Blog AnalysisPolice Terrorism

Faced with terrorism, the European response is too slow (analysis)

The minute of silence in the European institutions after the Paris attacks of November 13 (Credit: CUE)
The minute of silence in the European institutions after the Paris attacks of November 13 (Credit: CUE)

(B2) The events throughout 2015 in Paris, Copenhagen, Sousse and Bamako - and in March in Brussels - reflected a certain difficulty in European institutions in understanding crises and responding to them quickly. However, the threat was known and identified. But it took several rounds of attacks to lead to both awareness and practical action (part 1). Both structural (part 2) and cyclical (part 3) causes explain this delay. It was only after the Paris attacks of November 13 that the European reaction was more adapted (part 4). – NB: an analysis note produced for a collective work Daesh and the terrorist threat: from the Middle East to Europe (FEPS)

  1. A known threat if not identified

Repeated warnings

For several months, even several years, there has been no shortage of warnings, particularly on the risk of foreign or European fighters, launched by the intelligence services, relayed regularly by the European Coordinator of the fight against terrorism, Gilles de Kerchove. Several ministers (Belgian, Dutch, French in particular) had also sounded the alarm. The list of measures to be taken was fairly well known and defined. But awareness has been very slow at European level. Political attention was focused elsewhere: the eurozone crisis, European elections, then the migrant and refugee crisis, the border crisis and the political crisis. It took more than one attack to provoke a reaction.

An alert, a warning shot, an electric shock

The first alert came in May 2014, with the attack at the Jewish museum in Brussels. Without provoking big reactions. Europe then turned in on itself, the holding of European elections, the establishment of new management in the various institutions, the critical management of the Euro Zone... explain this atony, doubled by the toll (4 deaths ) which seems unimportant. The attacks in Paris and Copenhagen at the beginning of 2015 were therefore a real shock, a warning shot. After the first reactions, which were a little disjointed, several decisions were made. But they are more about intention. Here again, Europeans' attention is lost... The refugee and migrant crisis, drownings in the Mediterranean, the forced crossing of borders are forcing Europe to focus its gaze elsewhere. The attack in Paris at the Bataclan and surrounding areas, in November 2015, will then sound like a new brutal awakening, a feeling of obligation to action. The measurements then accelerate more quickly…

  1. The structural causes of a lack of rapid reaction

First element: terrorism is, above all, a state prerogative.

It is an obvious element. Terrorism is not part of Community competence. At least that is the argument often used to justify a certain European paralysis. In fact, the presupposition is not entirely correct. The EU Treaty, revisited in Lisbon, even provides for a number of powers and instruments. Lread our sheet: EU competences in the fight against terrorism

Second element, more real: the European economic crisis

The economic crisis has inevitably led to a withdrawal into oneself, a reduction in national means. And, contrary to the forecasts of some observers, lower budgets do not lead to better cooperation, the logic of "I pool if I have less" results rather in the opposite effect "the less I have, the less I can and I want to share”. This translates in particular into a drop in the resources (financial, human) allocated to intelligence.

Third element, a little taboo: the slowing down of the community machine

Added to this is a more institutional element. The policy of José-Manuel Barroso at the head of the European Commission - and to a lesser extent of the High Representative of the EU, the British Catherine Ashton, on the external aspect -, during the years 2009-2014, encouraged a slowing down of the Community harmonizing machine. The key is given back to the Member States. The European Commission's capacity for initiative and its readiness to anticipate legislation is at a standstill. The time has come to “legislate at least”, to impact studies. Arrived at the head of the Commission at the end of 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker does not have quite the same point of view. But ten years of slowdown have stiffened the machine.

Fourth element, often less highlighted: the lack of political unity

Enlargement has also inevitably led to a certain dilution of the threat. For the dozen countries joining the Union, terrorism is not really a threat. None of the new Member States has really experienced the different waves of European-style terrorism, either national (IRA, ETA, Corsica), or ideological (Baader gang, Direct Action, CCC, etc.), or “imported” (Palestinian, Armenian, Algerian, Iranian, etc.). Under Soviet rule, the leaders of these states even supported them more or less. The notion of risk and crisis management has also faded over time.

A disarmed and not really united Europe

In January 2015, when the first Charlie Hebdo attacks occurred in Paris, Europe was not only disarmed, it was not really united on this phenomenon, as it was during the wave of attacks in 2001-2004. The reaction of the Latvian Prime Minister who holds the presidency of the European Union bears witness to this. In an exchange with journalists, Laimdota Straujuma even mixes the fight against terrorism, a new strategy on immigration (legal or illegal), speaks of "clash of religions" " that fortunately in Latvia we do not have ". Impliedly, what happens in France is somewhat the fault of immigration … and of France. Latvia is not concerned.

  1. The economic causes of this slowness

In a more circumstantial way, we can note two main elements that have delayed awareness.

First element: a lack of significant political impetus

No special meeting of Heads of State and Government was convened after the shock of the Paris attacks (1). Which is a first in the short history of the response to European terrorism. After the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon in 2001, an exceptional summit of Heads of State was convened by the Belgian Presidency of the EU for September 21, ten days later. After the attacks in Madrid in March 2004, there was no need for an extraordinary meeting. A summit was already scheduled for March 25, 2004, barely two weeks. Under the Irish Presidency of the EU, the European Union then adopted a comprehensive declaration (18 pages) with an action plan. Various measures are taken (2). During the attacks in London on July 7, 2005, an exceptional meeting of interior ministers sufficed. It is convened for July 13, 2005 in Brussels by the British Presidency of the EU. That's barely a week. All this will be put on hold a few years later. " Terrorism is no longer on the radar of the European Union recognizes a European expert on the subject.

In 2015, the reaction was much slower and more dispersed. If the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, decides to shake up the agenda of the meeting of Foreign Ministers, scheduled 10 days after the attacks, on January 19, this is the only response from emergency. Latvia, which holds the presidency of the EU, prefers to temporize. The subject is on the agenda of the informal meeting of interior and justice ministers on 29 and 30 January in Riga. While the Polish Donald Tusk, who holds the permanent presidency of the European Council, prefers to use the meeting, already scheduled on the calendar, February 12 - to " discuss how to respond to challenges ". Or a month later. The meeting results in a declaration providing for a series of measures to be designed or approved. But it already seems a bit late.

Second element: The crisis of migrants and borders

The migrant crisis has begun. It peaks from April and turns into a political crisis in the summer. The center of gravity shifts from the center of the Mediterranean (Italy-Libya) to the East (Greece-Turkey), from the sea to the land. The frontline countries (Italy, Greece, Malta) are no longer the only ones concerned. In turn, the countries of central Europe (Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Germany) and of the north (Denmark, Sweden, Finland) are affected and seek to protect their borders. And they are desperately looking for solutions, seeking to solicit neighboring countries (Turkey, Africa, etc.) to ensure the protection of their borders. The Schengen area is threatened.

Third, consequence of the first two: Few concrete measures to discuss

The lack of political impetus like the arrival of the migrant crisis has a lasting impact on the pace at which decisions are implemented. When, in April 2015, the European Commission presented a new Security Agenda, largely devoted to terrorism, attention was already focused elsewhere. Of course, it nevertheless takes up some of the recommendations of the EU anti-terrorism coordinator, with nine flagship measures: definition of terrorism, strengthening of Europol, establishment of a European PNR file, definition of risk indicators, strengthening of deradicalization, criminal cooperation, exchange of information, fight against arms trafficking. But it will still take many months before putting it into practice.

In June, Europeans were mainly divided over the response to migration and relocation plans. The meeting of Interior Ministers then simply “took note” of the new Security Agenda and discussed the subject again… in October. Come autumn, ministers still have no concrete proposals to discuss. Conclusions are adopted to strengthen the fight against firearms trafficking. And the appointment is made for December…

Fourth element: the absence of a sense of urgency           

A feeling summed up very well by Michel Sapin, the French Minister of Finance, speaking to the European press in early 2016. In January 2015, there was (was) a horrible attack. We make proposals. These proposals are examined. November comes. There is an even stronger drama, more important still. » We realize that « Au European and international level, the decisions have not been taken. It's not acceptable ! ". And to question a certain operation that is too bureaucratic for his taste. " Everyone can have good reasons for taking the time to assess, to carry out impact studies, etc. But there comes a time when it all comes down to urgency. »

  1. At the end of 2015, beginning of 2016, the European response is being put in place

Indeed, it will take the attacks of 13 November for Europe to finally take stock of the events and consider the fight against terrorism as a matter of absolute urgency. In a few weeks, almost all the measures, planned and prepared during these long months, are presented.

A request for national solidarity

France decides to activate the solidarity clause of article 42.7, the European counterpart of article 5 of the Atlantic Alliance. A political revolution. All the Defense Ministers, gathered for their ordinary meeting on November 17, assure their French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, of their full solidarity. But no real European consultation or European coordination has been initiated. Paris does not want it. The Europeans do not insist. The request for solidarity will not, however, produce the expected effects in terms of European defense (Read: The French demand for solidarity: a semi-flop). France having wished for a minimum involvement of the European institutions and preferring to manage the question bilaterally. But it has the effect of catalyzing other decisions internally.

A political impetus

A special meeting of the Ministers of the Interior and of Justice was also convened barely a week after the attacks, on November 20, by Luxembourg, which took over the torch of the Luxembourg presidency of the EU. She affirms the need to accelerate the implementation of decisions announced on February 12. For the coordinator of the fight against terrorism, Gilles de Kerchove, the question of the creation of a European CIA mentioned by certain ministers or European officials does not however arise. " The intelligence services are already cooperating enormously. It's more a question of resources. », and legislative framework.

The pace of proposals is accelerating

The European Commission has moved up a gear. Some texts are already ready. On November 18, she therefore proposed a stricter framework on the possession of firearms, which aims in particular to strengthen control over “neutralized” weapons. On December 2, she proposed a European definition for foreign fighters and presented an “action plan” to deal with the illegal trafficking of firearms and explosives. Two days later, a political agreement was finally reached by the European legislator on the European file for recording air passenger data. The European PNR is emerging. The ministers also confirmed the agreement reached with the European Parliament on the strengthening of the Europol agency. On December 15, the European Commission presented a proposal to revise the Schengen Borders Code to introduce systematic border controls.

After the Christmas break, the legislative rhythm resumes. On January 19, the European executive presented the first part of a new package, aimed at completing European legislation in criminal and anti-terrorism matters. She proposes integrating foreigners into the criminal record exchange system. And on February 2, she presented an action plan, listing around ten measures to be adopted during the year to block the financing of terrorism.

Conclusion: a step to be taken at the level of political coordination

If speed is never a good adviser on questions of civil liberties, it has, in European matters, a virtue: to take advantage of the political opportunity to bring about decisions that would have no chance, except in times of crisis of succeed. It is in critical moments, paradoxically, that Europe is the best and can move forward. By having lost sight of this axiom, certain European leaders have wasted precious months in the fight against terrorism. We will have to draw lessons from this and, perhaps, provide the European structure not with a new institution but with a system of the type "restricted security council" or European "Cobra", making it possible to bring together, as a matter of urgency, the various officials concerned (President of the Commission, High Representative, President of the European Council, Commissioners for Home Affairs and Justice, Anti-Terrorism Coordinator, Head of Intelligence Analysis Cell IntCen).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Lire: No. 32. Europe facing a new wave of terrorism (update6)

(1) A meeting of the European Council has two very political objectives. One is symbolic. It makes it possible to show European unity, to symbolize solidarity in the eyes of European citizens and the rest of the world. The other is more concrete: it stimulates and accelerates the pace of decision-making by other structures at national and European level (Commission, Council of Ministers, Parliament).

(2) Legislation is put in place: a common definition of a terrorist act, first measures against the financing of terrorism, the implementation of deradicalization actions, etc. A “situation center” (SitCen) is created , within the Council of the EU, to informally ensure the exchange and analysis of information.

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).