How the EU’s counter-terrorism policy can be improved

Published 20 March 2017

A new study commissioned by the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament, and executed by PwC and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT) analyses the coherence and effectiveness of the European Union’s counter-terrorism policy. Several Asser researchers contributed to the study.

Mapping out the EU policy architecture of the counter-terrorism policies, the study shows a picture of a plethora of various issue-specific policies that partly overlap, and mostly miss the strategic guidance of an overall policy strategy. According to the researchers, the cross-border aspect of the threat of terrorism, however, makes it very urgent that Member States within the EU work closely together in stopping and containing this threat. The study moreover shows that the policies are very often adopted without first conducting a proper needs assessment, or impact assessment, and risk undermining the respect for fundamental rights, and the principle of oversight.

Degree of international cooperation
The study focuses on seven Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Spain) and offers a total of 22 policy recommendations to improve the relevance, coherence and effectiveness of the EU counter-terrorism policies.

This study’s focus is inter alia on the issue of data exchange, police and judicial cooperation, and border control. Although many EU instruments and mechanisms for data exchange and police and judicial cooperation are in place, and an increase in the use of such instruments and mechanisms can be observed, practitioners interviewed for this study still seem to prefer making use of their bilateral trusted contacts for international cooperation. The study recommends that the EU should also invest in the tools it already has in place and connect the different stakeholders and dots, such as the crime-terror nexus. The EU should prefer evidence-based policy and law-making, involvement of citizens and stakeholders and transparency throughout the process. This implies quality over quantity, meaning for example that it should improve data exchange rather than support the collection of more data.

Crisis driven instead of structural insight
A long term trend analysis, assessment of the current state of affairs of the terrorist threat and the outcome of a future forecast exercise indicate that the terrorist threat in the EU is very likely to increase over the next coming five years. This is related to the expected increase in returning foreign fighters from the battlefield of Syria and Iraq. In addition, the diversification of the modus operandi used by terrorists, targets chosen, level of organisation of the perpetrators and weapons chosen, especially with the trend of weaponisation of ordinary life, make the lives of security authorities even more challenging.

These kinds of long term analyses are however not executed by the EU on a structural basis. On the contrary, the EU appears to be rather crisis driven, and its response mostly adopted on an ad hoc basis, without an overarching strategic guidance in place. To improve this dynamic, there is need for structural future foresight studies to better inform the policy making, as well as regular updates of an EU-wide cross-sectoral terrorist threat assessment. In addition, the implementation of existing policies are very rarely monitored as to their impact, nor the overall effectiveness evaluated. This not only undermines the potential effectiveness of the policies but also their legitimacy.

Who’s driving?
A key question is who is supposed to be driving the EU counterterrorism policy agenda. Mapping out all the relevant actors and their various mandates and focus areas shows a very crowded market place, without a clear leader of the pack, unless this role will in the future be played by the last year appointed new Commissioner on the Security Union.

Several Asser researchers, namely Christophe Paulussen, Wybe Douma, Bérénice Boutin and Onur Güven, as well as Asser interns Olivier Van Geel, Geneviève Girard and Caroline Toussaint, contributed to this PwC-ICCT study.

Read the full study on the coherence and effectiveness of the European Union’s counter-terrorism policy.