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Perspectives and limits of the European Union’s fight against terrorism

Európai Szemle, 2004/2 - 01 aout, 2004
Analyse and essay
Hajnalka Vincze

By pure coincidence, it was in Madrid, in December 1995, that the EU summit took place, where on the matter of terrorism the heads of state and government of the Fifteen stated for the first time what they could not but repeat eight years later – following the terrorist attacks on 11 March 2004 in the Spanish capital.

This spectacular standstill is due, above all, to the phenomenon that can be called the „European terrorism paradox”. Namely that although European approach represents the most viable strategy against the so-called new type of terrorism, its execution inevitably stumbles over the irreconcilable internal political contradictions. The problem, therefore, is not that the right direction is not recognized (it is, in fact), but the political obstacles related to the logic of integration, which prevent the EU from following it. Both with regard to integration versus sovereignty and autonomy versus transatlantic dependence issues. To put it differently: in the fight against terrorism, contradictions about the idea of „politically integrated, independent Europe” are brought to surface (and block common action) both regarding the „politically integrated” and the „independent” part.

The „EU typology of terrorism” chapter underlines the change in the intent of destruction, as well as the overall global dimension – as for its functioning, its end goals and its root causes – of the new type of terrorism.

In the chapter on „EU anti-terrorism state of play”, it is first noted that in Europe this is an area overcrowded with actors and assets. Not only does the rivalry between EU institutions – and between the supranational or intergovernmental logics they represent – lead to parallel structures and solutions, but national services and organisms competing with each other within the Member States are also keen on being present – i.e. all of them – on the EU level, so as to illustrate their own importance.

Regarding the main lines of the Union’s activities in the field of counter-terrorism: among the extremely multifold and diversified competences of the European Union, it would be very difficult to find one where the fight against terrorism has not appeared after 9/11 as a slogan stimulating further integration. We must, however, bear in mind that„in the fight against terrorism, responsibility lies primarily with the Member States. This notwithstanding, it is obvious that a real wrestling contest is taking place between the institutions (Council and Commission) and the integration logics (intergovernmental, supranational) in the field of counter-terrorism, this latter having become one of the new „pulling forces” of the Union (also being the EU policy followed by the utmost attention and expectations by public opinion).

After presenting EU-level measures with regard to the „coordinating role”, the „terrorism-related crime prevention and fight against crime”, as well as „managing and alleviating the effects of possible terrorist acts”, the last chapter turns to the „specificities of the European approach”. Namely the fact that Europe does not let herself gragged into a logic of total confrontation. She refuses to consider the fight against terrorism as a war; just like she refuses the over-emphasis on the military means of the counter-terrorism arsenal; and she refuses to see in terrorism and in the fight against it an all-encompassing, single framework of interpretation.

As for concrete, political agenda, Christopher Patten, EU Commissioner for External Relations thinks that by focussing on four priorities, Europe can contribute to avoid the so-called „clash of civilisations”. According to him, we must concentrate on dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an impartial way, help the internal reform processes of the Arab world, handle the consequences of the „wretched adventure” in Iraq and approach the question of Turkish membership in the Union with great care, aware of all the symbolism (bridge or rift) behind it. Patten also stressed that: „If we can't have development without peace, nor do we have peace without development. This idea of an inter-relationship between peace and development is not new. And the moral argument for tackling both conflict and poverty is clear. But the scale of the problem and the appalling dimension of recent events have added to this moral argument the argument of self-preservation. Put simply, we have no choice but to make the promotion of sustainable development as much a part of our fight for global security as the investment we make in our armed forces.”

To sum up, we can say that the main hindrance on the way of a maximum-efficiency EU counter-terrorism policy (in conformity with the European terrorism paradox mentioned earlier) is to be find in the uneven state of the integration itself, as well as in the non-clarification of the issue of strategic autonomy. The EU suffers, first and foremost, from the absence of political will and vision necessary to rectify and overcome these anomalies. This does not, however, necessarily mean that the Union, and Europe as a whole, would be condemned to total paralysis and impotence. First: most of the items on the counter-terrorism agenda fits into the lines of action which are, in any case, inevitable on the path of the “ever closer union”. Second: in the most delicate area of information exchange closer co-operations had been established much earlier. In this regard, the main point is to watch carefully that rhetorical considerations and impression-driven attempts to elevate to all-Union level should not jeopardize already well-functioning operational collaboration, proved to be vital day after day. Third: dialogues among the Twenty-Five, becoming more and more frequent on the matter of terrorism, have an important function of “socialization” (meaning the general process of acquiring and sharing a culture) – regardless of the fact that most critical, concrete steps are mainly taken outside the EU framework. 

Abstract of the original study in Hungarian.


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