juncker Commission has a weakness: in terms of Justice – Home Affairs. And that's a problem today.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

One thought on “Faced with terrorism, Frans Timmermans tempers. We'll talk about it again in May!"

  • Espinasse

    “Often wrongly referred to as foreign fighters”, I don't quite understand what you mean by that. The French translation “foreign fighters” is also very appropriate… If we follow the works of David MALET and Thomas HEGGHAMMER, the term is perfectly adequate.

    According to the definition of David MALET, “these are citizens who do not belong to the State in which the civil conflict takes place but decide to join the insurgents” (see in this sense, Foreign Fighters, transnational identity in civil conflicts, Oxford press, 2013).

    Thomas HEGGHAMER (see in this sense, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters: Islam and the Globalization of Jihad”, International Security, vol. 35, n°3, 2011) has, for his part, specified this definition according to four criteria : a foreign combatant is an agent who joins and operates in insurgent conflicts (1), is not a national of the state in conflict or has no connection with the factions in conflict (2), is not not a member of an official military organization (3) and is not paid to take part in this conflict (4). This definition therefore excludes mercenaries who are paid and follow the highest bidder, as well as soldiers in general. It also excludes members of exiled diasporas or rebels.

    I therefore find that the term is appropriate even if it is currently under discussion and it is difficult to establish, as you say, a definition at EU level.

    For the rest, we regret, as you said, that there are not more synergies between the Commission and the Council on the problem of terrorism, which requires a global response.

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