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European Commission - Fact Sheet

Implementing the European Agenda on Security – New measures to combat terrorism and illicit trafficking of firearms and use of explosives

Brussels, 2 December 2015

Implementing the European Agenda on Security – New measures to combat terrorism and illicit trafficking of firearms and use of explosives

Directive on combating terrorism

What problem is the proposed Directive on terrorism addressing?

EU Member States are faced with an increasing number of EU nationals who travel abroad for the purposes of terrorism. While the phenomenon of so-called "foreign terrorist fighters" is not new, the scale of people travelling to conflict zones, in particular to Syria and Iraq, to fight or train with terrorist groups is unprecedented.

The latest Europol EU Terrorism Situation and Trend report states that the current scale of the phenomenon is growing: by late 2014, over 3000 persons had departed from the EU to conflict areas, and this is estimated to have now reached 5000. The number of returnees is also reported to have increased in several Member States.

While foreign terrorist fighters constitute the primary source of concern, the threat posed by home-grown terrorists, radicalised lone attackers and "frustrated" terrorist travellers (for example those who could not leave following seizure of their passport) should not be underestimated.

The cross border dimension of the terrorist threat is not limited to travel to conflict areas. Terrorists use evasive techniques to avoid raising suspicion: they circulate within the EU and may transit through countries other than their country of residence/nationality with a view to circumvent controls and surveillance. Recent attacks perpetrated in the EU demonstrate that terrorists travel to other Member States to carry out attacks or for logistical reasons (e.g. funding, procurement of weapons).

Furthermore, terrorist groups have demonstrated advanced skills in the use of the Internet and new communication technologies to disseminate propaganda, interact with potential recruits, share knowledge, plan and coordinate operations.

Why are the current rules not sufficient?

EU legislation of 2002, last updated in 2008, already criminalises certain terrorist acts, including the commission of terrorist attacks.

However, this legislation needs to be strengthened in line with developments in the area of terrorism to tackle offences such as travelling abroad for terrorist purposes, the receiving of training and a comprehensive offence of terrorist financing, which are not yet included in EU law. More coherent, comprehensive and harmonised criminal law provisions are therefore necessary to effectively prevent and prosecute the current "modus operandi" of terrorists and to respond swiftly to the increased cross-border challenges. 

How will the new measures help prevent terrorist attacks?

The proposed Directive criminalises travelling abroad for terrorist purposes, terrorism funding and the receiving of training, aimed at addressing the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters.

The new rules will ensure that travel to other countries for terrorist purposes is punishable in all EU countries, as well as acts that facilitate and organise such travel, through provision of transport, funds and safe-houses.

These changes will give criminal investigative powers to national authorities to pursue the persons responsible for terrorist attacks. Also, by ensuring that these acts are punishable throughout the European Union, the exchange of information and operational cooperation between law enforcement authorities will become much easier.

More generally, the proposed Directive would require criminalisation of acts of a preparatory nature such as recruitment to terrorism, allowing the competent authorities to intervene at an early stage to prevent preparation and planning of terrorist acts. In addition, the proposed Directive will require Member States to already criminalise the attempt of such preparatory actions, including recruitment, training or travelling thus facilitating the even earlier prevention and disruption of future terrorist activities.

By establishing common definitions of terrorist offences, the proposed Directive will ensure that there are no enforcement gaps in the EU and that the relevant acts are punishable with sufficiently deterrent penalties.

Will criminalisation help prevent radicalisation?

Criminalising behaviour that precedes the actual terrorist act is essential to preventing acts of terrorism. EU action against terrorism also aims at addressing and tackling the root causes of extremism and radicalisation through a range of preventive measures. The Commission considers the proposal to consolidate the legal framework governing the criminalisation of terrorist acts as part of a broader endeavour which also includes increased efforts in preventing radicalisation.

To enhance and support efforts to prevent radicalisation leading to violent extremism the Commission has established the RAN Centre of Excellence which supports a large network of local practitioners (the Radicalisation Awareness network). The RAN Centre facilitates the exchange of best practices and expertise, consolidates knowledge and identifies and develops best practices, concrete guidance and tailor made support services. It helps deliver on the various actions identified in the Commission Communication "Preventing Radicalisation to Terrorism and Violent Extremism: Strengthening the EU's Response".    This includes the involvement of families and communities as well as teachers and educators in the efforts to counter radicalisation and to enhance critical thinking and democratic values.

How does the Directive tackle terrorist financing?

This proposal for a Directive introduces a comprehensive definition of the crime of terrorist financing, covering the provision of funds that are used to commit terrorist offences and offences related to terrorist groups or terrorist activities.

The criminalisation of terrorist financing includes the provision of funds for the planning or execution of a terrorist attack, the provision of funds necessary to recruit, train or spread terrorist propaganda and of funds to maintain the activities of a terrorist group.

How does the Directive relate to international standards?

The new Directive complements the EU's existing legal framework on the criminalisation of offences linked to terrorist activities. It also implements into EU law the provisions of the UN Security Council Resolution 2178(2014) on Foreign Terrorist Fighters, the recently adopted Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of terrorism and the Financial Action Task Force Recommendations on terrorist financing.

UN Security Council Resolution 2178(2014) requires that states establish serious criminal offences on: a) the travel or attempted travel to a third country with the purpose of contributing to the commission of terrorist acts or the providing or receiving of training; b) the funding of such travel and c) the organisation or facilitation of such travel.

In May 2015, the Council of Europe adopted an Additional Protocol to the Convention on the prevention of terrorism implementing certain criminal law provisions of the UNSCR 2178(2014), including the above-mentioned obligations. The EU signed the Additional Protocol as well as the Convention on 22 October 2015.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations on terrorist financing state that countries should criminalise not only the financing of terrorist acts but also the financing of terrorist organisations and individual terrorists even in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act or acts.

What is the Commission doing to protect the rights of victims?

The proposed Directive on combatting terrorism reinforces the rights of victims of terrorism to support and assistance. In line with the Victims’ Rights Directive, the proposed Directive requires that specific support structures are in place and ready to provide emotional and psychological support and information to victims of terrorism immediately after an attack and for as long as necessary. Also a special care would need to be taken of victims of terrorism coming from other Member States. The support and access to information should be available to them also when they come back to their home countries.

How does the proposal ensure that fundamental rights are respected?

The proposed measures respond to the evolving terrorist threat but do not go further than what is necessary and proportionate.

The proposal recalls the importance of the respect of fundamental rights in establishing as well as implementing the criminal provisions in question. This includes the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence and the right to defence. It further recalls the importance of respecting freedom of expression and information, the right to asylum, the general prohibition of discrimination and freedom of movement and residence.

When implementing the Directive, Member States will be bound by the respect of these rights and principles. The objective and subjective elements of the offence shall be proven in accordance with the national law of a Member State.

EU Action plan against illicit trafficking in and use of firearms and explosives

Why is an Action Plan necessary?

The European Agenda on Security identified the fight against trafficking in firearms as one of its priority actions. It called for a review of the legal framework and reinforcement of the fight against firearms trafficking. The Justice and Home Affairs Council Conclusions of 8th of October called on EU Member States, the Commission, Europol and Interpol to deliver on a series of actions for that purpose. The Commission was also urged to review the legislation and actions on firearms and explosives.

The recent attacks in Paris attacks brought about a renewed sense of urgency. They showed once more that terrorist networks are accessing weapons and explosives through organised crime networks and the black market. The illicit trafficking of firearms is also part of the core business of organised crime groups. The firearms trade also contributes to other forms of criminality and is used for intimidation, coercion and gang violence.

The Commission delivered the review of the Firearms Directive and a Commission Regulation on deactivation standards on 18 November. With the Action Plan presented today, the Commission is looking into how the fight against trafficking in firearms and explosives can be stepped up in practice and rendered more effective. The Action Plan seeks to improve operational cooperation and exchange of information at EU level and with third countries.

How does the Action Plan complement the Firearms package of 18 November?

The measures proposed in the Action Plan complement the legislative proposals made in the review of the Directive on firearms and the implementing regulation on deactivation of firearms, by addressing the illegal trafficking aspects.

The review of the Firearms Directive proposes EU-wide common rules on the marking of firearms in order to improve the traceability of legally held or imported firearms.

This will be supported by the following actions foreseen in the Action Plan:

  • A handbook for tracking and tracing illegal firearms,

  • The possible prohibition of cash payments in the context of private sales or acquisition of firearms and ammunition.

  • An evaluation of the modalities for a system to exchange information on the intra-EU movements of firearms.

Furthermore, the Action Plan also foresees the stepping up of a number of measures in the fight against online trafficking, in particular via Europol. These measures support the enforcement of the prohibition of private sales of firearms online as introduced by the review of the Firearms Directive.

What are the new elements of the Action Plan?

The Action Plan on illicit trafficking in and use of firearms and explosives:

  • Proposes a central monitoring role for Europol through its recently established Internet Referral Unit, regarding firearms, explosives and explosives precursors trafficking and sales online;

  • Reinforces the engagement with the firearms and chemical industries, relevant national law enforcement agencies and Europol to evaluate the impact of technological advancements on the potential availability of firearms and explosives;

  • Invites Europol to develop a Europol Analysis System, to produce assessment and knowledge tools to enable early warning notifications;

  • Invites Member States to set-up inter-connected national focal points on firearms for development of expertise and improved analysis. Member States are also invited to set up cyber-patrol teams to detect trafficking and online sales of firearms, explosives and explosives precursors;

  • Invites CEPOLto identify current training needs and to develop common curricula on firearms and explosives for all Member State experts;

  • Calls on Member States to carry-outas soon as possible risk-based controls on goods at the external borders;

As set out in the Action Plan, the Commission will:

  • Establish with Member States a Customs Priority Control Action on firearms and, as far as possible, also on explosives;

  • Explore the idea of prohibiting payments in cash for firearms sales;

  • Facilitate the exchange of ballistic information through a dedicated platform using the Ballistic Information network and other relevant systems in use by Member States;

  • Systematically include firearms trafficking and use of explosives in Security Dialogues with third countries;

  • In addition to the Action Plan on firearms trafficking with the Western Balkans, proceed with similar projects with MENA countries and promote dedicated discussions and enhanced cooperation with Turkey and Ukraine.

  • A special consideration is also given to future dialogue with the Sahel region and the Arab League and international organisations.

How does the Action Plan address the access to explosives and to explosive precursors?

Preventing the illicit manufacturing of home-made explosives is a key priority of the Commission. Last year EU Regulation 98/2013 on explosives precursors, which restricts and controls the access to several dangerous chemicals used to make explosives, came into force. The regulation also allows for early police investigations on suspicious transactions and other incidents.

The Action Plan urges the Member States to fully implement Regulation 98/2013 on Explosive precursors and to ensure that any suspicious activity involving explosive precursors is reported to the police. Several Member States have not yet informed the Commission how they will implement the Regulation. The Commission will speed up the review of the Regulation on explosive precursors, initially foreseen for 2017, in order to further tighten restrictions and controls on explosive precursors at EU level. Some chemical precursors used for making the suicide belts in Paris are already restricted and controlled in this new Regulation.

The Commission is also proposing specific actions to enhance operational cooperation between law enforcement authorities to make better use of existing information-sharing tools and to increase the detection capabilities in the area of explosives.

The Commission will also assess the need to harmonise vetting standards and procedures for security personnel at EU level.

What is being done to help detect explosives?

The Commission has started developing practical tools and guidance material such as handbooks to assist practitioners, first respondents and law enforcement specialists. This work is developed in the framework of law enforcement and practitioners' networks such as AIRPOL (Airport Police) RAILPOL (Railways Police), the European Explosives Ordnance Disposal Network (EEODN), and the European Explosives Dog Detection Working Group.

The aim is to share experiences, develop best practices and common operational procedures in areas such as new detection technologies, disposal of explosives devices, securing public space and critical infrastructures (including for example rail stations and the Thalys network).

A first classified handbook on aviation soft targets was published last summer, and other such materials are being finalised and will be presented soon to Interior Ministers.

The creation of a pool of detection experts is also proposed, which can help establish capacity building and support programmes in the field of detection of explosives and other threats, and can work closely with different EU Law enforcement networks.

How will the Action Plan reinforce the exchange of information?

Improving the exchange of information and increasing police cooperation are crucial objectives of the measures laid out in the Action Plan.

In this regard, the Commission will:

  • Step up the cooperation with Europol, INTERPOL and the Member States with a view to ensuring the interoperability between Interpol iARMS and the Schengen Information System II by July 2016;

  • Extend the use of iTRACE (conventional weapons), the European Bomb Data System (EBDS), the exchange of ballistic information and the Europol Analysis System while ensuring the full use of the Europol Focal Point on firearms;

  • Assess how to best ensure the effective compatibility of existing systems. The existence of different systems of exchange of information used by different law enforcement authorities for different purposes (all relevant to the fight against the illicit trafficking of firearms and explosives) highlights the need for stronger technical interconnectivity;

  • Evaluate the modalities for a system to exchange information on the intra-EU movements of firearms. The Commission will make the evaluation, taking into account relevant existing EU information systems and instruments (in line with the proposal for the revision of the Firearms Directive adopted on 18 November 2015).

What is the EU Internet Referral Unit? How can it contribute to the prevention of terrorism?

The establishment of the EU Internet Referral Unit (IRU) at Europol aims to help reduce the volume of terrorist material online. It was launched on 1 July 2015 (pilot phase). In its first three months, over 550 referrals were made. The Commission intends to support the IRU in reaching out to more internet companies, as well as encouraging the companies to have adequate arrangements in place to receive referrals from the EU IRU.

Will the cooperation with other countries in our neighbourhood be reinforced?

The current instability in the Middle East and North Africa region has led to a drastic increase in the illicit trafficking of firearms towards this region. The Commission has started a dialogue to explore possible future cooperation withAlgeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia at the occasion of the first conference between the EU and these countries held on 1st October 2015.

Enhanced cooperation is needed with Turkey and Ukraine and identified as one of the steps to be taken under the Action Plan.

Special consideration is also given to future dialogues with countries of the Sahel region, the Arab League and international organisations.

How will the implementation of the Action Plan be monitored?

The Commission will assess the implementation of the Action Plan in the context of the six-monthly reporting to Council and European Parliament under the European Agenda on Security.

For more information

Proposal for a Directive on Terrorism

EU Action Plan against illicit trafficking in and use of firearms and explosives

Annex to the Communication on Firearms and Explosives

European Agenda on Security


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