Belgium- Brussels : Following the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, the need to improve our anti-terrorist measures is becoming all too obvious. Although most competences to tackle terrorism lie at the national level, the terrorist problem is European and global. Cooperation and coordination at the EU and international levels are therefore essential. The same is true for security and defence in general. The European People’s Party has laid down its ideas on a common foreign policy and internal and external security in its Congress document ‘Protecting the Union and Promoting our values’ adopted at the Madrid Congress.
Terrorism in Europe is to some extent home-grown, a result of radicalisation, but it is also closely related to the ongoing war and conflict in the Middle East. A longstanding lack of problem awareness about jihadism in our midst, insufficient collaboration among the member states, lack of success in the integration of immigrants, and a lack of engagement in the Middle East are some of the factors that need to be urgently addressed.
We must understand better terrorists’ motivations so that we can prevent further attacks. We already know that radicalisation can have different sources. We are dealing with an Islamist, murderous ideology that spreads faster through poverty and social exclusion. The unemployment rate in Molenbeek, the quarter of Brussels where some of the Paris terrorists developed their plans, is one of the highest in Belgium, reaching nearly 30%.
Prevention of radicalisation therefore includes increasing the employment rates among immigrants and their descendants and putting more emphasis on including people from different communities in the political process.
Education is crucial and the fundamental values of our societies need to be emphasised much more strongly in our education systems. Government agencies need to work with Internet companies and social networking platforms to restrict access to, and remove, online terrorist propaganda. And while we need to make a distinction between the ideology of Islamist extremism and the religion of Islam, we have to remind Imams and Muslim communities of their obligation to watch closely what is going on among their youngsters, and cooperate with law enforcement more actively. Foreign-financed Salafist schools and mosques must be examined more closely, on whether they spread anti-Western hatred and calls to violence.
When it comes to security measures, of course we need to intensify our efforts while preserving our liberties, including free speech, personal privacy and free movement inside the Schengen zone. We also need to promote these values more actively among immigrants. We must not tolerate the existence of parallel societies in which the central points of our constitutions are systematically disregarded.
We need better cooperation between the member states in relevant policy areas. Our intelligence services need to get better at exchanging information, so that they can aggregate and analyse relevant data. Governments of the member states need to provide data to, and make better use of databases related to the external border control, including the Schengen Information System and the fingerprinting database Eurodac.
We have to strengthen the use of biometric documents and facial recognition system. We also need to rethink our approach to sharing passenger data on flights inside the EU as well as those between the EU and other countries. The Passenger Name Record (PNR) system, which the EPP has championed for a long time, will be a valuable tool to combat terrorist threats to domestic security. In addition, we need to get better at controlling the trade with firearms, including by improving legislation at the EU level.
On the international level, attention should be paid to the cooperation with the US – and the cooperation with Turkey should be revived, especially in the area of external border control and curbing terrorism financing. We should help the regional coalition fighting against ISIS, mainly Turkey, Jordan, Kurdistan and Lebanon by providing them economic, political and military support.
In order to become a viable international actor, in the Middle East and elsewhere, the EU and its member states need to improve their military capabilities. We have to understand that we will not improve our political and diplomatic clout if we remain militarily as weak as we are at the moment. That means more military spending, better spending (through pooling & sharing), a true military command structure at EU level, and a stronger emphasis on Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), i.e. the ability for coalitions of the willing to plan and carry out military operations – all this in close coordination with NATO, of course. It also means that we have to work on a thorough intensification of cooperation in arms production (through the European Defence Agency, EDA), as well as much enhanced promotion of research and development in Europe’s defence industries.
Hence, we have to improve our capabilities in defence as well as in counterterrorism. We will have to explore new ways to cooperate with our allies in the Middle East, and do more to counter radicalisation at home. But above all, we must fight back without losing our freedom, our optimism and our joie de vivre.