European and national parliamentarians, and judges, last week called for more joint European Union action on counter-terrorism and justice, saying the very foundation of survival was being threatened, but that civil liberties and terrorist suspects rights must be protected too.

In debates before European inter-parliamentary meetings on freedom, justice, and security, they argued for more use of qualified majority voting and co-decision with the European Parliament as a way to make progress on home affairs issues, and said civil liberties must be protected.

MEP Jaime Mayor Oreja of Spain said when it comes to tackling terrorism, “We need a political role for the European Union.” At the same time, he argued, each strand of terrorism required a different political approach – whether we are talking about “totalitarian Islamic terrorism” or other types of terrorism: “If we don’t know who we are facing, we will end up with a crisis, he said.

EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator Gijs de Vries stressed that Europe’s purpose in fighting terrorism was to defend its citizens’ liberties, chief among them their right to live. “In defending these rights, we must also uphold the very principles we have pledged to defend,” he said.

Referring to the terrorism spread by fundamentalist Muslims and a backlash against law-abiding Muslims in EU countries, he said the right to privacy and respect for prisoners rights had to be abided.

“Suspects in the fight against terrorism are entitled to basic standards of treatment (…) under no circumstances can secret prisons be condoned in the fight against terrorism” – nor could torture, cruel or degrading treatment, or extraordinary renditions. Keeping to such principles, he said, is “fundamental in our fight against terrorism,” he said.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Martin Scheinin said there had to be a balance between security and protection of fundamental rights.

He said there could not be secret or arbitrary detention. Efforts at fighting terrorism through such means “will fail, because they compromise the moral foundation of civilisation and of the state itself,” he said.

Sandro Gozi, a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, said Europe was confronted with a complex situation “In which the most serious threat comes from populism, (…) which feeds on fear, widespread fear, and the growing demand for security from our citizens.”

Speaking of the “absence of a common approach to human rights” – the EU approach to data protection being Gozi argued it was “necessary to enhance the role of the national parliaments which should be more closely involved in the drafting of counterterrorism strategies agreed at the European level.”

Although it was only “tiny groups” within Islam which were giving rise to problems, Peter Eckstein Kovacs, president of the Romanian Senate’s Legal Affairs Committee said, “We should be concentrating on the religious dimension of terror.” But Aydin Dumanolu, co-president of the EU-Turkey parliamentary commission, said “It would be wrong to identify terrorism with any culture, religion or civilisation.”

EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security Franco Frattini, said, “We need to respond with the strength of democracy,” and said Europe would have to learn to tackle “violent radicalisation and terrorist recruitment,” to prevent terrorists from taking advantage of the internet, to attack the roots of terrorism and reconcile a “serious” repatriation policy with a guarantee no fundamental rights are violated.