The External Dimensions of EU Counter-Terrorism Policy

Date: 22 February 2013
Venue: Fondation Universitaire, Rue d’Egmont 11, Brussels

Since the events of 9/11 and, even more strategically, in the aftermath of the Madrid and London attacks of 2004 and 2005, respectively, the European Union (EU) has developed a global strategy and action against terrorism. Indeed, in the past ten years the fight against terrorism has been the propeller toward the adoption of a number of measures stemming from different fields of EU competence. Other than internal measures, the EU has also carried out a number of initiatives pertaining to counter-terrorism (CT) on the international pane; these vary from technical assistance within the framework of Development and Cooperation agreements to the controversial Passenger Name Record Agreement with the United States (US). Moreover, the EU is also involved in multilateral fora, such as the United Nations, dealing with the issue. However, while the external action of the EU in countering terrorism has always appeared justified under the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, its development has led to thorny and controversial debates and disputes over the scope of some of the adopted measures.

Parallel to this, the development of a EU strategy on countering terrorism both internally and externally has occurred in a time of periodical treaty amendments and institutional innovations. Thus, not only the urgency of developing an internal and external CT action occurred shortly after the entry into force of the Amsterdam treaty, but also the creation on new, ad hoc, bodies such as the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator. Moreover, the institutional context was once more changed with the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty. The conference “The External Dimension of the EU Counter-Terrorism Policy” organised by the Centre for the Law of EU External Relation (CLEER) and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT) invited academics, legal and policy experts, policy makers, and stakeholders to discuss some ten years of EU external action in countering terrorism.

The conference was divided in four panels each aiming to address aspects of EU external counter-terrorism policy. The first panel discussed the challenges that at the institutional level the EU is facing. Thus, while it emerged that the EU has successfully developed and obtained means of cooperation with third countries on the matter, the internal cooperation mechanisms have not been used to their full potential yet. It was suggested that this was possibly due to the lack of clarity in the division of tasks among institutions. Furthermore, the relatively newly established European External Action Service (EEAS) emerged to be an institution with great potential to foster EU external action in CT, but the functioning of this body as well as the cooperation mechanisms with other EU bodies still needs to be refined.

The second panel aimed at addressing the founding paradigm of EU CT action, the law enforcement one. Therefore the second panel discussed how, in practice, the EU is developing cooperation mechanism with third countries to investigate, arrest and prosecute suspects in relation to international terrorism offences. In this regard it emerged that despite the complexities of EU external relations law, the EU has emerged as an effective actor in the field, notably thanks to the work of its specialised agencies such as Eurojust. Parallel to this, however, issues pertaining to the division of competences between the EU and its member states as well as the respect for fundamental rights constitute challenges that the EU has not yet managed to fully solve when cooperating with third countries.

The third panel was called upon to discuss three transversal issues that affect EU external CT policy: first, the division of roles between the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice in relation to external action to counter terrorism; second, the issue of secrecy and accountability in the execution of the EU’s CT policy; and, third, the issue of human rights standards and their protection in the execution and enforcement of the EU external CT policy. Similarly to some of the remarks which had emerged in relation during other sessions, this panel highlighted the number of unresolved issues pertaining to EU constitutional law that are affected by the necessity to countering terrorism internationally as well as domestically.

Lastly the speakers of the fourth panel presented some of the key features of on-going action and cooperation by the EU in the CT context. ICCT and CLEER individuated three geographical priorities of the EU and asked the speakers to present the current role the EU plays in a specific region or with a specific country; to this end the conference had the pleasure to welcome the observations of an US diplomatic envoy, an EEAS envoy to the Sahel region and an expert on countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The picture emerging from the presentations was enlightening: The EU appeared to be capable of modelling its actions to the necessities of the different regions while making an effort in promoting its standards. Yet, also in this case the effectiveness of the EU strategies with its foreign partners is constantly challenged by the dynamisms in which the current CT context develops, thus demanding the EU and its partners to constantly tweak their actions and enhance coordination.

All in all, the presentations and debates held during the conference have contributed to a better understanding of the content, effectiveness and limits of EU external CT action. In the light of these findings, ICCT, CLEER and the a group of participants have decided to work on an edited volume in which the presentations of the conference will be turned into academic contributions in order to contribute further to the understanding of EU external CT policy. More information concerning the publication will be available shortly.
The full programme of the conference is available here.