Commission security proposals 'do not go far enough'

The commission's new European security agenda has failed to impress MEPs.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

29 Apr 2015

European commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans and European migration, home affairs and citizenship commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos were in Strasbourg this week to present the commission's new agenda on security.

Saying he was "very proud" to be presenting the proposals to MEPs, Timmermans explained that the goal was to "put member states and institutions at EU level in a better position to work better together". He added that "no single member state can attack problems on its own - we need to cooperate better together".

He also stressed that while the plans were among European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's 10 priorities, they had been given "increased urgency through the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen".


Meanwhile, Avramopoulos pointed out that "the new and complex threats that have emerged are increasingly cross-border and cross-sectorial in nature".

"EU citizens expect us to trust each other, to share information and to work effectively together to coordinate concrete actions, so we must face these threats together and this is exactly where the EU and the EU agenda on security adds value", he said.

The Greek official highlighted that this "is a shared agenda where everybody - member states, the commission, European agencies but also civil society and the private sector - must play their respective role in order to ensure the security of our citizens".

The key elements of this new security agenda were outlined in a communication. The commission plans to evaluate the Schengen information system between now and 2016. It is currently used by national authorities to check on alerts and missing persons or objects, and Juncker's team says it will "look into possibilities to help member states to implement travel bans set at national level".

The college has also urged parliament to finalise its passenger name record (PNR) legislation, which has been one of the most hotly debated topics in the chamber. 

The commission has also stressed that "agreement by the end of 2015 on data protection reform as a whole is key, and particularly on the proposal for a data protection directive for police and criminal justice authorities". However, parliament's rapporteur on data protection reform Jan Albrecht has said in the past that reaching a deal within this timeframe was unlikely.

There are also plans for EU police forces to work more closely together, for example through the use of 'joint investigation teams' and deeper cooperation with EU agencies such as Europol. 

As part of the fight against terrorism, the commission plans to set up a European counter-terrorist centre, which will be part of Europol, as well as an EU-level forum with leading IT companies to create tools to combat terrorist and radicalisation propaganda online.

Unfortunately, the proposed measures have failed to impress MEPs, with S&D group vice-chair Tanja Fajon saying, "they do not go far enough and are not innovative".

She explained that parliament's Socialists "were expecting greater emphasis on social challenges such as de-radicalisation, rehabilitation in prisons, parental authorisation for minors and development aid to third countries".

Her colleague Knut Fleckenstein stressed that the EU needs to "engage with those leaders who do not share and promote our values. However, this dialogue must not be focused on counter-terrorism alone, but always go hand in hand with a dialogue on human rights and the rule of law".

He warned that, "short-term gains from cooperation with dictatorial regimes are counter-productive. The EU could be seen as cooperating with dictators, this serving as a potent recruitment tool for the extremists both in Muslim countries and in Europe."

Ahead of the presentation, Timothy Kirkhope, parliament's rapporteur on PNR, called on the EU to "step up its cooperation and make sure that we are using all existing tools and new tools to tackle these challenges".

The ECR deputy said his group would "play a full role in creating a strategy that places both the protection of people's lives, and their liberties, at its heart".

ALDE group vice-chair Sophie in 't Veld said the Liberals were "worried about the increasingly blurred lines between policing and intelligence and security tasks [..]. It also remains unclear what legal safeguards exist for citizens, in a system that is a strange hybrid of national and European powers - that is unacceptable in a democracy".

Her fellow group member, Maite Pagazaurtundúa, underlined that, "police action is vital to fight terrorism, but we cannot forget that prevention and the de-radicalisation of fanatics play an extremely important role. The recruitment of European citizens by radical organisations, especially youngsters, proves that a broader and more ambitious strategy is needed".

And Greens/EFA group spokesperson on civil liberties and home affairs Judith Sargentini warned that "stepping up mass surveillance and creating a vast data dragnet will involve enormous financial cost and divert resources from where they could be more effective: old-fashioned police work following terrorist suspects".

"The commission needs to do more to prevent the radicalisation of members of our own societies. There is a need to promote wider social and education initiatives, addressing discrimination and exclusion and creating employment opportunities for people in communities at risk".


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