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EU counter-terrorism policy

Drawing from the European Union (EU) counter-terrorism strategy, this communication takes stock of EU level legislative and policy developments, and presents some of the future challenges, in the fight against terrorism.


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 20 July 2010 – The EU Counter-Terrorism Policy: main achievements and future challenges [COM(2010) 386 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


The communication presents the main European Union (EU) level legislative and policy developments, as well as some of the future challenges, in the field of counter-terrorism. It forms a preparatory step in the EU’s internal security strategy, building on the Stockholm Programme’s counter-terrorism related measures. The communication focuses on the four strands identified in the EU counter-terrorism strategy:


The framework decision on combating terrorism is the main EU level legal instrument for dealing with terrorist offences. Amended in 2008, it now also harmonises national provisions relating to the prevention aspects of the fight against terrorism, including terrorist use of the internet. The Commission has also launched a dialogue with law enforcement authorities and service providers to counter terrorist use of the internet. To facilitate this kind of public/private partnerships, a European Agreement Model is currently being developed.

Of the several important policies the EU has adopted in recent years to combat radicalisation and recruitment, the specific EU strategy is a key instrument. Action and implementation plans were approved in 2009 to further the objectives of this strategy. The Commission’s contribution to work in this field has included its communication concerning terrorist recruitment and support for the production of a number of related studies. Furthermore, it has set up a European Network of Experts on Radicalisation (ENER) to facilitate dialogue between academics and policy makers.

In the future, the most effective ways to counter radicalisation and recruitment must be identified more accurately. The related national policies must be assessed, to which end the Commission will launch a communication in 2011, which will also serve as a basis for updating the EU strategy. More effective approaches must also be put in place to counter terrorist use of the internet, including further support to national law enforcement authorities.


Great efforts have been made in recent years to improve border security, including the introduction of new technologies in the development of the integrated border management system and of biometric passports. The second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) and the Visa Information System (VIS) are currently being developed. Cyber security is dealt with in the framework decision on attacks against information systems and the action plan to protect critical information infrastructure. To improve transport security, especially regarding civil aviation and maritime transport, an extensive legislative framework has been established. In these two fields, the Commission also closely cooperates with national administrations on a system of inspections of airports and port facilities.

In 2008, an EU action plan for enhancing the security of explosives was approved. The Commission is also working on proposals for measures that aim at improving control of access to precursor substances used for preparing explosives. Several programmes have also been established to support the development of security and counter-terrorism policies, such as the security research programme (as part of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development) and the European Programme for Critical Infrastructure (EPCIP). In relation to the latter, a directive on European critical infrastructures was adopted in 2008 as a first step in creating an EU-wide approach.

Future work must concentrate on improving transport security through the use of new technologies and on developing industrial security policy with focus on standardising and certifying security solutions. Efforts should also be made to ensure the effectiveness of security research policy, in particular by strengthening links between public sector users and the research community as well as technology providers and the industry.


In recent years, several instruments relating to data gathering and exchanges have been adopted, such as the Data Retention Directive, the decision on stepping up cross-border cooperation and the framework decisions on simplifying the exchange of information between national law enforcement authorities and on the European evidence warrant. At the same time, improvements have been made to the functioning of Europol and to its cooperation with Eurojust.

The main legislative instrument dealing with the financing of terrorism is the directive on money laundering adopted in 2005. The same year, a regulation on controls of cash entering or leaving the EU was also adopted. There are also non-legislative measures to counter terrorist financing, such as the voluntary guidelines to address non-profit organisations’ vulnerability to abuse for terrorist financing purposes.

An assessment of the new legal instruments for exchanging information is currently underway and will be presented in a separate communication. The need for EU legislation on investigation techniques will also be assessed. In addition, there is the need to establish a methodology based on common parameters for threat assessments at EU level in order to ensure that counter-terrorism policy is adequately supported by evidence.


The EU Civil Protection Mechanism is the main instrument for responding to terrorist attacks. Additional EU level mechanisms include the Crisis Coordination Arrangements (CCA) and the ARGUS system, which aim at coordinating responses to crises. Europol also supports coordinated responses to terrorist incidents through its information exchange mechanisms.

The EU action plan on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security was adopted in 2009, with a view to better preparing and responding to incidents in which terrorists would obtain such materials. The Commission also provides support to victims of terrorist attacks, including financial support.

The EU civil protection policy is currently being evaluated to better prepare for the follow-up actions. An assessment of ways to reinforce coordination and cooperation to facilitate consular protection during crises is also underway. Furthermore, it is essential that the EU rapid response capacity be further developed on the basis of existing instruments.

Horizontal issues

The EU counter-terrorism strategy also includes horizontal issues that are relevant for its implementation:

  • respect for fundamental rights – the tools used to fight terrorism must comply with the Charter of Fundamental Rights;
  • cooperation with external partners – cooperation should be further developed through international organisations, such as the United Nations, and with non-EU countries, particularly the United States;
  • funding – the multi-annual financial frameworks (currently the Security and Safeguarding Liberties Programme) provide funding for counter-terrorism; the feasibility of creating an Internal Security Fund will be examined in future.

Last updated: 28.10.2010