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Tackling terrorism

Julian King | Updated :

Terrorists do not sit still, and nor should we. As we crack down on one form of terror, they find others to pursue. They adapt to changing technology and changing trends, and so should we.

Over recent days, Europe has once again been struck by terror; in Barcelona and Cambrils, Spain, and Turku, Finland, attacks have killed and injured citizens from across the continent and across the world. Those sad events remind us that, today, no corner of Europe is immune, no country unaffected.

By whatever means they are pursued, there is nothing noble in these acts of cowardice. There can be no justification for such murder and violence. Faced with these threats, citizens – rightly – expect us to do more than just condemn after the fact.

Maintaining people’s security is a primary role of any government; and it is certainly a priority of the current European Commission too. We cannot promise that such attacks will not occur again; I wish we could, but in this – as in other areas – there is no such thing as “zero risk”. What we can do is make it harder and harder for those who would seek to perpetrate murder and atrocity.

Terrorists need weapons. New EU laws, agreed earlier this year, restrict gun ownership, closing loopholes that were so tragically exploited nearly two years ago in Paris; meanwhile, we continue to intensify our fight against illegal trafficking through routes like the Balkans. And we’ve tightened controls around the materials used to build homemade explosives.

Terrorists need money. Last December we proposed new ways to combat money laundering, to tighten controls on illicit cash movements, and to freeze and confiscate the assets of suspected or convicted criminals and terrorists. And terrorists need to move.

We are making it harder for them to do so. Since last April, anyone seeking to enter or leave the EU’s Schengen zone faces new security checks. Countries will share information about those flying to, from or within Europe, under new EU rules on passenger name records agreed in April 2016 – even if many EU countries still need to get moving to implement those rules. Under our proposals for a European travel information and authorisation system, those hoping to visit the EU would have to undergo checks before even setting foot on European soil.

Finally, we are working to improve how Europe’s different law enforcement information and data bases talk to each other, making it harder for terrorists to assume different identities in different countries, or otherwise slip through the cracks. Terrorists do not sit still, and nor should we. As we crack down on one form of terror, they find others to pursue. They adapt to changing technology and changing trends, and so should we.

So we also take upstream action to tackle radicalisation. EU networks help national practitioners learn from each other and support those on the front line challenging radicalisation in our communities. The European internet forum, grouping internet companies and national authorities, tackles radicalisation online.

Around 90 per cent of the terrorist content identified by Europol gets taken offline and we’re working with the internet companies to make detection more automatic. Toughened EU antiterror laws mean those travelling to Syria to fight for Isis, or those receiving terrorist training, face criminal prosecution. The Commission is working with national and local authorities to identify and spread the best practice in protecting so called “soft targets”, such as public spaces, airports, stations, schools or hospitals. In September, I will be meeting city leaders from across the EuroMediterranean region, who are gathering in Nice to reinforce their efforts to tackle radicalisation and protect their citizens. This is not the first time Europe has faced a terror threat.

In recent decades we have seen the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Red Brigades, ETA and the IRA. But today’s threat is more global. It targets our European way of life, seeks to divide our communities, and undermine our values. When it comes to security, national authorities remain the first line of responsibility, and the first line of defence.

But the EU can and does provide significant support: improving information sharing on potential threats, boosting cooperation, and cutting the space available for terrorism to thrive and spread. When terrorism strikes, citizens across Europe rise up to show their compassion for victims, and their revulsion at the attackers’ nihilistic worldview: Je Suis Paris, I Am London, No tinc por. We need to show that same solidarity and determination, redoubling our efforts at local, national and European level to defeat those who seek to do us harm.

(Julian King is the European Commissioner for the Security Union The Independent)