EU pledges to step up fight against terrorism after Brussels attacks

EU ministers responsible for security and justice pledged Thursday to step up their fight against terrorism in the wake of this week's attacks in Brussels, which some argue could have been prevented by more intelligence sharing and still-pending legislation.

"It's the moment to pass from words to action," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said. "The life of our citizens, the safety of our citizens is at stake."

In a joint statement, the ministers set out a list of 10 priorities, including a promise to investigate "as a matter of urgency" the terrorist networks involved in Tuesday's killings in Brussels and last year's attacks in the French capital Paris.

They also pledged to step up their countries' information-sharing efforts, including by ensuring "the systematic feeding, consistent use and interoperability of European and international databases in the fields of security, travel and migration."

Swedish Home Affairs Minister Anders Ygeman argued that intelligence sharing has already improved, but also acknowledged that there is "a small mistrust between services in different nations of Europe."

"Many national authorities do not want to share their information with all the others," German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. "This mentality must change."

"We need to all sit together in one place, at the same table, to be able to exchange information, even informally, without too many procedures," Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano added.

The ministers said that the European Union will also pick up the pace on new counter-terrorism measures that still have to be finalized, most notably a long-standing bid to start storing the data of airline passengers travelling to, from and within the bloc.

Supporters say the creation of a so-called European passenger name records (PNR) system will help thwart crime and terrorism, but the measure has been stymied by data privacy concerns - notably in the European Parliament.

De Maiziere however described the concerns as not justified "given the dramatic situation," while French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that the parliament had been given guarantees that travelers' data would be protected under the new PNR system.

In their joint statement, the EU ministers underlined the need to "adopt the PNR directive in April 2016 and implement it as a matter of urgency."

They also promised to pursue in a "resolute manner" already existing work on stepping up the fight against weapons trafficking and document fraud, cracking down on terrorist financing and improving identity checks at Europe's external borders.

"We don't need new plans, we need to fully execute ... the measures that have been taken before and decided upon before," said Dutch Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Thursday's meeting would be "a strong signal that all 28 member states are standing together in the fight against terrorism."

But there was also a measure of scepticism, since the EU had made similar promises following last year's terrorist attacks in Paris and then failed to deliver.

"I very well understand the skepticism ... and I would even share [that] skepticism," Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said, but also added: "Do not despair, do not only excel by skepticism, but also do believe that Europe always and again and again finds its way to solutions."

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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