To stop the defamation of the Jewish people... to secure justice and fair treatment to all

Sign Up For One Of Our Newsletters
Help ADL Fight Terrorism

Contribute to ADL

Terrorism: The European Union Response

Posted: June, 2004

When Islamic extremist terrorism hit European soil with the March 2004 Madrid rail bombings, a new sense of urgency prompted greater Europe-wide cooperative counterterrorism efforts.

The European Union in fact had already begun to tackle seriously the issue of international terrorism after the September 11th World Trade Center attacks and passed several significant anti-terrorism measures. Many of these new provisions, however, were not implemented by individual EU nations. Meanwhile, the ongoing discovery of diffuse and multilayered Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-linked terror cells across Europe made enhanced intra-European and European-U.S. cooperation an increasing necessity.

The recently expanded 25-nation European Union faces formidable challenges on the counterterrorism front. The porous borders among EU member states, for example, impede law enforcement authorities trying terrorist goods across Europe. In addition, political issues and the practical problems of diverse legal and bureaucratic regulations and differing languages and cultures make it difficult for the EU to streamline the law enforcement and domestic and foreign intelligence agencies of all member states into an efficient, cohesive and effective counterterrorist instrument.

Counterterrorism Post-September 11th

Following September 11th, the EU took a number of steps to increase its counterterrorism capabilities. Most significantly, the EU adopted a common definition of terrorism, a European Arrest Warrant and a list of terrorist organizations.

The EU “Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on combating terrorism” seeks to ensure that the definition of terrorist crimes is similar across the Union and sets common minimum and maximum penalties for terrorist crimes. Before the framework decision was adopted, only seven EU countries had specific laws to fight terrorism and those laws varied from country to country.

According to the framework, a “terrorist act” is one that “may seriously damage a country or an international organization” when the objective is: “(1) seriously intimidating a population, or (2) unduly compelling a Government or international organization to perform or abstain from performing any act, or (3) seriously destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or international organization.”

Acts that are deemed terrorist offenses include: killing and wounding people, kidnapping, hostage-taking, attacks on government and public facilities and infrastructure, hijacking aircraft, ships or other means of public or goods transport, acquiring or using explosives or weapons of mass destruction, interfering with fundamental natural resources, and threatening to commit any of the above acts. Directing a terrorist group and participating in the activities of a terrorist group “with knowledge of the fact that such participation will contribute to the criminal activities of the group” are also punishable offenses.

The European Arrest Warrant provides for simplified surrender procedures between judicial authorities of member states, based upon the principle of mutual recognition of judicial decisions. An arrest warrant issued in one country is now valid in all other EU nations. The measure was adopted in order to ensure that individuals wanted for terrorism in one country could not continue to operate in other European countries.

Regarding terrorist organizations, at this writing, the EU has a list of 25 designated foreign terrorist organizations. Member states are required to freeze assets of the organizations and members of the banned groups are subject to prosecution on terrorism charges. The list includes several Palestinian groups, Greek organizations, Irish groups, and the Basque separatist group ETA. Recent additions to the list include the political wing of Hamas and Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN). Noticeably absent from the list of terrorist organizations is the south Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

In the area of law enforcement cooperation, the EU created joint police investigation teams across the bloc, a special Europol (Europe’s police agency) anti-terrorism unit charged with collecting, sharing and analyzing information concerning international terrorism and Eurojust, a coordinating body between member states’ law enforcement agencies. The EU’s Terrorist Working Group (TWG) assesses the terrorist threat every six months, keeps an updated common list identifying the most significant terrorist organizations, and defines new cooperation instruments. The EU Police Chiefs Task Force and the heads of the EU Counter Terrorist Units meet regularly to exchange information and experiences.

Counterterrorism Post-Madrid

Following the Madrid attacks, the European Commission issued an “action paper in response to the terrorist attacks on Madrid.” The paper included a “Declaration on Solidarity Against Terrorism,” and called for “Better implementation of existing legislative instruments relevant to the fight against terrorism, and adoption of draft measures already on the Council table, strengthening the fight against terrorist financing, and enhanced operational coordination and cooperation.”

The solidarity declaration calls on member states to act jointly if a member state is the victim of a terrorist attack. It states that the “Union shall mobilize all the instruments at its disposal to: prevent the terrorist threat in the territory of the Member States; protect democratic institutions and the civilian population from any terrorist attack; assist a Member State in its territory at the request of its political authorities in the event of a terrorist attack.”

Regarding implementation of existing legislative instruments, the Commission urged those EU members who have not yet incorporated the European Arrest Warrant into their national law to do so; it called on those states that have not yet fully reported on the implementation of the Framework Decision on the fight against terrorism to do so; called on member states to provide completed information regarding steps taken to identify, trace, freeze and seize terrorist funds; called on member states to notify measures taken to implement joint investigation teams, and other specific measures for police and judicial cooperation; and to implement existing legislation on maritime and aviation security.

Regarding draft measures already on the Council table, the Commission called for the adoption of the Draft Framework Decisions on the confiscation of crime-related proceeds, instrumentalities and property; on attacks against information systems; and on the European Evidence Warrant. The Commission said that it would soon initiate legislation on cross-border hot pursuit. Regarding measures to strengthen legislation controls on terrorist financing, the Commission called on member states to make the list of designated terrorist organizations operational and “reactive on a real time basis.” In order to facilitate the application of freezing measures decided by the Union, an electronic database of all targeted persons and entities will be operational in the summer of 2004. The Commission also announced that it will soon propose the establishment of a European Register on convictions — a database of persons, groups and entities covered by restrictive measures for the fight against terrorism or under criminal proceedings for terrorist offenses and systems — thus allowing holders of bank accounts to be identified.

In the area of enhancing operational coordination and cooperation, the Commission proposed the following:

  • the creation of a new coordination mechanism for the exchange of information where law enforcement, judicial authorities and intelligence services would meet to enhance mutual trust and exchange operational intelligence
  • discussions and a proposal outlining an EU approach to the use of travelersf data for border and aviation security and other law enforcement purposes
  • comprehensive and interoperable European Information Systems, traceability and control of the weapons of terror and precursors
  • strengthening the identification, control and interception of illegal trafficking in materials of weapons of mass destruction
  • ratification of the Protocol to the United Nations Transnational Organized Crime Convention on trafficking of illegal firearms
  • the consideration of mandatory fingerprinting on EU passports, identity cards and other travel documents
  • strengthening Europol, Eurojust and the Task Force of EU Police Chiefs

The EU also created the position of a European Counterterrorism Coordinator and appointed former Dutch deputy interior minister Gijs de Vries to fill the post. The coordinator is charged with presenting proposals aimed at better organizing and streamlining the work of the EU secretariat on the fight against terrorism; preparing proposals for better coordination among specialist EU councils and preparatory bodies on security issues; and maintaining regular contacts with member states to ensure the best coordination between EU and national action.

The reaction in Europe to the creation of this new post has been mixed, with many observers citing the potential for ineffectiveness if the coordinator does not receive the full support of all EU member states and the necessary financial and intelligence resources to fulfill his responsibilities. U.S.–European Cooperation

The U.S. and Europe share a commitment to combating international terrorism. In recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on European Affairs, State Department Counterterrorism coordinator Ambassador J. Cofer Black said, “Europeans have been reliable partners, both bilaterally and in multilateral organizations. Cooperation has been forthcoming, and rapid response to immediate threats the norm.” In the wake of both September 11th and March 11th, the U.S.-EU political dialogue on the issue of terrorism deepened with European and American officials meeting regularly to share intelligence and other information and find ways to enhance antiterrorist cooperation.

On the concrete level, the U.S. and Europol have concluded several cooperation agreements that enable the exchange of data on terrorism and terrorists between law enforcement authorities. In June 2003, at the U.S.-EU Summit in Washington, Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance Agreements were signed, expanding law enforcement and judicial cooperation. In April 2004, the EU and the Department of Homeland Security signed an agreement calling for the prompt expansion of the Container Security Initiative (CSI) throughout Europe, thus enhancing efforts to prevent terrorists from exploiting the international trading system. The agreement will also intensify and broaden Customs cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters between the two blocs.

America and Europe: Differing Approaches Toward Counterterrorism

As discussed above, there is a great deal of significant and ongoing transatlantic counterterrorist cooperation. On the other hand, the U.S. and Europe do have differing outlooks and approaches toward combating the terrorist threat. Depending on the context and circumstances, these differences have impeded and may continue to hinder various aspects of American-European cooperation.

First, Europe views terrorism primarily as a law enforcement issue, whereas the U.S. views it as a military issue as well. Europeans do not generally see military action as the most effective tool in fighting terror. A European official in Washington was recently quoted as saying: “We have always had a different definition of terrorism, in that we never call it a ‘war’ on terrorism.We call it the fight or battle against terrorism, and we do think the distinction makes a difference.”

Secondly, Europeans tend to view terrorism as a problem with “root causes” that need to be addressed. In the European worldview, poverty, inequality, and the Arab-Israeli conflict fuel suicide bombings and other forms of terrorist violence. Along these lines, the EU had refused to list the political wing of Hamas on its list of banned terrorist organizations arguing that Hamas’ military and political wings could be separated, the political wing funds vital social services for Palestinians, and that the political wing could potentially play a role in Middle East peace efforts. In September 2003, several weeks after a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem killed 23 people, the EU acknowledged the connection between Hamas’ military and political wings and listed Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Thirdly, the European Union believes that governmental action against international terrorism requires the legitimacy of a multilateral framework and thus tends to look more to the United Nations and other international and regional bodies for leadership on this front than would the U.S.

e-mail icon
Related Articles
Chronology of Recent Terrorist Attacks In Israel
Terrorism Update: Recent Features

Terrorism Update: Past Issues (.pdf)
Palestinian Terrorists and Their Supporters:
• Hamas
• Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
• Islamic Jihad
• Musa Abu Marzuq
• ;Holy Land Foundation
Get Latest Print Edition of Terrorism Update -- .pdf format
Most recent print edition of
Terrorism Update

.pdf format
requires Adobe Reader
Home | Search | About ADL | Contact ADL | Privacy Policy

© 2004 Anti-Defamation League