"Foreign fighters" phenomenon spurs dozens of new counter-terrorism policies

At last week's meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, EU Member States' interior ministers adopted two documents related to counter-terrorism: the Revised EU Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism and Council Conclusions on Terrorism and Border Security. Neither is binding on the Member States but they represent a commitment towards particular policy goals. The ongoing "foreign fighter" phenomenon is leading to the development of a vast new array of counter-terrorism policies and initiatives.

The Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism focuses on a range of issues, including "ensuring that voices of maintstream opinion prevail over those of terrorism"; "enhance government communications"; "counter online radicalisation and recruitment to terrorism"; and "train, build capacity and engage first line practitioners across relevant sectors".

This last point advocates potentially highly-invasive policy, suggesting that:

"Training of teachers, social and health care workers, religious leaders, community police officers, and prison and probation staff is a critical element of any successful programme to counter radicalisation. These practitioners or first line workers may be able to identify signs of radicalisation at an early stage, therefore they need to be aware of and understand signs of radicalisation to terrorism."

The Council Conclusions on Terrorism and Border Security also make a wide range of demands, including increasing law enforcement cooperation; enhancing the use of databases such as the Schengen Information System and the Visa Information System; more stringent border checks; for the restarting of Council-Parliament negotiations on the EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive ; and for law enforcement access to the proposed Entry/Exit System to be included from the start of its operation.

The Conclusions also call for Frontex, the EU's border agency, to be involved in the exchange of "best practices and lessons learned regarding border management capabilities, and development and cooperation concerning awareness raising of border guards on counter-terrorism matters"; and for "the Member States and Europol, together with Frontex," to "develop and pursue common operational initiatives for safeguarding the EU's external borders against terrorist threats, in accordance with their respective mandates."

This may be controversial, as while Frontex's legal basis gives the agency a mandate for dealing with "cross-border crime", it has no authority to deal with terrorism per se.

A vast array of other initiatives are also being pursued by EU and Member States' authorities, as outlined in a document by the EU's Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, published earlier this month by Statewatch.

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