As Paris marks five years since the coordinated attacks on the Bataclan and in the aftermath of recent attacks in France and Austria, EU interior ministers today (13 November) discuss how to strengthen cross-border coordination in fighting terrorism.
While over the last five years a number of measures have already been agreed at EU level on enhancing cross-border policy cooperation within the EU, national information silos and distrust continue to make a coherent approach to a European problem difficult as the failure by Austrian and Slovakian security services to speedily exchange information in the days preceding the recent shooting in Vienna highlights.
The recent attacks, however, underline the difficulties Europe’s security services face in their task. In Vienna, the 20-year old attacker was a native of the city, albeit with a migrant background, but self-radicalised online. Although some people may argue that what binds recent terror attacks in Europe is religion and their “hatred” of the ‘European way life’, such a notion fundamentally disregards the broader extremist global movements evolving over the last two decades. It disregards, or even ignores, that more people are killed annually by attacks in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria or Pakistan, according to the Global Terrorism Index. It also neglects Europe’s own, in fact quite recent, history of domestic terrorism, such as ETA in Spain, the IRA in Northern Ireland, the Red Army Faction in Germany, or Italy’s years of lead.
Yes, Europe always had, and still has, a problem with violent groups threatening our “way of life” to achieve social or political changes. This is nothing new. What is new, however, is our society’s attempt to create an “us” versus “them” based on people’s religion and heritage for their actions.
Rather than fostering the badly needed dialogues between different cultures, religions and socio-economic backgrounds that make up our modern multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Europe, such divisions only help to reinforce young, disenfranchised people to turn away from the values of human dignity, freedom, including religious freedom, dignity and democracy, and become radicalised online.
This is the fundamental challenge facing Europe and EU interior ministers today and for years to come. How to balance the fight against extremist ideologies with the different values of Europe’s open, multi-cultural society without falling into the populist narrative against migration or religion. Instead, work should be significantly stepped up in preventing radicalisation on- and offline, as well as the tackling of terrorist content online. On the latter, negotiations are still ongoing on a new EU Regulation which should allow for the effective cross-border removal of terrorist content.