Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos at the Special Committee on Terrorism (TERR), EP Brussels 23/1/2018

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23 Jan 2018
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos

Opening remarks

Honourable Members, 

I am very pleased to have this first exchange of views with you today. 

Better protecting our citizens is at the very heart of our common work and a number one priority. 

That is why the role of your Committee is extremely important, and I look forward to your final report.

In early 2016, we announced our intention to work towards an effective and genuine Security Union.

Commissioner King joined the team to work on the implementation of this important project, and to support my work in the wider area of Home Affairs and internal security.

I think that our exchange of views today comes at a very good time where your work has already advanced considerably.

You have already had detailed debates on security topics, and Commissioner King has been here to debate with you. 

I will not repeat everything he told you on our work to enhance the security of our citizens.

My work, as Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, looks at our internal security with a broader lens – encompassing also migration and border management.

We know of course that there is no inevitable link between migration and terrorism.

But we have also seen specific instances, where migration and security have come together. 

We would be extremely myopic if we overlooked these linkages. We know for example that there are risks of infiltration of migratory flows by terrorists.

This is why our  migration hotspots, are also key control points for our security, and this is why Europol is also present there, complementing the work of the other Agencies. 

Incoming migrants are registered, identified, fingerprinted and checked against relevant databases.

If alerts come up, Europol takes follow up action. The same joined-up thinking is what we want to bring to our external border management.

Our external borders are where the challenges from migration and security come together.

It is only with a strong and well-managed external border that we will manage to safeguard the freedom to move inside the Schengen area.

Our borders can produce key information, and that is why the new Entry Exit System, and the future European Travel Information and Authorisation System, are crucial both for managing migration and for enhancing security. 

Take the challenge of returning foreign terrorist fighters for example. 

Both Entry Exit and ETIAS can help us deal with the issue by producing key information at the external border.

It is urgent that we all act now to have these systems in place swiftly. 

Our security environment remains volatile. This will not change any time soon.

What can change is the way we deal with the threat.

Information sharing here is issue number one. Information sharing is about the quantity and the quality of the information we share on developing threats – but also about the architecture of our systems. 

That is why we took action to address the gaps we found in our architecture of data management. 

Our information systems, for security, borders and migration management, are isolated silos if they don’t talk to each other.

The Berlin Christmas Market attack showed that it was possible for an individual to appear in different EU databases using different identities.

This cannot be allowed to continue. Our proposal on the interoperability of EU information systems will precisely address this issue.  

It will be a game-changer in the fight against terrorists hiding behind false identities, in full respect of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and of data protection. 

Beyond information sharing, the urgency of the terrorist threat means that we have to become more operational in how we support our Member States.

In October last year, we presented a counter-terrorism package for this purpose. We made almost 120 million euro available to our Member States to protect public spaces, and so called 'soft targets'. 

We also issued recommendations on how to better control explosives precursors, which are of course a major problem. 

But we cannot stop here. Other challenges are not operational as such – they are societal.

I am of course thinking about the radicalisation of our own citizens, both offline and online. This is of course a major challenge. 

Tomorrow, in our monthly Security Union report, we will announce that we will follow a gradual approach to step up our actions against radicalisation, starting with measures to improve coordination at EU level. 

The other side of this work is the internet. You know that since 2015, when I established the EU Internet Forum, we have been working very closely with Member States and internet companies to tackle terrorist propaganda online. 

I am thankful to the Chairwoman of this Committee, Ms Griesbeck, for having attended the December ministerial meeting of the EU Internet Forum.

You saw, Nathalie, that we have built a relationship of trust with internet companies, which is producing concrete results. 

But you heard for yourself also our clear message: we need more progress. We need to see results from the companies, and we need to see them even faster. 

That is why we are now looking at ways of achieving more progress under the EU Internet Forum and we are reflecting whether additional measures, including possible legislation, will be required to step up action in against illegal content online. 

Legislation however takes time. And we need to act now. We are keeping all options on the table, and we will decide in the coming months on how we move forward.

The last point I would like to emphasise, is the indispensable need for international cooperation on security. 

Our insecurity is a global issue. It is not an issue we can resolve nationally or regionally.  

We need to cooperate closely with third countries to reduce risks and terrorist threats at home.

In December, we proposed to the Council to open negotiations on the exchange of personal data between Europol and Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey.  

We are also cooperating with countries in the Western Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa on radicalisation, and the trafficking of firearms and explosives. 

We also work very closely with strategic partners facing similar security challenges as the European Union, such as the United States. From information sharing, to tackling terrorist content online, to improving aviation security and border management – the EU and the US see eye to eye on facing the internal security threats together, with a global strategic focus.

To conclude, Honourable Members, these joint-up, collective and multilateral approaches are how we CAN defeat terrorism. 

Both at home, in Europe, and globally. At the core, what we need to change, in order to achieve a genuine Security Union, is our security mentality and culture.

We cannot fight terrorism in national silos. National security will always be the competence of our Member States. 

But which national security can we really talk about when terrorists are crossing both our physical and virtual borders to commit their atrocities?

Honourable Members, It is fragmentation that makes us all vulnerable.

Only when we eliminate fragmentation and unify our efforts will we see results against terrorism. And that is where we are concentrating our political efforts.

An example of this necessary mentality change is the creation of a European Intelligence Unit.

This is an idea I championed three years ago – and at the time provoked a lot of reaction from Member States. 

Now, many Member States are much more open to making this concept a reality in the future.

We have to move forward with vision, determination and conviction. I see these traits in the work of this Committee, and I want to congratulate you all for that. 

Your work is a critical contribution, and I urge you all to continue your work with the same dynamism and determination that you started with. 

In me you will always have an ally and a friend in this effort.

Closing remarks

Thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to be with you here today to participate in this debate.

The work we are doing in the area of terrorism is critical, because it responds to the number one concern of our citizens: Security.

This is an area where Europeans want more Europe. 

And this is what we need to make sure that we deliver to them.

I spoke earlier about the need to change our mindset and our culture, when it comes to our security cooperation.

I will never tire of repeating this: we can only defeat terrorism if we work together.

If we overcome the taboos of the past that security is the preserve of the nation state.

If the deep state within our Member States stops resisting the clear need to look at security in a European, and in a global way.

We are certainly not where we were three years ago.

Our external border is stronger.

Our information systems are getting smarter and better connected.

Our agencies are better equipped and working more closely together.

Our Member States are sharing more and more information, and are asking from us to support them in more operational ways.

Our cooperation with external partners is widening.

But there is still much more work ahead.

To fight radicalisation online and offline.

To ensure key information on threats is not lost.

To step up the physical protection of our infrastructure and our citizens.

Above all: to instil a sense of security in the minds of our citizens that they are not threatened in city squares, concert halls and places of worship.

The work of this Committee is commendable, and is helping us to reach all these objectives.

I want to repeat that in me you will always have a friend and ally in your objectives.

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