November 15, 2018

An European counter-terrorism strategy: “stronger together”

Eurojust’s President, Mr. Ladislav Hamran.

By Guido Lanfranchi.

In the fight again terrorism, Eurojust is at the forefront, trying to enhance European joint counter-terrorism capabilities. On June 20th, 2018, a press conference was held to report the results of the annual meeting of counter-terrorism experts from the Member States.

“Together, we are stronger.” These four words could be an extreme summary of the press conference held on June 20th at the Eurojust headquarters in The Hague, just after the annual meeting of counter-terrorism experts from the Member States. The panel of speakers was composed by Ladislav Hamran (President of Eurojust and National Member for Slovakia), Frédéric Baab (National Member for France and Chairman of Counter-Terrorism Team), François Molin (District Chief Prosecutor of the Court of Paris, France), Frédéric Van Leeuw (Federal Prosecutor, Belgium), Joëlle Milquet (Special Advisor to the President of the European Commission on the support to victims of terrorist attacks). During the conference, the speakers updated the press on the recent cooperation efforts in the Eurojust framework and on upcoming initiatives.

In his introduction, Mr. Hamran praised the work of Eurojust in coordinating the work of 30 different juridical systems, with the common aim of “collecting enough evidence to put criminal behind bars.” Mr. Hamran stressed the cooperation between Eurojust and the prosecutors at the national level, with 4400 prosecutors coming to Eurojust for advice, consultation, and coordination during the last year alone. With an eye towards the future, Eurojust’s President also praised the deal recently reached by the European institutions on the reform to Eurojust’s regulation, which will strengthen cooperation among parties, improve the organization’s governance, and enact a stronger data protection regime.

Then, Mr. Baab introduced the main issues discussed during the annual conference of national experts of counter-terrorism. The experts dealt with the new phenomenon of the foreign fighters’ return to Europe, as well as the necessity of providing help to the victims of terrorist attacks. Moreover, Mr. Baab announced the joint declaration of the Ministers of Justice of France, Germany, Belgium, and Spain, in which the countries pledged to enhance information sharing on terrorism in the Eurojust framework, proposing the establishment of a European Judicial Counter-Terrorism Register.

Mr. Molin focused then on the first issue of the agenda, the return of foreign fighters. He stressed the need to investigate every returnee from sensitive areas, and highlighted how such efforts would be better served by a European cooperative strategy.

Moreover, Mr. Molin praised the joint declaration of the four European countries, calling for enhanced cooperation at Eurojust in order to achieve better results. These words were echoed by those of Mr. van Leeuw, who praised the more practical, concrete nature of the four-party declaration, as compared to previous mere declarations of intents.

Speaking on the problem of returnees, Mr. van Leeuw then highlighted some of the topic’s complexities, such as the difficulty to cooperate with the Syrian government, the localization of foreign fighters, and the presence of women and minors among the returnees. As of now, 162 minors with ties to Belgium are supposed to be in Syria and Iraq, and would be considered as potential terrorists upon their return. In order to tackle such complex problems, Mr. van Leeuw stressed the need to adopt a case-specific approach, albeit always under the directives provided by international laws, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Finally, Ms. Milquet stressed the need to address not only the root causes of terrorism, but also its consequences, and in particular the ill-fated effects on the unfortunately numerous victims. This category includes not only the families of the killed people, but also the many wounded and traumatized people, who are often in need of help. To fill such gap, she explained that her office has been tasked by President Juncker with three main responsibilities: to better execute existent directives, to strengthen cooperation between the European and national efforts, and to establish a model for action in support of victims.

This support can address several problems faced by victims, such as lack of information on the available services and the excessive length of bureaucratic procedures, and it would be arguably better served by a more cooperative approach at the European level.

During the Q&A session, the speakers also delved more deeply into a few more issues. Mr. Molin spoke about the learning capacity of the judiciary systems in the wake of investigations on past terrorist attacks, such those in Paris in 2015. Also, the speakers outlined more in detailed the features of the European Judicial Counter-Terrorism Register, which will revolve around increased cooperation in information sharing between the European and the national level to prosecute criminals more effectively. Finally, Mr. van Leeuw explained the efforts of the Belgian judiciary system in proactively tackling the phenomenon of the so-called “homegrown terrorist fighters,” in which Eurojust plans to take new measures too.

As terrorism continues to be a concern for many European citizens, it should be relieving to know that there are people who constantly do their best to counter such threats, not only at the national level, but also at the European one.

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