EU’s Response to Terrorism: A Holistic Approach Towards Security and Prevention

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Terrorist attacks across the world reveal the extent of the unabated danger citizens face from all forms of violent extremism. The terrorist threat is manifold and geographically diffuse. It remains essential, complex, and unpredictable. The challenges that require action by the EU and its partners are numerous. Threats arise from the risk of radicalization and violent extremism reproduced in local communities within the EU and beyond, as well as the re-emergence of terrorist actors, such as Al-Qaeda and Da’esh, and also low-key lone operators. Further, rising technologies, an increasingly aggressive terrorist propaganda online, and politically motivated terrorism are ushering in new challenges.

To effectively counter and contain the threat of terrorism and violent extremism, the EU takes a whole-of-society strategy. This approach envisions a vital function for civil society and other non-governmental actors in providing practical prevention efforts based on human rights and respect for the rule of law.

To ensure their efficacy, the EU also prioritizes gender-responsive counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) policies. This includes working with partners on increasing the number of women in law enforcement and advancing attention paid to the role of women and girls in CT and P/CVE policies. The European External Action Service (EEAS) focuses on the international extent of counter-terrorism in close coordination with EU Member States in the Council Working Party, COTER, and with all applicable EU institutions and international partners.

The function of the EEAS is to conduct CT external outreach and guide EU capacity-building aid to third countries, in close collaboration with the other EU Institutions, to ensure coherence and efficiency. In recent years, the EU – directed by the EEAS, with the close involvement of the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, the European Commission, and the EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Agencies – has launched Counter-Terrorism Dialogues with key partner countries and multilateral organizations. Political outreach through these specific CT Dialogues is maintained with various countries and institutions, including the UN, Australia, India, Pakistan, KSA, Turkey, and the US.

The EEAS also organizes the EU Counter-Terrorism/Security Experts’ Network. Founded in 2015, the Network mirrors the geographic priorities of the EU’s external engagement in Counter-Terrorism.  It currently comprises 20 Experts deployed in EU Delegations throughout the world. The Network is a vital element of the EU’s CT Toolbox, as the Strategic Compass highlights. The EU’s CT/Security Experts are crucial in liaising with host governments, regional organizations, and civil society on behalf of the EU on the full range of EU CT and P/CVE activities with partner countries and organizations.

Moreover, The new Civilian Common Security and Defence Programme (CSDP) compact, ratified in May 2023, emphasizes that it should contribute to increasing civilian CSDP’s effectiveness via efforts to support the EU’s capacity to operate rapidly and robustly, to ensure host countries and civilian CSDP missions, to support in more and better capabilities, and to partner with host governments as well as third states and international organizations. CSDP missions contribute to the EU’s broader response to tackle current, emerging, and future security challenges, including those linked to organized crime, terrorism, radicalization, and violent extremism. This is most obvious to those missions with an explicit counter-terrorism mandate (EUCAP Sahel Niger, EUCAP Sahel Mali, EUBAM Libya, EUAM Iraq, EULEX Kosovo, and EUTM Mozambique), but also lies to other missions that contribute to the countering of terrorism and prevention of violent extremism leading to terrorism in different ways, for example through security sector reform (SSR).

Countering the financing of terrorism is a critical element of the EU’s overall counter-terrorism strategy. To make and implement international standards, the EU works with its partners in the Financial Action Taskforce FATF – the international standard-setter for Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT). The EU has launched a process to identify high-risk third countries with strategic weaknesses in their AML/CFT regimes to protect the internal market. As a part of its broader counter-terrorism arrangement with partners, the EU coordinates approaches to AML/CFT and works with partner countries to support their AML/CFT efforts.

The use of traditional, online, and social media is a vital instrument in the hands of terrorist groups all around the world. The measures to oppose extremist narratives and undermine the appeal of its ideology are relentless. In that regard, the EU launched the EU Internet Forum in 2015 to deliver a framework for efficient cooperation with the Internet industry in the hereafter and to secure a commitment from the leading actors to coordinate and scale up efforts in this area. The EU also funds efforts of the international community, including the Global Coalition against Da’esh, the Christchurch Call, and the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), to oppose terrorist content and hate speech online.

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