The European Union pursues a two-pronged approach to counter terrorism (CT) and countering violent extremism (CVE): it works on countering radicalisation internally and externally through a narrative based on respect for human rights, diversity and respect for religion; and a criminal justice approach embedded in a security and defence policy framework based on strengthening the judicial, policing and intelligence capacities of partners, in full respect of human rights.
Terrorism and violent extremism – in various incarnations and franchises – feeds on grievances, repression and despair across the Middle East, North Africa, and large swathes of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The spread of ungoverned spaces from Libya to Syria and Iraq has enabled criminals, extremists and terrorists to thrive.
Extremists exploit the opportunities arising from porous borders: the numbers of ‘foreign terrorist fighters’ estimated to have travelled to Syria and Iraq far exceed those that had waged jihad in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia in the past. Radicalisation requires the EU to put a premium on enhanced border management, education, community dialogue, intelligence cooperation, data protection and Internet governance.
The surge in Internet users has made cybercrime and terrorist use of the Internet a new frontier of 21st century warfare. Terrorists use information and communication technologies to recruit, finance, intimidate and disseminate their message. For CT policies, a crucial element is to find a sustainable balance between freedom and security. The EU is committed to achieving both. However, the debate on security versus freedom remains a work in progress.
CT policies also face difficulties in their implementation, which is hampered by heavy procedural requirements. The effectiveness of CT policies largely depends on coherence and coordination between internal and external EU security policies as well as on the establishment of a more comprehensive information-sharing system between Member States. The most immediate task is to stem the tide of terrorists and criminal networks by enhancing the coherence between internal and external EU security policies.