Ladies and gentlemen,
Terrorism creates havoc: panic, lights go off, smoke, chaos…
Terrorism takes away lives – lives of innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And terrorism leaves the lives of many others scarred for ever – families and friends who will mourn, children who will never get to know a parent, parents who will never see a child grow up.
There are those who survive an attack - those directly injured who may never recover, all those who will care for the injured, perhaps for the rest of their lives.
And all those who witnessed the devastation. Or those who were the first responders, there to help the victims. These people are also victims and we need to think about them.
The threat of terrorism has evolved – it is more present, more persistent, more indiscriminate today than a few years ago. And I think we all feel we can identify with victims because we know it could have been us, or it could be us next time.
The last year in particular has been marked by too many attacks, by too many victims. We commemorated only a few days ago the first anniversary of the big Paris attacks. Many of you will have been touched, as I was, by the words of Antoine Leiris, the husband of one of the Bataclan victims who has written a book "You will not have my hate".
For those of us fortunate enough not to have been directly caught up in an attack, words such as these are a poignant insight into what being a victim is – but we can only try and understand.
I am very grateful to the victims who have come today to share their experiences – because they allow the rest of us to start to understand perhaps a little better what the reality of being a victim.
As politicians, nothing we say today can change those experiences. But we can make a difference for the future. And the EU can make a difference in terms of the support structure and procedural safeguards in particular that victims should have access to.
In the same way that we need to work together to tackle the threat of terrorism, we must also work together to deal with the consequences of attacks.
We can take actions to enhance security and make terrorist acts less likely, and we can also provide frameworks so that the needs of victims are properly addressed.
The needs are multiple, varied and complex and require a comprehensive response.
First, victims require specific protection, support and assistance that respond to their specific needs. In particular, they need physical and psychological support and medical treatment.
- They need swift and effective access to professional, specialist support services.
- These services must be confidential and free of charge for both victims and their families.
- They must also be accessible without any discrimination, whether you are a legal resident, citizen or not.
- Finally, these support services need to be available both immediately after a terrorist attack and then for as long as necessary.
To make that happen, proper planning is essential. Victim support services should be a well-coordinated part of a national emergency response structure.
Being prepared can make a huge difference. After the attacks in Paris and Nice, we saw effective cooperation on the ground of the services involved – victim support working closely with police, emergency services, health workers, Red Cross and other NGOs involving both professionals and volunteers. And all this coordinated at government level among the different ministries concerned.
A second challenge is that terrorist attacks often lead to chaos and disinformation. Access to reliable information for victims of terrorism and their families is crucial. One of the challenges here is – again – that terrorist attacks make victims that are not necessarily the resident of the country of the attack. So cross-border cooperation as well as effective national cooperation are essential to ensure that all victims of terrorism are well informed and receive the necessary assistance.
A third challenge is that legal help has not always been forthcoming for victims. Victims of terrorism need facilitated access to justice, including access to lawyers and to legal advice, in particular when it comes to claiming compensation. This is particularly true for victims in cross-border situations. When granting legal aid, the national authorities should therefore take into account the severity of the crime suffered by the victim and his or her vulnerable situation following an attack.
We have now taken an important step forward at the EU level to help meet these challenges.
In the Commission's legislative proposal on combating terrorism made late last year, we included specific rules to address these needs of victims of terrorism.
I would like to thank Ms Hohlmeier in particular for the key role she has played. I also thank the Dutch and Slovak Presidencies for advancing so quickly. There should be a final agreement in coming weeks.
This new law can make a real difference for victims. But it will need to be implemented properly in all Member States.
You heard earlier in the programme today about the implementation plans for the horizontal Victims' Rights Directive. Proper implementation of this law is also absolutely essential. If all Member States fulfil their obligations under that Directive, we will have come a long way for victims.
The new Counter-Terrorism Directive builds on these rules, reinforcing in particular the immediate and coordinated nature of the response to victims of terror attacks.
The new Directive also strengthens the rights of cross-border victims – the need to get help with information and referrals to services if you are the victim of an attack.
One final point: Victims are a powerful voice in their own right. I think that when they are willing to be involved, and there should of course be no pressure, their voices are some of the most effective ones in our work to prevent radicalisation. Some of the testimony heard this morning is an example. Such testimony can provide some of best counter narratives we could hope to hear and provide those tempted by terrorist propaganda with a reality check to try and dissuade them from going down the route of violence.
I strongly believe we must fight ideas with ideas. We are working together with the Voices of Victims of Terrorism to prepare the 13th commemoration of victims of terrorism that will take place on 11 March 2017. We will never forget the bereaved or those who lost their lives, or those who still bear the psychological or physical scars of these tragic events. I hope many of you can join us on that day.
The Commission also supports the victims support organisations – some present here today. You can make a huge difference. Your organisations also help us as rule makers to get our rules right, providing essential input into the decision-making process. And they will also play a key role in monitoring implementation of legislation on victims' rights.
To conclude, I confirm my personal commitment to put victims' rights at the heart of our actions on the Security Union. My door is open. I will speak about victims. I will see where we should address victims' needs in our actions on the security agenda – be it terrorism, cyber security, organised crime or information sharing.
We can't achieve an effective and sustainable Security Union without addressing the needs and rights of victims.