Thank you for inviting me this evening to appear in front of your Committee.
If you’d told me a few months ago that I’d be sitting here I’d probably not have believed you. It is a particular situation.
I was honoured to be nominated by the British government. President Juncker took the opportunity to reinforce the Commission's capacity by creating the role of Commissioner for the Security Union.
Some might question how someone nominated by a Member State that has voted to leave the Union could be considered for such a vital role. But I believe I can make a real contribution in an area which is at the top of citizens' concerns. I have direct experience – not least from my time in the Political and Security Committee and on the ground in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and more recently in France. Two months ago, I was in Nice on the morning of 15th July and saw for myself the devastating aftermath of the attack the night before – which killed so many people, injured many more and traumatised Europe. It brought home to me again the true human cost of terrorism.
I have dedicated my professional life to European affairs including postings in Brussels working in the Council and time in the Commission working as Head of Cabinet.
As the Ambassador to France, I strongly advocated the position of the British Government during the UK referendum campaign. Personally, I have always been proud to be British and proud to be European and see no contradiction between the two. But on 23 June a majority of my compatriots decided they wanted to leave the EU. We must respect that decision.
For the avoidance of any doubt, I’d like to make absolutely clear that - subject to confirmation – I will fulfil my tasks to the best of my ability serving the European general interest, and only the European general interest. I know the high levels of integrity and impartiality as well as European commitment that you will rightly expect of me. If – as the result of this process – I become Commissioner, I will take the oath with all of the responsibilities it carries with it.
It's now 15 years since 9/11. How we think about such threats and react to them has moved on. But terrorism and organised crime still threaten our values and our way of life, perhaps more today than ever before.
Since the Madrid bombing of 2004 there have been dozens more terrorist attacks – 14 in the last year alone - with nearly 600 killed. Some of these were well-planned and coordinated attacks by groups. Others were attacks using nothing more than a knife. Most of these terrorists were home-grown, but some were returning foreign fighters. Some of them had been under surveillance, others were known to the authorities only as petty criminals. Some were long standing terrorist sympathisers, others were radicalised in a matter of weeks. Some attacks took place on targets known to be sensitive, others were totally unexpected.
And on organised crime, criminals are developing new ways to operate across borders. Cybercrime is growing daily, becoming increasingly hostile, threatening fundamental rights and the economy.
Neither terrorism nor organised crime respects national borders. Indeed their business models thrive on the lack of coordination between states.
There is obviously a European dimension. Take the horrific attacks in Paris of last November: they were planned in Syria; some of the terrorists allegedly travelled with fake passports; they then stayed in Belgium where they got trafficked weapons from across the EU and the Balkans. They only travelled to France the day before the attacks. Given the multinational supply chains, the only way to defeat the terrorists and criminals is by working together effectively. In today’s world, security of one Member State is the security of all. Article 4 of the Treaty is clear: national security remains the sole responsibility of Member States. But they cannot address alone threats which are transnational.
That is why this post is needed now. To help face these growing threats from those who would seek to take away our freedom and hard won fundamental rights. It's also what our citizens expect. When asked in the last Eurobarometer, 82% of respondents called for stronger EU action on counter-terrorism.
The creation of this role is an opportunity to draw together all the areas in which the Commission is taking operational measures to promote security. And to pursue targeted actions where the EU can make a difference. It will require the closest possible teamwork with First Vice President Timmermans, Commissioner Avramopoulos, Commissioner Jourová, and many other colleagues.
Very much in the spirit of this Commission, as set out in my Mission Letter, President Juncker has proposed to create a cross-cutting Task Force to support this role working with staff from across the Commission, with responsibilities from Justice to Home and Transport to Education.
We will also need the highest possible degree of coordination and joined-up teamwork with Member States and crucially with Parliament, particularly this Committee. I know how passionate this Committee is about getting security right, and the energy and commitment you've devoted to making progress on a whole range of proposals. We now need to re-double our efforts to deliver the security that our citizens expect.
We need to create an effective and sustainable Security Union.
Effective means focussing relentlessly on implementation: ensuring the transposition of agreed rules, helping national authorities identify obstacles to implementation and tackling those together, making sure the rules work as intended and that existing systems are actually used to their full potential. Member States can count on the Commission to assist them in every possible way but when necessary, we won't shy away from enforcing the law including using infringements. We should be ready to take new steps when needed, but let's work first on delivery.
Sustainable – these repeated attacks call not only for a comprehensive EU response but one that provides for a lasting and joined-up European security framework. One in which policies are properly thought through and based on evidence.
Fundamental rights must be at the heart of this framework. My own experience in Northern Ireland taught me that peace and the accompanying greater security can only become real when rooted in the full respect of fundamental rights. The long fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland made progress when people came to believe that their fundamental rights were being taken seriously, they moved away from violence and joined the political effort to build a shared future.
So I am fully committed to the Charter. Our actions must always be based on the rule of law, with appropriate safeguards and exceptions only when necessary, proportionate and legally justified.
In terms of my priorities, the starting point is the Commission's April 2016 Communication on an effective Security Union. With that as the roadmap, we need to advance on both:
- What we can do to strengthen our common fight against terrorism and organised crime, and the means that support them.
- And what we can do to strengthen our own defences against these challenges and to build our resilience.
So, first: we must urgently agree the proposal for a Directive on Combatting Terrorism. Working with you and the Council, I hope we can do this by the end of the year. We also need to continue cutting terrorists' access to financing. The Commission will make proposals in the coming months. On firearms, the biggest challenge remains reducing access to illegal weapons. We need to accelerate the implementation of the Action Plan. In these, as in other areas, we need to reinforce our cooperation with third countries.
Second, our Agencies should play a stronger role in supporting national authorities in their efforts against terrorism and organised crime. I'll always champion Europol. We should now make full use of the opportunities offered by its new legal framework. Europol's European Counter Terrorism Centre has started to deliver but we need to reinforce it further. We also need to support the European Cybercrime Centre so it becomes the central hub in the fight against cybercrime, and takes the terrorist threat into account. Our law enforcement agencies need to be able to investigate effectively and access digital evidence. National authorities also need to make more use of Joint Investigation Teams, with the help of Europol and Eurojust.
Third, we need to tackle radicalisation that can lead to violent extremism and terrorism. Our work must start well before people are radicalised, with a special focus on children and youth. The collaborative grassroots approach of the Radicalisation Awareness Network has already delivered results – helping those on the front line to tackle radicalisation in prisons and in schools. We should step up our work further in this area – for example by supporting civil society in developing counter-narratives.
Fourth, we need to do more to tackle terrorist propaganda and hate speech online. In addition to our efforts on the EU Internet Forum and Europol's Internet Referral Unit, we should pursue the possibility of a joint referral platform with the internet industry, and explore whether social media companies can do more to take down unacceptable content.
As I said, we also need to strengthen our defence against terrorism, build our resilience and improve further the way we work together. Central to all of this is how we share information effectively.
So fifth, existing information systems need to be fully implemented and applied. For example Member States still need to do more to implement Prüm. We also face substantial challenges in implementing the Passenger Name Record Directive. Member States need to build their Passenger Information Units to make the system work.
Sixth, in addition to making existing instruments work, we need to look at how we share information across various systems. Current arrangements are complex and fragmented. Respecting purpose limitations, we need to look at how to make best use of existing information at EU level. We need to ensure the quality of data going into our systems, that it is processed appropriately and that it is available to the right people when they need it - all the time respecting our rules on data protection. We should pursue the work of the High Level Group on IT systems. And this should provide a basis for action.
Seventh: we need to strengthen security at the external borders. Terrorists and criminals act across borders, and checks at the external borders are a key way to stop them. The proposed Entry-Exit-System is important as it will improve the effectiveness of border checks. An ETIAS (EU Travel and Information Authorisation System) system would provide prior security checks for third country nationals travelling to the EU. And the European Border and Coast Guard will soon be operational helping to ensure that we maintain a strong and effective external border.
Checks at the border help us to crack down on smuggling and trafficking networks as well as to identify returning foreign fighters, but we must not conflate issues of terrorism and migration or identity. Doing so risks feeding the populism which stigmatises vulnerable populations and reinforces exclusion providing a perfect breeding ground for radicalisation.
Eighth, we have to strengthen our capacity to protect critical infrastructure and soft targets – recent attacks have highlighted vulnerabilities. Research and new technologies can help. Important work has already been done on aviation security. We should take further steps in this area and extend our approach to other areas such as maritime security. Our work on cybersecurity should help build our resilience in the digital world.
Finally, any action we take to fight terrorism and wider criminal activity must address the needs of victims. We have recently reformed the EU law on victims' rights, but we need to think specifically about victims of terrorism. The proposed Directive on combating terrorism addresses victims’ needs. I know how important this is to the Committee and I hope we can continue to work together on this.
I'd like to conclude by saying a few words about how I see myself working with you here in LIBE. As well as co-legislator, you are a source of ideas and inspiration, you help create political pressure so that issues can move forward, and you can help us focus on delivery and implementation on the ground.
I strongly believe in the executive's accountability to Parliament. In addition to any formal engagements you request, I would be happy to report to you on a regular basis about progress we are making on delivering the Security Union. You've called for a more comprehensive overview of the effectiveness of all our different strands of counter-terrorism policy. I agree and I want to work with you on this. We also need to look at how we might share greater operational knowledge, taking account of the highly sensitive nature of some of this information. I want to work closely with you on how best to take forward these important matters.
If I am confirmed, I will work tirelessly with my Commission colleagues, you and national authorities to close down the space for those who would seek to attack our freedoms; to deliver an EU which is safer for our citizens, more inclusive and more resilient. Running through all of this will be the fundamental rights and values that we are not only looking to protect but to promote, because without these we will have failed.