Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Other available languages: FR

European Commission - Fact Sheet

Fighting terrorism at EU level, an overview of Commission's actions, measures and initiatives

Brussels, 11 January 2015

The fight against terrorism at EU level

What is Europe's role in the fight against terrorism, which is principally a national competence? What does the EU do to support Member States' efforts?

In 2010 the European Commission adopted an Internal Security Strategy for the period from 2010 to 2014. In the coming months, a European Agenda on Security will be adopted, as foreseen in the Commission working programme for 2015.

The fight against terrorism is principally a national competence. However, the European Union supports Member States' efforts in the following ways:

  • Creating a legal environment and framework for cooperation;
  • Developing common capabilities and systems such as the Schengen Information System (SIS) or the Civil Protection Mechanism;
  • Supporting, notably financially, the establishment of concrete and operational cooperation between practitioners and front line actors via, for example, the Radicalisation Awareness Network, ATLAS (network of the rapid intervention forces), Airpol (network of airports' police) in the fight against terrorism and working together with Member States and stakeholders e.g. in Chemical Biological, Radiological and Nuclear and explosives expert groups or the standing committee on precursors;
  • Ensuring that security and fundamental rights are built by design into all relevant EU level policies such as transport, energy, etc.
  • The Internal Security fund also provides financing to Member States in the field of internal security, including fight against terrorism.

How does the EU legal framework help Member States cooperate in the fight against terrorism?

The EU legal framework provides Member States with a number of tools to help coordinate all law-enforcement actors who intervene in the fight against terrorism. These tools are already used every day by police and judiciary authorities and have proven their worth.

Since January 2004, the European Arrest Warrant has proven to be an effective tool for fighting crime: it has ensured the swift return of numerous suspects who may not otherwise have faced justice. It now takes on average around 16 days to hand over a wanted person who consents to his/her surrender, and 48 days where he/she does not. It is notably thanks to the European Arrest Warrant that the perpetrator who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014 was surrendered by French judges to Belgium in less than six weeks.

Judges and policemen across the EU use ECRIS - the European Criminal Records Information System- regularly. Since April 2012, this system serves as an electronic interconnection of criminal records databases to ensure that information on convictions is exchanged between EU countries in a uniform, speedy and easily computer-transferable way. French policemen used it to find information on the two brothers implicated in the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Another tool is Mutual Legal Assistance with third countries, either through agreements or exchange of liaison prosecutors, which consists of cooperation between different countries for the purpose of gathering and exchanging information, and requesting and providing assistance in obtaining evidence located in one country to assist in criminal investigations or proceedings in another. EU prosecutors obtain information for instance from the U.S. through the existing EU-US Mutual Legal Assistance agreement.

 What is the EU doing to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism?

In 2011, the Commission set up the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) which brings together first line practitioners from very different areas and countries with different societal challenges and background, working in the health or social sector, associations of victims, local authorities, representatives from diasporas and local police, prison or probation officers, teachers, etc. The RAN enabled the establishment of a vibrant network of experts that identify best practices, work with people – for instance on campuses or in prisons – who are drifting into extremism and violence.

In January last year the Commission put forward a set of actions to strengthen the EU's response to radicalisation and violent extremism. While preventing radicalisation and violent extremism is mainly the responsibility of the Member States, the European Commission and the RAN can assist in several ways, including by helping member States to put in place de-radicalisation programmes and by fostering dialogue and cooperation with civil society in order to prevent radicalisation and extremist violence. The European Commission has also proposed the creation of a European Knowledge hub on radicalisation and extremism aiming at continuing and expanding the work for which the RAN has already laid the foundation.

What is the EU doing to combat hate speech?

The EU makes the important distinction between, on the one hand, 'expression which may offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population' and 'criticism of religion' as protected speech, and on the other hand, 'intentional public incitement to racist or xenophobic hatred or violence' as speech which should be criminally sanctioned. 

The EU adopted the Framework Decision to combat racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. The Commission monitors its implementation closely. This Framework Decision obliges Member States to penalise the intentional public incitement to violence or hatred against a group of persons or a member of such a group. Member States are also obliged to penalise the intentional public condoning, denial and gross trivialisation of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and racist and xenophobic hate crime. The EU law includes rules specifically intended to fight against online hate speech.

The Audiovisual Media Services Directive also states that Member States shall ensure that such services provided by media service providers under their jurisdiction do not contain any incitement to hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality.

The European Commission provides funding to projects through the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020) that support the development of efficient monitoring and reporting mechanisms and exchange of best practices in the fight against hate crime.

What is the EU doing to guarantee freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief?

Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 10). All EU legislation, its transposition in the Member States and all EU actions towards third countries has to be in line with the respect for freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.

Of course, the Commission does not have a general competence on fundamental rights and the Charter applies to Member States only when they are implementing EU law. Where the Charter does not apply, fundamental rights continue to be guaranteed at national level according to the national constitutional systems. Member States have extensive national rules on fundamental rights, the respect of which is guaranteed by national courts. It is up to national authorities, including the courts, to enforce fundamental rights. Moreover, all Member States have made commitments under the European Convention of Human Rights, independently of their obligations under EU law.

Since 1990, the Commission has developed a dialogue whereby it seeks the opinion of religions and communities of convictions in important policy developments; recently this included policies on the fight against human trafficking, climate action, and youth unemployment.

What is the EU doing to prevent the financing of Terrorism?

We need to effectively cut networks that facilitate terrorist activities from financing. To this end, the Commission will continue to support implementation of important instruments such as the network of EU Financial Intelligence Units and anti-money laundering initiative.

The recently agreed anti-money laundering package, once in place, will help strengthen and improve cooperation between Financial Intelligence Units; improve awareness of and responsiveness to any weaknesses and money laundering and terrorist financing risks; bring about a coordinated European policy to deal with non-EU countries which have inefficient Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes; and ensure full traceability of fund transfers both within the European Union and to and from the EU.

The EU concluded with the U.S. an agreement on access to transfer of financial data in the framework of the US Terrorist Finance Tracking Program ('TFTP Agreement') which is in force since August 2010. The Terrorist Finance Tracking System enables identification and tracking of terrorists and their support networks through targeted searches run on the financial data provided by the Designated Provider (SWIFT).

The TFTP Agreement is equipped with a set of robust safeguards to protect EU citizens' fundamental rights. Europol is responsible for verifying that U.S. requests for data comply with the conditions stipulated in the Agreement including that they must be as narrowly tailored as possible in order to minimise the volume of data requested. Each search on the provided data must be narrowly tailored and based on information or evidence demonstrating a reason to believe that the suspect of the search has a link to terrorism or its financing. Searches are monitored by independent overseers, including by two persons appointed by the European Commission.

Reciprocity is a basic principle underlying the Agreement and two provisions (Articles 9 and 10) are the basis for Member States as well as, where appropriate, Europol and Eurojust to benefit from TFTP data. Under the EU rules, National Treasuries must ensure the availability to law enforcement, public security, or counter-terrorism authorities of concerned Member States, and, as appropriate, to Europol and Eurojust, of information obtained through the TFTP. Since the Agreement entered into force in 2010, more than 7300 investigative leads were generated by the TFTP for the EU.

There is a significantly growing number of requests related to the phenomenon of travelling fighters (Syria/Iraq/IS). In 2014, there were 35 TFTP (Article 10) requests generating 937 intelligence leads of relevance to 11 EU Member States. The TFTP is also used, through Europol, to support the investigations of the French authorities related to the Paris attacks.

What is the EU focus on the protection against terrorist attacks?

The European Commission encourages national law enforcement agencies to cooperate even more on concrete activities to protect our citizens. To protect public areas considered as soft-targets, such as museums, sport and cultural areas, we will further develop guidance material on soft target protection, similar to the manual produced by the airport police network (AIRPOL). The Commission will further pursue our efforts to detect and respond to threats before they materialise – addressing all public areas as well as critical infrastructures.

What is the EU policy on victims of terrorism?

We support and empower the survivors and victims of such atrocious attacks by strengthening support groups and projects that enable to victims to tell their stories – as part of their recovery and as part to create new counter-narratives.

Stepping up the fight against terrorism

The European Commissionwill adopt in the months to come a European Agenda on Security for 2015-2020, as announced by the Commission, which will reorient the EU's internal security to meet the challenges posed by current criminal and terrorist threats. Several important elements are already under consideration:

  • continue to reinforce the efficiency of the Schengen Information System by even more stringent, targeted, informed and non-discriminating controls;
  • consider if existing legal penal framework needs reinforcement;
  • strengthen cooperation between Europol and other European agencies and threat assessment bodies, notably IntCen (Single Intelligence assessment Centre).
  • reinforce work to make relevant information accessible to law enforcement for the purpose of better preventing and pursuing criminal activities across EU and international borders;
  • reinforce the exchange of information at EU and international level on illegal firearms.

The European Commission will also continue to work with the European Parliament and the Council to adopt EU rules on a European Passenger Name Record system which will improve our capability to prevent and detect terrorism and serious crime in a world of unimpeded global travel.

 What is PNR data and how can PNR databases help fight terrorism?

Passenger Name Record (PNR) data is unverified information provided by passengers and collected and held in the air carriers' reservation and departure control systems for their own commercial purposes. It contains several different types of information, such as travel dates, travel itinerary, ticket information, contact details, the travel agent at which the flight was booked, means of payment used, seat number and baggage information.

The processing of PNR data allows law enforcement authorities to identify previously unknown suspects whose travel patterns are unusual or fit those typically used by terrorists.

Analysis of PNR data also allows retrospective tracking of the travel routes and contacts of persons suspected to have been involved in terrorist acts, thus enabling law enforcement authorities to unveil criminal networks.

What is the state of play on an EU Passenger Name Record proposal?

In February 2011, the Commission presented a proposal for an EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive. The proposal would oblige Member States to set up PNR systems and establish strict data protection safeguards for the processing and collection of PNR data from flights to and from the EU.

The Commission is committed to ensuring the proposal, which should include high fundamental rights protection for EU citizens, gets adopted and is working closely with the European Parliament and the Council to this end.

How does the Commission intend to reinforce the efficiency of the Schengen Information System and of the Schengen area in general?

The existing Schengen legal and technical tools already ensure a high level of safety for European citizens. Member States need to use the existing instruments to the greatest extent so that all persons representing a threat to internal security are appropriately dealt with. The Schengen Information System (SIS II) has proven to be one of the most efficient tools in following the travel routes of foreign fighters through discreet or specific check alerts or to retain them at the external borders if their travel documents are invalidated and entered into SIS for seizure. The Commission is currently working together with Member States to develop a common approach on making the best use of the possibilities under EU law, both as regards checks on documents and checks on persons. The tools are there – it is up to Member States to use them.

What checks does the Schengen System allow for?

As far as the checks at the external borders are concerned, under the Schengen Borders Code the Member States must verify the travel documents of all persons – regardless of their nationality – at the external borders to establish the identity of the traveller. This includes verifying that the document is valid and not falsified or counterfeit. Member States can consult relevant databases (including the 'documents' section of the SIS database) for this purpose at each check. The Commission recommends that Member States carry out consultations of the databases more intensively, and is concerned that many Member States do not appear to be doing so.

At the same time, as regards checks on persons inside the Schengen area, Member States have the possibility, on a non-systematic basis, to consult national and EU databases to ensure that persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law do not represent a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to the internal security and public policy of the Member States. Such verification is to be done on the basis of threat assessment, which can be quite wide-ranging and adapted to the threat represented by foreign fighters, and allows for checks on all persons covered by that threat assessment.  

As far as the checks within the Member States territories are concerned, the competent national authorities are entitled to carry out identity checks on persons present in their territory to verify for instance the legality of stay or for law enforcement purposes.

What are the rules to reintroduce internal border checks in the Schengen area?

According to Article 23 and following of the Schengen Borders Code, Member States may exceptionally reintroduce border control, where there is a serious threat to public order or internal security. For foreseeable events, a Member State must notify the other Member States and the Commission in advance. In cases requiring urgent action a Member State may immediately reintroduce border control at internal borders, while, at the same time, notifying the other Member States and the Commission accordingly. The reintroduction of border control is in principle limited to 30 days. In general, if a Member State decides to reintroduce border controls, the scope and duration of the temporary reintroduction cannot not exceed what is strictly necessary to address the serious threat.

How is the movement of legally owned firearms currently regulated in the EU?

Even if the use of weapons in criminal attacks is not new, it seems that terrorists are using weapons more and more, in addition to the traditional strategy which was based on the use of explosives.

Movement of civilian firearms (such as those used for sport shooting and hunting) within the EU is regulated by a procedure laid down in Council Directive 91/477/EEC as amended by Directive 2008/51/CE (so-called Firearms Directive) which sets out  rules and restrictions that Member States must impose on their national laws regarding the acquisition, possession, and the commercial exchange within the EU of exclusively civil firearms. Military weapons cannot be traded to private persons. Under specific conditions only collectors and museums can keep military weapons.

Regulation 258/2012 on illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms establishes rules for export of weapons for civilian use. This system is based on an authorisation procedure following the provision of United Nations Protocol on firearms. Two studies[1] were finalised last year to examine possible policy options, including the approximation of various relevant offences, to better prevent, deter, detect, disrupt, investigate, prosecute and cooperate on the fight against illicit arms trafficking in the EU.

Concerning the movement of legally owned civilian firearms, the European Commission launched an evaluation aimed at assessing the implementation of the Firearms Directive, analysing among other topics current practices in the EU as regards marking, deactivation and destruction of firearms entering in the scope of EU rules on firearms as well as the Members States' approach to the classification of civilian firearms and requirements for purchasing alarm weapons and replicas within the EU.

Based on the results of the evaluation, concluded at the end of last year, the Commission will submit to the European Parliament and the Council a report on the situation, resulting from the application of the Firearms Directive, where, if appropriate, proposals for legislative or non-legislative actions will be included (e.g. stricter checks for some categories of weapons, or the prohibition of the most dangerous weapons, which are already subject today to mandatory authorisation). Even if the current EU legislation establishes a system of authorisation for firearms trade, a full revision of the Directive could consider all aspects which are not properly covered by the EU legislation.

[1]Study to Support an Impact Assessment on Options for Combatting Illicit Firearms Trafficking in the European Union

Study to support an Impact Assessment on a possible initiative related to improving rules on deactivation, destruction and marking procedures of firearms in the EU, as well as on alarm weapons and replicas

What is the EU doing to ensure that necessary funding is available to prevent organised crime and terrorism?

To promote the implementation of EU law enforcement cooperation, the management of risks and crises and the control of the Union's external borders, the Internal Security Fund (ISF) has been set up for the period 2014-2020 with a total budget of approximately EUR 3.8 billion (both components of the Fund).

The primary objectives of actions implemented in the upcoming period are fighting cross-border and organised crime including terrorism, preventing and combating radicalisation towards violent extremism and strengthening the capacity of Member States and the EU to assess risks to their societies and increase resilience to crises.

An important focus in spending the funds is placed on prevention. To achieve its objectives, the EU supports practical cooperation between Member States, the development of training schemes and knowledge platforms and the exchange of information between law enforcement authorities and Member States and EUROPOL. In terms of preventing crises, funding is provided to measures which enhance Member States' capacity to protect their critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks and to develop comprehensive threat assessments, including early-warning mechanisms.

Finally, the EU supports actions geared towards alleviating consequences of terrorism and extremism. Support to victims is an important component for which EU funding is used.

How can the EU support Member States affected by a major crisis?

Crisis management as well as the fight against terrorism remain principally national competences. The EU has, however, developed tools to support Member States affected by crises, including major terrorist attacks, and established crisis coordination arrangements.

‘Response’ is indeed one of the 4 pillars of the EU Counter Terrorism Strategy. The Solidarity Clause which was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty covers situations of terrorist attacks as well. The EU institutions and agencies as well as Member States are thus organised to give assistance to the affected Member States, through the mobilisation of all available instruments (information exchange, support to the investigations, EU Civil Protection Mechanism, etc.).

In the event of a terrorist crisis, the European Commission can also activate its crisis response mechanisms, including the secure crisis room located in the Strategic Analysis and Response (STAR) centre, which closely cooperates with the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), the European External Action Service (EEAS) and EU agencies (Europol, Frontex).

The Commission also supports cooperation between Member States in the field of preparedness, through the organisation of crisis management exercises, in particular with police special intervention units (the ATLAS network’s ‘Common Challenge 2013’ exercise), as well as to enhance cooperation between these units and the civil protection community (‘ARETE 2014’ exercise) to respond to complex crisis scenarios.

What is the EU doing on the security of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear and explosives?

The Commission will finalise the implementation of the Chemical Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and Explosives Action Plans by the end of 2015. The basis for the Commission’s work on the security of CBRN substances and Explosives are two action plans: the EU CBRN Action Plan, which was adopted in 2009 and comprises a wide range of 124 actions from prevention and detection to preparedness and response, to be implemented by end of 2015, and the EU Action Plan on Enhancing the Security of Explosives, with 48 actions.

The Commission also monitors and facilitates the implementation of Regulation 98/2013 on explosives precursors by Member State authorities and economic operators.

For More Information

Homepage of the Directorate-General for Migration. Home Affairs:

Homepage of European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos:


Spokesperson: Natasha Bertaud, +32 229 67456; Christian Wigand, +32 229 62253

Press Officer: Milica Petrovic, +32 229 56589; Melanie Voin, +32 229 58659


General public inquiries:

Side Bar