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The fight against terrorism: a European battle

Arnaud Hussenot

On Thursday 25 and Friday 26 October, a high-level conference on the fight against terrorism and the role of the European Union in addressing this challenge was held in Metz with French MEP and Chair of the Special Commission on Terrorism Nathalie Griesbeck. Two very enriching days of exchanges and discussions, in the presence of the European Commissioner Sir Julian King, in charge of the Security Union, and before an audience of informed experts.

In 2017, fifteen attacks were carried out on European soil, some 50 were thwarted, and the terrorist threat remains omnipresent. Faced with this challenge, which transcends both tangible and intangible borders, and in order to meet the social, societal and security challenges associated with it, the European Parliament set up a special committee on the fight against terrorism in 2017, chaired by Nathalie Griesbeck after an election.

While the committee's work is in the process of examining amendments, the European Democratic Party and Nathalie Griesbeck have decided to organise a high-level conference to present the future struggles to be waged in the fight against terrorism and to highlight the importance of European cooperation. It had the honour of welcoming Commissioner Sir Julian King, in charge of the Security Union.

European agencies at the heart of the first day
The conference opened with an inaugural speech by Commissioner Sir Julian King, who presented all the existing (and ongoing) measures within the European Union to combat terrorism. The opportunity for the Commissioner to stress the need to improve the exchange of information and strengthen the use of existing databases, in particular by making them interoperable. The Commissioner also highlighted the prevention of radicalisation, presenting to the many participants the European Commission's new proposal for the mandatory removal of online content of a terrorist nature.

The speech was followed by a discussion between Commissioner Sir Julian King, and Frédéric Baab, a French member of the Eurojust Agency and Chairman of the Eurojust Counter-Terrorism Group since December 2017. These exchanges were moderated by Belgian MEP and EDP Delegate General Gérard Deprez, who is also the coordinator for the ALDE group within the Special Committee on the Fight against Terrorism.

This rich discussion allowed the auditors to discover in a practical way how Eurojust, the European judicial cooperation agency, which is too little known by citizens and yet plays an essential role within the Union by coordinating transnational investigations and accompanying national judicial authorities, operates. The European Commissioner recalled the important role of Europol in judicial cooperation, but also of Cepol (European Police College).

The three speakers answered the guests' many questions on judicial cooperation, but also on strengthening our border controls and the financing of terrorism.

Fight against terrorism: from local to European level
On Friday 26 October, discussions continued with a presentation on the current state of the threat by Jean-Charles Brisard, founding President of the Centre d'Analyse du Terrorisme (CAT) and undisputed French expert on terrorism. He presented with precision the challenges we face such as radicalisation or post-carceral monitoring (but also during detention) of convicted persons. Jean-Charles Brisard also stressed the need to work closely at both local and European levels to tackle this challenge.

In a second part, Jean-Charles Brisard was joined by three distinguished speakers: Préfet Etienne Guépratte in charge of Tourism Security, Isabelle Panou, Belgian anti-terrorist judge in charge of the Paris attacks and David Touvet, liaison magistrate at the French Embassy in Belgium. All three stressed the need for cooperation: within States, with local actors, but also between different countries.

Etienne Guépratte presented all the measures taken by France to protect touristic sites, which can be the target of terrorist attacks. For example, prefects have been called upon to map vulnerable touristic sites, to create territorial intelligence services, and to appoint a departmental security focal point.

Benefiting from the full attention of the participants, Isabelle Panou and David Touvet then shared their experiences on the investigations of the Paris and Thalys attacks, on which they worked. They explained in concrete terms how the French and Belgian judicial authorities work on these cases, within the framework of joint investigation teams that allow the Belgian authorities to work as if they were in France (and vice versa!). Essential cooperation, based on mutual trust, which makes it possible to work more quickly and efficiently. David Touvet also stressed the crucial role of liaison magistrates, who help to make judicial operations more fluid, by advising prosecutors on how to cooperate with their European partners.

These presentations once again aroused great curiosity and raised many questions about judicial cooperation and the security of our public spaces, but also about the fight against documentary fraud and prison reintegration.

With a few minutes' delay, justified by the interest of the guests and their questions, Nathalie Griesbeck, Chair of the Special Commission on Combating Terrorism, concluded these two days of complete and diversified exchanges, discussions that helped to reveal the transversal nature of this issue, which affects multiple spaces and multiple themes.