Terrorism and Counter-terrorism in the EU: A breaking point for further integration or disintegration?

By Djordje Terek

Another deadly terrorist attack splashed the European coast, but for the first time, the target was the capital of Austria, Vienna. The Islamic State claims the responsibility for the terrorist attack that left four casualties and several wounded, clearly sending a message that no place in Europe is safe anymore.

The European Union is facing a threat of a critical magnitude, as in past weeks and months, terrorist attacks and beheading sow fear throughout entire Europe.

Terrorism in Europe is not a new phenomenon. It has been manifested in different forms throughout the history of the European continent. Nationalist movements, separatist movements, anarchism, far left or far right, and many other forms of political extremism created the global issue that is still withstanding, terrorism.

The issue of security has gone through various waves of terrorism, yet the religious one does not only remain critical but grows even further.

In order the understand the fundamental parts of the issue, we have to go back to its roots. Religious-driven terrorism began with two major events. The Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

These events triggered the Islamic world and created a common ground for extreme Islamic indoctrination which will be targeting and recruiting people from all over the world. Islamist terrorism, led by the largest organization Al- Qaeda and its former leader Osama Bin Laden, achieved its zenith in 2001, on 9/11, after one of the deadliest terrorist attacks the world has ever seen.

The immediate response by the United States included the declaration on the war on terror that will be followed by the participation of more than 100 countries. The members of the European Union have jointly supported the United States and its action plan.

Ultimately, this meant that the European Union became the target itself, which will be felt not so long after. The terrorist attack in Madrid in 2004 left 191 people dead and hundreds injured, instantly catapulting the security issue at the top of the EU agenda. From this moment on, the terrorism-security nexus will be prioritized over any other security issue, and the search for a more secure Europe will address the new approach (Keohane, 2005).

From Zero Strategy to the Four Pillars

In 2001 the EU had already redirected the course, and three principal measures have been adopted. The first one was the Council’s decision 2002/187 that formalized the establishment of Eurojust, the EU law enforcement agency that works together with national governments on cross-border investigations.

The second decision, 2002/475, defines terrorist offenses as the activities. Moreover, it established criminal penalties and adopted jurisdiction across the European Union. The third one was decision 2002/584 that created a common European arrest warrant (EAW). The EAW requires member states to arrest and transfer terrorists or criminals to the issuing state.

This decision was brought up to ease the procedures and create more efficient prosecution of criminals across the EU. These measures came as a result of 9/11 and are still considered as one of the crucial aspects of the Area of Freedom Security and Justice (AFSJ represents one of the key security concepts covering a wide range of policy areas in the EU).

After the terrorist attack in Madrid in 2004, the EU counter-terrorism strategy has undergone additional alteration. Fifty-seven specific measures were adopted to reflect the urgency for a safeguard in the EU.

However, even though these adopted decisions encompass the counter-terrorism strategy, it is still a small portion of them. Twenty-seven decisions were still concerned with criminal law and did not directly impact the counter-terrorism strategy (Herlin-Karnell, 2014).

The London bombing in 2005 was another punch in the face to counter-terrorism strategy. Again, new initiatives came, as a result, this time the modifications were included in the appointment of the Coordinator for EU counter-terrorism.

The coordinator‘s role was primarily based on the regulation of counter-terrorism strategies within the EU. Namely, the coordinator’s role increased as well as his implementation abilities, and today, he is a principal interrogator on counter-terrorism affairs in the EU.

This includes coordination of the Council’s work in combating terrorism, making policy recommendations to the Council, and monitoring implementation of EU CT strategy (Sgueo, p.14, 2015). The coordinator’s work has helped in the formation of the current EU CT strategy by redirecting it towards the multi-dimensional conceptualization and the counter-terrorism strategy gained its final shape in 2005 with the comprehensive four pillars strategy.

The Four Pillars of Counter-Terrorism

The four-pillar strategy is based on the four critical matters these are prevention, protection pursuit, and response. Although the prefix four pillars refers to the four crucial components of counter-terrorism, the strategy involves far more complex measures to tackle terrorism indirectly.

Some of them include the promotion of democracy, strong governance, and cooperation with external sources such as countries out of the EU membership spectrum or NGOs.

The four main pillars of counter-terrorism strategy can be divided into those elements that focus on the external dimension of countering terrorism, and those that deal with internal aspects.

Correspondingly, the prevention and pursuit of terrorism fall into the category of external measures, while protection and response remain within the EU internal matters.

It is not surprising that internal pillars have been more successful than external ones, having in mind that most of the tasks have been done by the European Commission, Europol, and Eurojust. (Argomaniz, 2011)

The prevention mechanisms aim to block new recruitments, prevent radicalization, and counter the recruiting methods. According to studies of the Nixon Centre, respectively 40% of the terrorist from the EU have been either naturalized or have converted to Islam.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the prevention concept tackles terrorist activity both nationally and internationally.

The protection pillar of the grand counter-terrorism strategy is composed of two primary goals. The first aims to reduce the vulnerability of targets of a terrorist attack and, the second is to limit the resulting impact of the attack (Sgueo, p.18 2015).

Some of the mechanisms that are considered to be crucial in this aspect are the Schengen Information System and Visa Information System which enhance protection on the EU level through information sharing scope.

Additionally, the protection also refers to the securitization of critical infrastructure, as well as transport. Throughout time, the importance of cybersecurity has been introduced, as new ways of terrorist mobilization incorporate internet tools.

The pursuit pillar delivers special attention to the cutting of terrorist sources across the borders while disturbing terrorist networks.

Essentially, it has as an aim to pursue terrorists, investigate them, but also to diminish financing of terrorist groups and it does so by carrying out inquiries, freezing assets, and impeding money transfers. (Sgueo, p.18 2015).

The last pillar — Response focuses on the preparation of the groundwork in case of a terrorist attack on one of the members of the EU. Because terrorist attacks are unpredictable, the fourth pillar aspires to minimize the consequences, coordinate the appropriate responses, and prepare for the aftermath.

The Harsh Reality

The EU counter-terrorism strategy remains efficient, but only on paper. Not so long after one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Europe that took place in Paris in 2014, information leaked that certain EU member states held back the information about the suspects and did not share it with French authorities.

It was not the first time, however, that criminal records had not been shared among the EU member states. This phenomenon has a long history and is partly caused by the lack of common EU authorities that deal with security issues. Many experts and politicians argue that the general cause for insecurity lays in the fact that there is no such thing as a specific counter-terrorism policy area.

Most of the EU member states see counter-terrorism on a national level, rather than supranational. Although pooling sovereignty by joining the EU should account for more security in general, the trust on particularly sensitive issues such as national security proved to be far more difficult than expected.

Therefore, a majority of states in the EU take an intergovernmental approach when it comes to sensitive information sharing.

How the EU ended up being handcuffed by its own member states.

Another issue tightly connected with the state’s internal spheres of interest would be information sharing. The terrorist threats vary from state to state in the EU, and only a few see information sharing as more valuable than risky for their national security.

The discrepancy in the national security matters among the EU member states proved to be one of the major reasons for the incoherence to counter-terrorism policymaking (Daly, 2017).

Strictly speaking, member states frequently disregard multilateral means of information sharing, and rather deal with it on a bilateral level. The question worth asking is what can be accomplished on the matter of trust among EU member states (Wensink et al. 2017).

Further criticism of EU counter-terrorism policy advancement highlights the broad nature of the definition of terrorism.

Namely, different states in the European Union face various elements of threats, which all fall on the margin of essential types of terrorism, yet consist of the elements of the narrow definition of it.

The efficiency ultimately faces great decline as the elementary threat of terrorism keeps increasing. The European Union cannot be accused of trying to keep safe and secure its citizens, however, it indivisibly has to sort the priorities through the modification of the term terrorism (Wensink et al. 2017).

The overall cooperation in the EU seems to be vulnerable when it comes to sensitive issues such as security. Every member state wants the top security system for its citizens and is falling behind when the common European security question is raised.

Understandably, bilateral cooperation is more trustworthy than multilateral ones. However, if EU authorities aspire to further integrate its member states and diminish terrorist threats within the European Union, then more sacrifice in sense of pooling sovereignty could be the only way of achieving it.

Cooperation on a crucial matter such as terrorism is an inseparable part of common security construction, and it must be built on trust.

A European FBI?

It is important to stress that one of the lessons learned from the history of cooperation on counter-terrorism in the European Union is that the Union is greatly lacking European capacities to deal with the terrorist threat.

Taking the United States as an example, and the European Union natural process of integration, which aspires to reach a similar form of the federation such as US ones. Then we are facing the truth that the European Union cannot continue functioning on a bilateral level any longer.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was created in 1901 as a result of the assassination of US President William McKinley and the threat that anarchist terrorism posed to the American citizens.

It is about time for the European Union to embrace the same idea and engage in the creation of European capacities that will deal with the threat in every country of the European Union.

If we take into consideration the intergovernmental argument and assume that national security concerns should remain in the domestic domain of the member states, then we also have to raise the question of whether that is more efficient and in the interest of the member states.

The explanation for that lays in the fact that the terrorist attackers from Madrid in 2004 were known by the French and British police.

The London attackers were followed and even arrested by the French police before their terrorist operation, as well as the terrorist attackers from Brussels. This argument seems to oppose the aforementioned approach that more efficiency in countering terrorism derives from within the member states themselves.

“Schengen Terroristory”

Another argument that exposes the contradiction of intergovernmental position on countering terrorism in a domestic manner is that of the Schengen Area.

That is to say, the free movement of EU citizens within the EU borders consists of one of the most fundamental rights and values of the EU. Yet, it also provides an opportunity for potential terrorists to move freely from state to state and pose a threat.

If EU member states do not plan to abolish the Schengen Agreement, then the common European investigation capacity, again, proves to be inevitable.

To sum it up, the European Union is currently faced with a wide range of issues such as migration crisis, COVID19 pandemic, populism, the rise of the far-right, nationalism, and terrorism.

This road has two paths, the path of further integration or disintegration. The high influx of refugees has infiltrated the high number of potential terrorists inside the European Union, and this fact cannot be refuted.

The top priority of the European Union should therefore become one of the security, as it possesses the potential for disintegrating the Union even further. One way of achieving the goal would be the creation of a common European investigation authority which would not only build the safer European Union but also affect the disintegrational process in the time when it is desperately needed.




The Foreign Journal is an international collaboration of writers dedicated to providing an independent perspective in a changing media landscape.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Poverty and economic instability continue to drive perceptions of justice and security in eastern…

Future of Chinese Stock Market with Dr. Jin (Jenny) Peng

Why are Germans abandoning Merkel?

Behind the 1st Digital Session

Putin ≠ Russia

The SPD may deal the final blow to Angela Merkel’s chancellorship

Organisations Fighting Poverty in Indonesia Amidst the Global Pandemic

PAS deputy minister intimidated a reporter, saying a patriotic Malaysian must speak Malay

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
The Foreign Journal

The Foreign Journal

The Foreign Journal is an international collaboration of writers dedicated to providing an independent perspective in a changing media landscape.

More from Medium


What I learnt last summer by traveling solo to 8 countries


Why Australia’s unemployment rate will get stuck on the way down (and how to grease the track)