At its 561st plenary session, held on 9 and 10 June 2021, the European Economic and Social Committee welcomed and supported the strategic agenda to protect EU citizens from terrorism, as proposed in the EU Security Union Strategy, and agrees that a strong and ambitious counter-terrorism policy is needed. Efforts to achieve this objective must be based on recognition of, and full compliance with, the legal bases of international and European law, which safeguard and preserve our pluralistic society, our shared values and our European way of life.
The European Union should be a unique area of freedom, security and justice, where every person must be able to trust that their freedom and security are guaranteed and well protected. For a few years, we see the danger lurking around the corner, certain figures with weird ideas, wanting to get several people out of our communities and to limit several aspects of freedom, like freedom of thought, speech and religion. Certain groups even want to dominate the press and do all they can to have the most to say on Social Media, to influence general political thinking.
In several countries of the European Union we can see that the “Democracy” is at stake, certain very right-wing groups installing a more dictatorial government, silencing those people who want their voice being heard. In the East of the Union there are political leaders who do not mind installing totalitarian regimes they use torture. In free democracies, they seem not to be afraid to use certain Gestapo or Stazi tactics and use enhanced interrogation techniques. Danger in those countries is also that the leaders overthere are not afraid to fund terrorist groups to create instability.
It is of the utmost importance that the EU looks onto it that everywhere in the states of the Union all sorts of freedom will be guaranteed, even when there may lots of people against gay, transgender, Muslim and other people.
Democracy, rule of law, respect for fundamental rights in particular the right to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the respect for diversity are the foundation of our Union.
The recent spate of attacks on European soil have served as a sharp reminder that terrorism remains a real and present danger. As this threat evolves, so too must our cooperation to counter it. The transnational nature of terrorist networks requires a strong collective approach at EU level, one that safeguards and upholds our pluralistic society, our common values and our European way of life. Though it must be made very clear for which values people want to go. Some say religion is the cause of all the problems and therefore should be abandoned. They forget that the major religious systems preach ethical values of the highest standard. It are also not the religions that cause the problems, but people behind certain religious groups wanting to have more power. Everything is about getting more power and influence.
Because there are so many people thinking that religions are the cause of so many problems an ongoing dialogue should be set up with religious leaders, since religion can play a considerable role in reducing radicalisation and certain types of threat, as well as community tensions caused by terrorism. People should also be made aware the danger does not only come from Islamic extremism.
There are several politicians who were born in a secular environment and who were not religious at all, but so-called converted to Christianity, like the original atheist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would have had a radical religious conversion. Those converts who then start claiming the other Christians have betrayed the Christian faith. Orbán is one of those people who finds that Western Europe has given up on “a Christian Europe” and has gone up the way to experiment with “a godless cosmos, rainbow families, migration and open societies.”
In and outside Europe we have to see the danger of such people who use their new-found religion in a totally different way than the teachings of that religion. Others must see the dangerous model for how religion can be used to fuel democratic backsliding and to secure the accumulation and maintenance of power.
The last few years from the United States of America extreme right-wing (Christian) Evangelical groups are acting as missionaries and going to Israel to put oil on the fire. Those fundamental Evangelicals create friction and spread hatred against other religious thinking people.
The European Union is founded on a strong set of values. Our education, health and welfare systems are inclusive by nature but they come part and parcel with acceptance of the values that underpin them. Our European way of life – emblematic of inclusive and tolerant societies – is not optional and we must do all in our power to prevent those that seek to undermine it – from within or without. To do this we may not be prejudiced and think that all so-called Christian groups are safe and that all Muslims are a danger to the community.
When having a state system or nation, it is the task of that nation to protect all its citizens. Citizens have the right to feel safe in their own homes and streets,
as well as on the internet. The EU has a key role to play in helping to deliver that security.
This is all the more acute given that the EU remains on high terrorist alert. The jihadist
threat from or inspired by Daesh, al-Qaeda and their affiliates persists.(See EEAS(2020) 111) Threats from violent right and left-wing extremists are on the rise. The nature of attacks is also shifting. The vast majority of recent attacks were carried out by individuals acting alone – often with limited preparation and easily available weaponry – targeting densely crowded or highly symbolic spaces. While single actor attacks are likely to remain prevalent, more sophisticated attacks cannot be excluded. The EU also needs to be prepared for threats from new and emerging technologies, such as malicious use of drones, artificial intelligence and chemical, biological,
radiological and nuclear material. The spread of radical ideologies and of terrorist guidance material accelerates through the use of online propaganda, with the use of social media often becoming an integral part of the attack itself.
Over the last two decades, European cooperation on counter-terrorism has advanced
steadily and enhanced the capacity of Member States to ensure the security of their citizens.
The European Union have extensive information-sharing networks, supported by increasingly interoperable EU databases as well as enhanced police and judicial cooperation. This helps the EU connect the dots across borders. The Union has also equipped itself with powerful tools to deny terrorists the means to act, such as in the areas of firearms, explosives precursors, terrorism financing and criminalising travel for terrorist purposes. The state of play of these efforts is set out in the Security Union progress report (COM(2020) 797).
We may not be satisfied and think everything is alright. We need to redouble our collective work, in particular to counter the draw of extremist ideologies and better protect the public spaces targeted by terrorists. We must also overcome the false dichotomy between online and off, bringing the respective security environments in line, and equipping law enforcement and judicial authorities with the means to enforce the law in both.
This new Counter-Terrorism Agenda, announced in the EU’s Security Union Strategy
[Commission Communication on the EU Security Union Strategy, 24.7.2020, COM(2020) 605 fina], brings together existing and new strands of work in a joined-
up approach to combatting terrorism. This approach will be brought forward in coordination with the Member States, while working with the European Parliament and the Council (Cf. most recently the videoconference of Home Affairs ministers of 13 November 2020 which adopted a joint statement: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/jha/2020/11/13/), and also by engaging society as a whole: citizens, communities, faith groups, civil society, researchers, businesses and private partners.
The Agenda builds on what has been achieved over the past years and setout a series of actions to be taken forward at national, EU and international level across four fronts:
- Firstly, we need to be able to better anticipate existing and emerging threats in Europe.
Information sharing and a culture of cooperation that is multi-disciplinary and multi-
level remain key for a solid threat assessment that can form the basis of a future-proof counter-terrorism policy.
- Second, we need to work to prevent attacks from occurring, by addressing and better countering radicalisation and extremist ideologies before they take root, making clear that respect for the European way of life, its democratic values and all it represents is not optional.
This Agenda sets out ways of supporting local actors and building more resilient communities as a matter of priority, in close coordination with Member States, taking into account that some attacks have also been carried out by Europeans, raised within our societies, who were radicalised without ever having visited a conflict zone.
- Third, to effectively protect Europeans, we need to continue to reduce vulnerabilities, be it in public spaces or for the critical infrastructures that are essential for the functioning of our societies and economy. It is essential to modernise the management of the EU’s external borders through new and upgraded large-scale EU information systems, with reinforced support by Frontex and eu-LISA, and ensure systematic checks at the EU’s external borders.
This is necessary to close what would otherwise be a security gap when it comes to returning foreign terrorist fighters.
- Fourth, to respond to attacks when they do occur, we need to make the most of the
operational support EU Agencies, such as Europol and Eurojust, can provide, as well as ensure we have the right legal framework to bring perpetrators to justice and to guarantee that victims get the support and protection they need.
Underpinning this approach is the need to continue to place a relentless emphasis on implementation and enforcement.
To reap the benefits of EU wide harmonisation and cooperation, it is of fundamental importance that there are no gaps or delays in how we apply key instruments, such as the Directive on combating terrorism (Directive (EU) 2017/541 of 15 March 2017 on combating terrorism, OJ L 88/6, 31.3.2017.), the Firearms Directive and
legal framework on combating money laundering and terrorist financing. [Directive (EU) 2018/1673 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2018 on combating money laundering by criminal law, OJ L 284, 12.11.2018. Denmark and Ireland are not bound by the Directive. Directive (EU) 2018/843 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 amending Directive (EU) 2015/849 on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing, and amending Directives 2009/138/EC and 2013/36/EU, OJ L 156/43, 19.6.201)
With the agenda the Union feels that the agenda introduces a coherent framework for action designed primarily for the institutions and authorities engaged in specialised and essential tasks to prevent and combat the terrorist threat. However, it does not provide for representatives of local communities, citizens’ and victims’ associations, civil society organisations and trades unions, religious communities, academia and private stakeholders to be as involved as they should be in addressing and in preventing this problem.
All the countries from the Union should investigate all those influencing groups and should prevent and eliminate risks and tension rather than tackling their undesirable consequences after the event, with the particular high social cost that entails. The importance of researching and assessing the threat is highlighted so as to avoid putting in place arrangements that could unjustifiably encroach on fundamental rights. Much more preventing work has to be done, to protect the whole Union. Therefore the member-states should not be afraid to react swiftly when they notice matters of democratic rights could be in danger in certain places of the Union. It could be a very undermining danger when no reaction is taken against Romania and Hungary. But reasonable signals should also be given to countries who want to join the Union or NATO in the near future.
Terrorists and violent extremists increasingly make use of the internet to disseminate their extremist ideologies, including by live streaming and glorifying terrorist attacks. The response must come from all actors, national authorities, industry and civil society – and at all levels (national, European and international). The adoption and implementation of the proposed Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online would allow Member States to ensure the swift removal of such content and require companies to be more responsive in preventing the abuse of their platforms for the dissemination of terrorist content. Adoption by the European Parliament and the Council is therefore a matter of urgency. Once adopted, the Commission will support online service providers and national authorities in the effective application of the Regulation.
The European Union is convinced of the need to fight terrorism effectively and steadfastly, but without infringing on European values and citizens’ democratic rights: if these were substantially restricted, then terrorists could be considered to have achieved their aims.
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