MEPs from the civil liberties committee (LIBE) held a special meeting this morning, attended by representatives from the European Commission, Council and Europol. They discussed future anti-terror measures in response to the attacks in Paris last weekend which left at least 129 people dead.
The debate focused on how the EU can increase levels of information-sharing between member states, tackle terrorist financing, combat the proliferation of illegal firearms and deradicalise home-grown jihadis.
The Luxembourg Permanent Representative to the EU, Ambassador Braun, opened the meeting, outlining how the extraordinary meeting of member states' justice ministers tomorrow was aimed at establishing "an immediate response," to the Paris terror attacks, distinct from longer term anti-terror strategies.
Braun highlighted a number of areas of concern. These included the lack of exchange of information between member states in the lead-up to the attacks - "exchange of information was not as good as it could have been," - and the lack of urgency in implementing legislation proposed after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January. He said; "We need to speed things up and speed up the implementation of measures we have agreed on."
Matthias Reute, Director General for DG Migration and Home Affairs, speaking on the behalf of the Commission, emphasised the convergence of views between EU institutions. "I feel that the Council, Commission and Parliament have similar views," He said. He also stressed the importance of a considered reaction, "I think that the last few months have shown we have not panicked. It is important that we do not panic now but react in a measured fashion."
Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency believed the recent atrocities demonstrated a "very serious escalation in the terrorist threat we face in Europe." He warned that they were "a clear statement of intent from ISIS to export its brutal brand of terrorism to Europe."
In shaping a response to the threat, he argued that "interconnectivity is key… we need to maximise our ability to share information effectively." He justified this position by saying that; "The threat is spread across a high number of individuals across a number of countries." Efficient information sharing would make “the difference in identifying terror threats in time."
The floor was then opened to MEPs from the LIBE committee. Opinion on how best to counter the terror threat divided opinion, though all who spoke expressed solidarity with the victims of the attack.
Marie Christine Vergiat, a member of Parliament's left-leaning GUE/NGL grouping, argued that, "we have to remember our fundamental principles; including the principle of proportionality. Otherwise we will be playing into ISIS's hands."
She insisted that we must not confuse urgency measures with long-term strategies and warned against people linking, "migration and terrorism." She continued, "I would like to remind you that the Syrian refugees are the main victims of ISIS."
Marju Lauristin, an S&D MEP, noted the heightened importance of EU action following the attacks, saying; "The situation on Friday has changed the context of the work we are doing."
She echoed Vergiat in calling on the EU to ensure that; "we protect the European values of equality, human rights and freedom," by striking a balance "between security and these values."
Greens/EFA MEP Judith Sargentini, believed that tackling radicalisation was the most important issue, criticising the Commission for, "taking too long to allocate funds to the European radicalisation awareness network."
She continued; "Deradicalisation is crucial to Europe's security. The attacks in Paris were carried out by EU citizens, radicalised in Europe … we must focus on deradicalisation and not on data collection measures like PNR, which will not achieve anything."
Measures taken to date to improve EU security include the Commission adopting a package of measures to make it more difficult to acquire firearms in the European Union and to ensure that deactivated firearms are rendered inoperable.
The Commission has also announced plans to revise the Schengen Information System, making it mandatory for member states to share the names of wanted felons and people denied entry, so that they could not slip unnoticed into another EU country.