29 Aug 2017

Reflections on the Terrorist Attacks in Barcelona: Constructing a principled and trust-based EU approach to countering terrorism

Sergio Carrera / Elspeth Guild / Valsamis Mitsilegas

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This Policy Insight examines EU counter-terrorism policies in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks of 18 August 2017 in Catalonia and explores what more the EU can do to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of those policies. To this end, it puts forward two policy recommendations:

The EU should construct and progressively develop a principled and trust-based policy approach to countering terrorism. Such an approach would consist of an evaluation (fitness check) and regular reappraisal of the effectiveness and efficiency of current EU policies and their priorities –particularly those related to information exchange (and interoperability) and countering radicalisation.

The authors argue that the EU’s present policy is based on two long-standing (mis)conceptions, namely that existing priorities and instruments are effective in preventing, investigating and prosecuting terrorist crimes and that EU principles and fundamental rights act as obstacles to efficient law enforcement. They examine these two conceptions and call for them to be reconsidered in light of existing research and evidence, explaining how they have led to what may be called the “EU liberal paradox”. This paradox relates not only to the deleterious impact that counter-terrorism policies have on the EU and national constitutional principles, which terrorism seeks to destroy, but also the questionable extent to which the objectives pursued in EU security policies and tools are efficiently met in their implementation and practical uses.

If EU policies aimed at tackling terrorism are not properly informed and tested, and their societal impacts and ethical implications rigorously assessed, the result will be a lack of mutual confidence between EU and state law enforcement authorities and judicial practitioners, as well as social mistrust on the part of citizens and communities. The conclusions outline a set of recommendations for the next phases of the European Agenda on Security aimed at implementing a principled and trust-based EU approach in countering terrorism.

Sergio Carrera is Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Justice and Home Affairs section at CEPS Elspeth Guild is Associate Senior Research Fellow at CEPS. Valsamis Mitsilegas is Head of the Department of Law and Professor of European Criminal Law at Queen Mary, University of London. This paper was prepared in the context of the SOURCE Network of Excellence, which is financed by the EU FP7 programme with the aim of creating a robust and sustainable virtual centre of excellence capable of exploring and advancing societal issues in security research and development.