“Combatting home-grown terrorism in Europe: a case for improved police integration”

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By Katharine Klacansky and Margaret Goydych

Opinion editorial 

After the devastating terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels in 2016, President Erdogan criticised Belgium: “Despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter, Belgium could not establish any links with terrorism”. Indeed, previous warnings regarding the identities of those involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks had been ignored, and local and regional police networks failed to prevent the catastrophe. The attacks show that the EU needs to focus on a more integrated internal security.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, many were quick to point the finger at Brussels. However, Belgium has not been sufficiently supported by its EU counterparts. While the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek was home to the planners of the attacks in Paris and Brussels, and although the district’s police department had been suffering from its more than 185 unfilled positions, the terrorists were able to cross the national borders of the Schengen area unchecked. Moreover, they held EU passports, and travelled from Syria into the EU. This is not a Belgian problem, but a European-wide one.

Europol has already moved towards a more integrated approach by establishing a joint information database known as ICT (Information Communication Technology). This is an advanced and secure system intended for cross-border cooperation and it has been effective in tracking and sharing information regarding terrorists, across member states. Despite its existence, however, a large number of member states are not connected to the database. While Europol has determined that 5,000 EU citizens have travelled to conflict zones in Iraq and Syria, only 2,786 foreign fighters have been recorded. The information sharing mechanism is in place, but it is not being efficiently used by all member states.

The EU needs to shift its focus, but Federica Mogherini is neglecting the internal dimension of security. The current pivot is towards peacekeeping missions in the European neighbourhood, yet police in EU municipalities still lack ‘boots on the ground’, as well as the required training, to implement the Global Strategy within EU borders. Moreover, despite having some of the most well developed de-radicalisation programmes in the world, such EU projects have not been translated into resource allocation at the local level.

Now, more than ever, there is a need for a common EU policing agency and information exchange system. Cross-border terror networks such as Daesh and Boko Haram have managed to bypass police in various EU countries, and have spread their connections easily and rapidly. Regional police networks are disconnected, and limited in their ability to communicate amongst themselves and with other EU states.

The EU has successfully carried out frameworks for comprehensive police networks before. Operation Archimedes is one success story, set up by Europol in 2014. Over the course of one week, over 20,000 police officers cooperated to create the largest cross-border joint police operation in the EU ever, with all 28 member states involved. Over 1000 suspects were arrested, and contraband was seized from over 300 locations. With the ICT database already in place, Europol has the tools and precedent to implement a strong and integrated policing framework.

Nevertheless, a key obstacle to such implementation is that information sharing amongst police agencies differs from country to country. While joint intelligence exercises, such as the European Multidisciplinary Platform against Criminal Threats (EMPACT), are used as a base for police intelligence sharing, they do not take into account the differences of police legislation amongst the member states.

Single states cannot solve these issues alone. Europol’s existing ICT and EMPACT systems, supported by the success of Archimedes, can foster investment by member states in order to dissolve administrative and legal boundaries. This will ensure more efficient and productive police networks that share common goals, regulations, unions, and technology. A set of shared objectives will increase communication and productivity, thereby building bridges for functioning and innovative police networks. Ultimately, this common police system will create a dependency that fosters stronger diplomacy and security, both internally and externally. A common police network is the future for national, as well as EU security.

Image credit: Europol, 2017.

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