Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos
We meet in this press room today in the shadow of the tragic events in Berlin on Monday night, which have deeply shocked and saddened us all.
At a time when Europeans are gathering ahead of Christmas and New Year celebrations, we are now overcome by grief.
Our thoughts are first and foremost with all those who have been affected directly and indirectly by the events in Berlin. Our thoughts are with all the Berliners. Our thoughts are with all of Germany.
But it is in times like these that we must stick together: as citizens, as neighbours, as Europeans.
We must not give in to fear, and we must not alter our way of living, gathering and celebrating.
We must never renounce our basic principles and fundamental values that define our free and open societies.
Unfortunately, we have had to go through similar moments across Europe in the past year.
But such events have not intimidated us – they have strengthened our determination and our resilience.
In fact, Europe altogether is stronger and more resilient now than a year ago.
Ever since we put the European Agenda on Security on the table in April 2015, we have made significant progress in our joint fight against terrorism, in improving the tools to increase information sharing amongst Member States, and in strengthening the management of our external borders – thereby increasingly adding the building blocks towards an effective Security Union.
We have created and upgraded the European Counter Terrorism Centre at Europol to improve information exchange and foster more trust; and Europol is already being mobilised to help the German authorities.
We have agreements on the terrorism and firearms directives which will help us fight terrorism already in the early stages, by targeting its tools and means.
Today we add additional instruments through our terrorist financing package on the criminalisation of money laundering, illicit cash flows, and freezing and confiscation of assets – which Commissioners Jourova and King will further explain.
We have also collectively stepped up our preventive activities through the Radicalisation Awareness Network and the Internet Forum, in an effort to counter radicalisation, particularly at the individual, solitary and online level, before it turns into violence.
But it's not just about improving trust – it's equally about improving the operational actions on the ground, better connecting all the dots, and all our information systems.
As I have said many times before: terrorism knows no borders – which is precisely why effective external border management plays a vital role in safeguarding our overall internal security.
The establishment of the European Border and Coast Guard is an important milestone in that regard.
We are now also operationalising our EU Passenger Name Record framework, and we have recently obtained an agreement on systematic checks for everyone who crosses our external borders.
In addition, we have also proposed the Entry-Exit System to monitor all cross-border movements of third-country nationals, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System for visa-free travellers, as well as an Action Plan to counter Travel Document Fraud.
Today we go a step further, with our proposals to reinforce the Schengen Information System to better fight terrorism, cross-border crime and irregular migration.
Very concretely, we introduce the obligation to create a SIS alert in cases related to terrorist offences and a new 'inquiry check', as well as new alert categories for "unknown wanted persons" and return decisions.
This will contribute to the effective enforcement of any entry ban for third-country nationals at the external border by making its introduction in the SIS compulsory.
In addition, Europol and Eurojust get full access rights, and the new European Border and Coast Guard too.
However, enhancing our security when mobility is increasing globally does not mean we should limit mobility as such.
We want Europe to become safer, but not closed.
Our visa reciprocity progress report today should be seen precisely in this context, where we are working towards full visa-waiver reciprocity between the EU and both Canada and the US respectively.
Finally, I wish to end on two points.
Firstly, fighting terrorism is not just a European challenge, but a global one.
We are united with our neighbours and partners in Turkey, in the Middle East and in Northern Africa,
but also the United States, in this joint fight and endeavour to make the world a safer place for all.
Secondly, while we say that our openness should not come at the expense of our security – so too our security should not come at the expense of our openness and tolerance.
We must remain an open and hospitable society, where freedom and security are two sides of the same coin.
Remarks by Commissioner Jourová
Ladies and gentlemen,
When it comes to fighting terrorism and other criminal activity, time is of the essence. Every minute counts.
As soon as we detect terrorists' funds, we must be able to stop them from being used. This has to happen fast, before these funds serve as financial basis to commit an attack or before they hide them, possibly in another country.
The fight against terrorism in Europe will only be successful if police and judicial authorities cooperate more intensely. This is where our proposal matters.
It is about facilitating the recognition of confiscation and freezing orders across borders.
Let me give you an example: A group of radicalised persons is preparing a terrorist attack. They need to buy weapons, explosives, phones, and to rent cars. To finance their operation, they rely on money derived from drug trafficking. This money is currently placed in bank accounts located in several EU countries. Fortunately, the group has been spotted by the intelligence services and the police have been able to identify their assets. A judge decides to freeze all the bank accounts linked to the preparation of the terrorist attack.
Currently, due to a lack of modern and efficient rules on the mutual recognition, this takes some time and despite the intelligence efforts, the financing might not be blocked on time.
Thanks to the new rules on mutual recognition which we propose today, the bank accounts located in all the concerned Member States will have to be frozen within 48 hours maximum. This is a huge step forward for effective judicial cooperation.
In addition, today, 98.9% of estimated criminal profits are not confiscated and remain at the disposal of criminals. This has to be improved in order to have an efficient response to address crime in Europe.
Our proposal focuses on three main points:
First, simplifying and speeding up the mutual recognition procedures. The rules would apply immediately in all Member States, in the same way, in all countries, avoiding inefficiencies or delays due to differences in the transposition.
Confiscation and freezing orders will be made through a standard form to simplify the procedure easy to use for the authorities.
Mutual recognition will be fast. The new rules set clear deadlines for confiscation and freezing orders.
Second, the new rules will close loopholes. For example, under current rules we cannot confiscate assets cross-border if the criminal isn't convicted.
This can unfortunately happen quite often for example if the terrorist or criminal dies during the attack or escapes. In such cases, we must nevertheless be able to seize their assets if linked to terrorist or criminal activities as they might be used by others.
The current rules also don't allow the cross-border confiscation from people connected to the criminal. Terrorists and criminals can all too easily transfer funds to others – their partners in crime, their spouses or other relatives…
Our broadening of the rules will ensure that terrorist organisations never have a way of keeping their funds.
Finally, we will be able to better compensate the victims of terrorist attacks and other criminal acts. .
Surviving victims - or the families of those who pass away - have the right to compensation.
This right must be guaranteed even if the assets are being confiscated cross-border.
Under current rules, if a terrorist attack takes place in one country, but the terrorist's assets are in another, the assets would be divided 50-50 between the two countries.
With the new rules, if the victim received a decision on compensation, their right would take priority over the rights of the countries.
In conclusion, the new regulation on the mutual recognition of confiscation and freezing orders will be a leap ahead to improve the cooperation between law enforcement authorities across the EU in order to effectively address crime in Europe. We need to have these rules in place as quickly as possible to stop terrorists and criminals from using the proceeds of crime.
Now speaking on behalf of Commissioner Moscovici, I'd like to explain briefly what we'll do to improve cash controls at the EU's external borders.
We are proposing today to equip customs authorities with the tools they need to detect terrorists and those who support them financially.
The current rules on cash controls, which mean that amounts above €10,000 must be declared when entering or leaving the EU, will be bolstered by ensuring that amounts sent via postal parcels and via freight are subject to the same customs rules as amounts being carried directly by individuals.
We also want to improve how information is shared between customs authorities and financial intelligence authorities, as well as changing the definition of cash for the purposes of control to reflect the real issues on the ground.
Today we extend that definition to precious commodities such as gold, and to prepaid payment cards which are currently not covered by the standard customs declaration.
Remarks by Commissioner King
Our thoughts are with all of those who have lost someone they loved in the terrible attack in Berlin and our solidarity is with all those affected.
More generally, those who commit these attacks seek to destroy our way of life and our values. But we should not give them satisfaction, we should not stop living our lives.
The French authorities were right to go ahead with the Euro2016 championships this summer, so are the German authorities when they allow Christmas markets to go ahead.
But we can't ignore the risk that exists. There can never be 'zero risk'.
We can and must continue to reduce the risk of attacks as far as we possibly can.
National, regional and local authorities are in the front line to both prevent attacks and to deal with the aftermath when they happen - but by standing together, we can be stronger.
The EU can and does play a key supporting role.
We've demonstrated that added value in the last few months as we report on in today's 3rd Progress Report on the Security Union. We are delivering what we said we'd do.
- In recent weeks, we've agreed the revised Schengen Border code. This will toughen controls on those coming in and out of the EU. It is particularly important when some foreign terrorist fighters – as well as non-combatants - may decide to try and return to Europe as some of their strongholds weaken.
- we've also made progress strengthening our security behind our borders – we are working on improving the effectiveness of the various databases we have and how they work together because we are only as strong as our weakest system or database. Today's proposal on SIS which Dimitri has presented is an important step. But SIS is only as good as the data inputted into it, and if it's available and accessible to the right people at the right time. This will be a top priority for 2017.
- We also need to hit the terrorists where it hurts them: making it harder for them to travel, to train, to finance themselves, to acquire the weapons and explosive they are looking for.
We've agreed a deal on firearms – it's not perfect, but it will remove the most dangerous military grade weapons from wider circulation, where they have no place.
And we've agreed the counter-terrorism directive - travel to and from combat zones, training for the purposes of fighting and the financing of such activities will now be criminalised across the EU.
And we strengthen our action on financing with today's proposal on the criminalisation of money laundering.
Today, countries across the EU have different ways of criminalising money laundering. As a result, the judicial and law enforcement authorities face real difficulties in dealing with more complex money laundering cases, which often have a cross-border dimension. Indeed, the number of money laundering criminal investigations involving several EU countries is between 10 and 70% depending on EU Member States.
The end result is that criminals and sometimes terrorists don't end up where they should – which is behind bars. Again, making it harder for criminals and terrorists to finance themselves is an effective way of disrupting planning for attacks.
So while implementing our international obligations, we are taking the opportunity to harmonise our approach to the criminalisation of money laundering – both in terms of definitions and sanctions - and this will make it easier and more effective to pursue cases within and between countries.
More generally, on top of making it harder for criminals and terrorists to finance themselves, following the money trail can be extremely effective for tracking down criminals and terrorists and their contacts and accomplices.
After the Paris and Brussels attacks, in the context of Opération Fraternité, the EU-US terrorist finance tracking programme (TFTP) provided 800 such leads.
When the Commission presented its action plan to counter terrorism financing back in February, we agreed to look further at the EU-US TFTP and whether a complementary EU system might be necessary.
In 2013, we looked at this issue and concluded no complementary EU system was necessary. Since then quite a few things have changed: the terrorist threat has increased and changed in nature, the way that terrorists finance themselves is different, there have been enormous technological advances in the areas of payments so lots of new ways of transferring money which are not covered by the TFTP. On that basis, we're committing in today's Security Union report to consider the options further, do the appropriate studies, and we'll report back by the summer.
Taken together, all these measures - once agreed and fully implemented - squeeze the space criminals and terrorists can operate in. They don't eliminate all risk but they do make us more resilient and better able to deal with attacks if they happen. We need to continue our efforts, cooperate even more closely and stand together to beat those who are trying to do us harm.