The European Union and the challenges with fighting terrorism: the boundaries of cooperation

By Kheira Kolla

Less than a month after the shock of the tragic attacks in Paris, the European Union is preparing to put in place a series of measures to strengthen the fight against terrorism and to counter the jihadist threat. On January 19th, the 28 member states spoke up to express their willingness to strengthen cooperation with the Arab countries and those around the Mediterranean. This entails a more enhanced cooperation between European intelligence and Arab-Mediterranean forces through an information sharing system. Since the Barcelona Declaration of 1995, the Euro -Mediterranean relations have been one of the EU’s concerns to ensure a stable and secure environment, like through the reinforcement of political and security dialogue.

 The meeting on January 19th was between the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini and Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil al- Arabi in Brussels. During his visit to Brussels , the Secretary General of the Arab League , Nabil al- Arabi , said  in Le Monde, that the fight against terrorism  » should not be limited to the military and security issue” but that it should also deliver « the intellectual , cultural , media and religious issues. » This will be achieved, firstly, by supporting Egypt, Yemen, Turkey and the Maghreb countries in the implementation of educational programs in the reform of their security service and a better consideration of the phenomenon of radicalization. On the other hand, it should open a dialogue with the Arabic and Muslim populations in the European Union. Indeed, it would be better for all parties to build a socio- political relationship based on a better account of the realities of these countries and their people by setting up a real co-decision process, but also by supporting their development to avoid a pre-Barcelona scenario. For the abovementioned reasons, by better recruitment of Arab countries to the European community, a fight against terrorism is highly plausible. But to what extent will this new cooperation overcome the weaknesses of European diplomacy and multilateralism? Following this meeting, it remains vague and unconvincing because ultimately the European Union has relatively limited expertise in this area and operates under inter-governmental dynamics. Although diplomatic power includes the « security » aspect it is important to mention that this remains a national responsibility that Member States are not ready to give in to the supranational level.


In addition to the first part on the strengthening of a coordinated foreign policy, international mobilization against terrorism must be touched on two additional axes. A second security aspect was also discussed at the agenda of the ministers of European Foreign Affairs. In this respect, the European Commission released a new version of its anti-terrorism plan last week which mainly gathered information of personal data of air passengers coming in and out of Europe in the last five years. These new amendments came edited and cropped to the original provisions of the NRP “Passenger Name Record” because the study, ongoing since 2011, was rejected by the European Parliament in April 2013 for being « intrusive for innocent travelers.” This was a rather paradoxical decision by the European Parliament since, in 2012, it gave a green light for the PNR agreement with the United States to prevent and combat terrorism and transnational crime. These agreements deeply divided MEPs and Member States that express a certain reluctance. They were able to find an ally in the European Court, however, which broke a European directive last year by providing the retention of telephone data. Unfortunately, in accordance with Community law, they were prohibited from any further private data collection. The final component of this action plan provides for the defense of the values ​​with the assertion of freedom of expression but also freedom of religion. The will expressed by the founding fathers of Europe was to build a Europe based on values ​​and principles, a Europe whose foundations are democracy and respect for the freedom and dignity of individuals. The European Union is currently in a delicate position in the sense that it faces a « moral dilemma » regarding its own founding values: the divergence in values ​​concerning security and freedom. In the possible application of its anti-terrorist security, the EU may well clash with the freedom and fundamental rights of European citizens, including respect for privacy and the free movement of persons. This new cooperation in the fight against terrorism raises heated debate at the heart of the European Union: should we go towards more supranational integration or yield to the temptation of national decline? In the long run, Member States will have to think of a way to strengthen their relationship with their Mediterranean and Arab neighbors while also considering coordinating their policies on security and intelligence to ensure a stable and safe environment. The task is difficult, firstly because until now the Euro- Arab and Euro -Mediterranean cooperation has mainly focused on the economic aspect abandoning the areas of security and justice. Secondly, because part of the Arab states must simultaneously manage internal and regional crisis which observers describe as “new Arab cold war ». In this sense, the European Union is facing new challenges. Skepticism and questioning in regard to the success of this cooperation remain complete and pending.


Rencontre entre la Haute Représentante de l'Union européenne pour les affaires étrangères et la politique de sécurité, Federica Mogherini et le secrétaire général de la Ligue Arabe, Nabil Al-Arabi à Bruxelles le 19 janvier.

Rencontre entre la Haute Représentante de l’Union européenne pour les affaires étrangères et la politique de sécurité, Federica Mogherini et le secrétaire général de la Ligue Arabe, Nabil Al-Arabi à Bruxelles le 19 janvier.