Paper Tiger Meets Wild Goose: EU Counter-Terrorism Policy

Since QCEA published its Briefing Papers and 2007 report “Effective Counter-Terrorism: A Critical Assessment of European Union Responses”, there has been a dizzying array of counter-terrorism related policy developments and initiatives within the EU.

EU counter-terrorism policy comes under a four-pronged framework of “Prevent, Protect, Pursue, and Respond”. Actions under these four areas are prolific, lacking coordination and insufficiently scrutinised. The “prevent” strand is acknowledged to be the most neglected; this is the strand that is intended to address the roots and processes that lead people to become radicalized and take violent action, for some perceived goal. The European Parliament has, over the years, repeatedly called for a full and independent evaluation of the effectiveness of EU counter-terrorism policy – given the large costs, financially and in terms of civil liberties and human rights – they have argued that it should be scrutinised and reviewed in the same way as any other, less politically sensitive or emotive, policy area.

Parliamentary Hearing on EU Counter-Terrorism: Main achievements and future challenges, 19th April 2011

There have been some movements in this direction, with the European Commission publishing a communication entitled “EU Counter-Terrorism: Main achievements and future challenges”. The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee held a hearing on this document in April, at which the voice of the Parliamentary Rapporteur, MEP
Sophie in’t Veld, rang out condemning what she argued has, for too long, been policy based on emotions rather than evidence.

As well as general concerns over effectiveness and appropriateness, there has been much criticism over specific strategies. For example, the use of terrorist lists – the targeted sanctioning of an individual or group on the basis of often secret and inaccessible information that leads to the freezing of assets, a ban on travel etc. The Kafka-esque curtailment of due legal process (the right to be informed, to be heard, to judicial review and effective remedy) is not the only concern. The consequences that criminalising any kind of interaction with a designated group or person has for non-governmental organizations involved in mediation is also worrisome. If meeting a listed individual to engage in constructive dialogue, mediation or de-radicalization efforts, providing a listed individual with coffee during a meeting could be construed as financial support of a terrorist organization and thereby a criminal offence.

Numerous other issues relating to counter-terrorism policy remain unresolved, or are fraught with disagreement and dissent. Past contentious issues include the alleged complicity of some Member States in CIA rendition – the secret transfer, without legal formalities, of suspected terrorists to clandestine CIA prisons or to countries that practise torture, the use of legal havens and unenforceable diplomatic assurances with countries known to use torture. Current controversies relate to new directives concerning air Passenger Name Records, and the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) which involves transferral of financial data to theUS.

EESC Public Hearing on EU Counter Terrorism Policy, 9th February 2011

At a public hearing of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), assessing the Commission document referred to above, there was another contentious issue moving in the shadows: the practice of profiling according to certain characteristics such as race, sex, religion, age, travelling record etc. Due to the public furore led by human rights organizations, over the ineffectiveness and unacceptability of profiling, the issue has disappeared from the agenda. But has it really gone away? Listening to attendees at the EESC hearing indicated that, behind the scenes, there are still some highly influential people in the policy making world who are of the view that whilst it may not be politically correct to advocate religious/racial profiling, it is just necessary.

Not only is this shocking, it is also stupid. To defend this assertion, aside from the legal right to non-discrimination, one only needs look at the numbers. In 2009, the numbers and affiliation of failed, foiled or successfully executed terrorist attacks that occurred in Europe were;

Religiously motivated terrorism is publically perceived as the most common and dangerous type of terrorism, despite the fact that it is actually the rarest. The vast public misconception of the nature of the threat is in part a result of media distortion, which has led to terrorism being equated with fundamentalist Islamist terrorism. This distortion also seems to promote the idea that it would disrespect the victims of terrorist attacks to point out their relatively tiny impact, compared to, say, climate change, poverty deaths or state-sponsored military action. It is high time the media started to pick up on both the reality of scale and proportionality, and that neither the historical nor modern-day phenomenon of “terrorism” in Europe reflects the picture they paint.

Digging beneath the rhetoric of EU counter-terrorism policy, it begins to resemble the ineffectualness of a ‘paper-tiger’, and the fruitless misdirection of a wild goose chase. It is time EU responses to terrorism ceased to be founded on popularist and media-distorted fears of the ‘other’ that play down the vital role of economic and social equality. The under-pinning of any real ‘response’ to terrorism should focus on removing the obstacles and injustices that lead people to see no outlet other than violence.

These issues, and EU policy responses to terrorism, will be analysed in greater depth in a forthcoming update to the EU Responses to Terrorism Briefing Paper series.

About Rachel Tansey

Rachel was a QCEA Programme Assistant on Sustainable Energy Security between November 2010 and November 2011.

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