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The fight against terrorism is one of the greatest challenges the European Union is facing today. The challenge lies in the complex nature of this phenomenon. Hence, if the EU wants to be successful in fighting terrorism, it needs a strategic strategy that would reflect the comprehensive nature of the EU's response to terrorism.
New measures proposed last week by the European Commission would install early-warning systems to flag up all cases of loss, theft or suspicious transactions involving explosives, as well as a new network of experts to tackle the use of explosives for terrorist purposes.
The EU has a long way to go in its fight against terrorism. However, the EU counterterrorism decision is a good step to that end and could limit the room for maneuverability of would be terrorists, outlawing terrorism-related incitement, recruitment (especially via the Internet) and training.
While international passenger transport is a favorite target of terrorists, it also plays a key role in facilitating their work. Many plots uncovered within the EU have involved one or more nationals from outside the bloc. The stakeholder consultations and impact analyses carried out by the EU have highlighted the need for accurately tracing all passengers. The amended counter terrorism decision would thus look to set up a Europe wide system for sharing passenger name records.
Alongside the new proposals, the EU is publishing its second report on the implementation of its counter-terrorism decision by EU governments. The review urges them to speed up efforts to put EU law onto national statute books, in order to simplify the work of the law enforcement authorities.
Back on July 18, 2005, the Commission adopted a "Communication on ensuring greater security of explosives, detonators, bomb-making equipment and firearms" (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:52005DC0329:EN:NOT) . The Communication constituted an integral part of the Commission's work in developing a coherent preventive strategy in the fight against terrorism. It provides a cross-pillar analysis of the state of play regarding security of explosives and also makes a series of concrete proposals in all related fields. The Communication, in general, placed emphasis on improving security arrangements all along the production and supply chain but particularly during storage and transport.
The Communication brought forth extensive approach that involves regulation of commercial explosives, marking of explosives, stronger security constraints for transport and storage, the use of technology to detect, tag and track explosive material, information sharing and investigative support.
The Commission is of the belief that with the pooling of efforts by all concerned it could prepare a comprehensive EU-wide plan for the enhanced security of explosives in Europe in which industry and the research community become vital actors in the process. The Commission announced that all interested parties, in particular the industry (including producers, end-users, transporters, researchers), Member States and Europol must contribute to improve security of explosives and firearms. While their industrial usefulness is beyond doubt, policy-makers must ensure the security of citizens by reducing and eliminating the possibility of their misuse.
In the same way that manufacturers of explosives and firearms in the past embraced the notion of safety and made it a routine feature of their products, the same approach should be taken towards internal security. The Commission should work to bring a change of approach by all stakeholders, a move from "whether" to one of "how" it can be achieved. The Commission is said to be willing to engage in a structured dialogue with the private sector in order to enhance security features (most importantly regarding storage, commercialization, transport and traceability) of component and end products all along the production and supply chain.
In December 2005, the Justice and Home Affairs Council adopted the European Union Counter-Terrorism Strategy (http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/05/st14/st14469-re04.en05.pdf) . The Strategy was also welcomed by the Heads of States and Governments on December 15 and 16 2005. The Strategy committed the European Union to combat terrorism globally while respecting human rights, and to make Europe safer, allowing its citizens to live in an area of freedom, security and justice. It made clear that terrorism is a threat to all States and to all peoples. Terrorism, it was clarified, is a criminal and unjustifiable act under any circumstances.
In order to be successful in reducing threat posed by terrorism and EU's vulnerability to attack, the Strategy required then, as it requires now, work at national, European and international levels. The Strategy is divided into the four pillars - Prevent, Protect, Pursue and Respond. Actions covered by each pillar cut across policy areas.
Although the Strategy suggests that Member States have the primary responsibility for combating terrorism, the EU adds value by strengthening national capabilities; facilitating European cooperation; developing collective capability; and promoting international partnership.
As a community based on democratic values and principles, the EU has to pursue its goals in a democratic and accountable way. The European Council reviews progress on the Strategy once every six months. Every six months before this review process the high-level political dialogue on counter-terrorism takes place. This dialogue brings together the Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament to consider progress and to promote transparency and balance in the EU's approach.
The European Union is going in the right direction in its fight against terrorism. However, it is doing so on a slow pace that should be hastened. The European Commission could learn much from Israel on this issue. One can hope that the intelligence and defense organization throughout Europe will turn to the Israeli government and Israeli companies for help, a move which can enrich both parties and make Europe a safer place.
The author is head of the international department at the Joseph Shem-Tov law firm.
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