On May 24, the European Parliament's AFET Committee hosted Gilles de Kerchove, EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, in order to discuss the latest developments regarding the cooperation with third countries in counter-terrorism. Mr de Kerchove presented a series of ongoing initiatives at the level of repressive and preventive actions and the external engagement of the EU. He also got the chance to assess the situation and present the need for additional actions needed. The AFET members stressed the need to focus on radicalisation and extend the circle of countries and areas of cooperation. Please find below more information on the debate.
[Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.]
Elmar Brok (EPP, DE) introduced the topic by saying that in June 2015 Gilles de Kerchove talked about the dialogue with Morocco and Tunisia and the ideas for similar dialogues with Lebanon and Turkey. An update on this cooperation would be useful today, he said. He then referred to the Council meeting of April 21 and its decisions for more integrated architecture for exchange of information. I am not sure how much you can tell us about that, but a public debate on how cooperation of intelligence services work in Europe is necessary, he said. There are five countries cooperating with the EU, but the rest are only engaged in bilateral cooperation with EU countries, creating a need for coordination and exchange of information at national and EU level.
Gilles de Kerchove, EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, started by saying that the threat has never been as severe as it is today. The threat is highly diverse and it is inspired by social media, as well as by radicalised prisons. The threat of foreign fighters has recently decreased but it still there. The main threat is Daesh, considering its impressive organisational level in terms of size, money and communication networks.
The response of Europe is identified in three layers: repressive, preventive and the external dimension, de Kerchove explained.
As regards repressive actions, de Kerchove said that the focus is to see how to optimise the current exchange of information with the existing tools, i.e. Europol, SIS, VIS etc., while also using more Interpol. There are margins of improvement, he continued and referred to an action plan, currently prepared by the Netherlands presidency, that will deal with the legal, technical and cultural obstacles of sharing information in the EU. Among security services, there is also the Counter-terrorism Group, which is currently developing an online platform for sharing information with the main challenge to ensure that intelligence, law enforcement and Eurojust information is gathered. Securing borders is also very important, he added, especially as regards the efforts to tackle the links of migration and terrorism. He briefly mentioned the fight against firearms, the fight against financing of terrorism and judicial cooperation, but stressed their importance.
Mr de Kerchove continued by referring to the issue of encryption for communication applications, i.e. Google and WhatsApp, and said that that is becoming more and more important. Focus is also given on removing content from the Internet, as it is important to detect early signs of radicalisation. Another aspect where more effort is needed is the setup of rehabilitation programmes for foreign fighters. In this regard, he welcomed the initiatives of France to be concluded by the summer. External engagement is also important, he added and mentioned the cases of Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon, for which a meaningful package is expected by the summer. It will include a joint approach to support them develop their own resilience to terrorism by not only focusing on security services, but also acting in areas of education, employment, social security, civil society etc.
All in all, he explained that the implementation of the UN Preventing Violent Extremism Action Plan is encouraged by mobilising all actors, including civil society, women, and proper borders management. Those were parts of the political agreement with Tunisia, while a similar approach is being sought for Lebanon and Jordan.
He then added the importance of aviation security and the great concern to secure the airports in the Mediterranean. A dedicated programme is developed in this regard, he added.
He then mentioned specific prevention programmes that have been developed for Iraq, Jordan (the largest), Morocco, Lebanon and Tunisia. Libya is priority, while next efforts will focus on Algeria and Egypt. Slovenia is also leading an initiative for the Western Balkans, he added.
He continued by saying that on June 8 a dedicated dialogue with Turkey on counter-terrorism will take place, aiming to improve the channels of communication. Some discussions with the Gulf are also taking place, while more can be done there. The dialogue with Russia has started, while Iran is to go next. The High Representative decided to appoint counter-terrorism attaches in many EU delegations, he added. More needs to be done regarding the justice cooperation tools. A lot of efforts with multilateral tools are also taking place. The partnership with the US is closer than ever before, also because of their willingness to protect the visa liberalisation process. He was however concerned about the ongoing discussions on the JASTA bill in the US. He was lastly concerned about the efficiency of Europol given the privacy level applied. However he thought that solutions out of the box, i.e. CEPOL, should be considered.
Michèle Alliot-Marie (EPP, FR) stressed the importance of quality, not only quantity, when it comes to exchange of intelligence and asked if there is such a kind of evaluation of what is valuable information. She then mentioned the good records of Gulf countries regarding deradicalisation and asked what kind of cooperation is envisaged with those countries in this regard.
Gilles Pargneaux (S&D, FR) referred to the need for preventing action regarding the internet networks and asked what partnerships are sought with non-EU countries, i.e. in North America where many of the websites are hosted. He then asked about tackling radicalisation and if there are any partnerships with Islamic centres in the Arab countries.
Bas Belder (ECR, NL) referred to Israel and the experience of the country in dealing with terrorism and exchange of information with Jordan, as well as the latest reports in the country for threats about chemical and weapons of mass distraction. In this context, he asked how the EU cooperates with Israel in counter terrorism.
Petras Auštrevičius (ALDE, LI) insisted that not only coordination is needed, but common action as well. He asked for an assessment as regards countries' actions for money-laundering. He also referred to Russia and its well-trained anti-terrorist teams and asked how Europe is cooperating with Russia in counter-terrorism.
Barbara Lochbihler (Greens/EFA, DE) referred to foreign fighters and the killing of a British one with the use of a military drone. What do you think of such practices with drones?, she asked.
James Carver (EFDD, UK) said that if his country leaves the EU, there will be no impact on its security. The UK will continue cooperating with all the other independent states.
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