EU Counterterrorism Policy: A Paper Tiger?
Reviewer: Daniela Chalaniova (Metropolitan University Prague)
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Just over a decade ago, the foundations of international order were shattered. When the initial shock of 9/11 subsided, security actors around the world prioritised the struggle against terrorism and created a variety of counterterrorism frameworks and measures. The European Union (EU) was no exception to this trend and, at the turn of the millennium, it too stepped up efforts to provide its citizens with a true area of freedom, security and justice. Bures’s work entitled: EU Counterterrorism Policy: A Paper Tiger? takes a hard look at recent developments in EU counterterrorism and aims to identify areas of cooperation where the EU clearly adds value to national (or global) counterterrorism efforts; areas where the EU may emerge as a real security tiger.
The book itself is divided into four thematic parts, starting with a discussion of contemporary terrorist threats, their perceptions across the EU member states and an overview of the most important EU institutions, measures and legislation after 9/11. The second part is dedicated to assessing the role of European agencies (Europol and Eurojust) and the EU’s Counterterrorism Coordinator. In the third part, Bures delves deeper and scrutinises individual measures and policies designed to pursue and prevent terrorism such as the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and the EU’s fight against terrorist financing. The fourth, concluding part, tackles the current dilemmas of counterterrorism, namely the relationship between freedom and security; and possible future scenarios of EU-level cooperation. The book presents an exhaustive overview of academic literature and relevant EU documentation. The value-added derived from this volume lies in the interviews conducted with national and EU counterterrorism officers, who shared their opinions and experiences from this often clandestine policy field.
Throughout the book, Bures identifies several pitfalls of European-level counterterrorism cooperation: different threat perceptions across the EU, complicated and unclear institutional architecture, weak implementation, blind adoption of external legislation and lastly, ‘counterterrorism fatigue;’ each of which is dealt with below.
The EU is no stranger to terrorist violence and the Madrid and London bombings (2004, 2005 respectively), together with the spectacular 9/11 attacks produced two, inter-related, consequences. Firstly, they opened a window of opportunity to strengthen intra-EU security and counterterrorism cooperation and, secondly, they contributed to further divergence in member states’ terrorism threat perceptions (generally, member states that suffered from an attack and/or have a large Muslim population view terrorism more acutely than those lacking such conditions). Bures observes that although each attack is followed by a flurry of activities – the adoption of new action plans, the widening of institutional competences, the creation of new specialised bodies and legislation – the divergent threat perceptions renders decision-making and implementation cumbersome, piecemeal and ineffective. Bures rightly notes that, ‘(u)nder these circumstances, it is … extremely difficult, if not impossible, to agree on and implement a coherent EU counterterrorism policy’ (p. 54). Lacking consensus and an intergovernmental policy process based on political trade-offs often leads to a complicated institutional architecture with unclear competences, institutional overlaps and even inter-agency rivalry, thus further eroding the efficiency of EU counterterrorism.
Furthermore, the efficiency of any given policy, including counterterrorism, is determined by its appropriateness in a given situation and level of implementation. EU counterterrorism policy suffers on both fronts: first, as Bures demonstrated (chapter 8) deploying the fight against terrorist financing, the EU adopted two sets of measures derived from UN Security Council resolutions (1267, 1333, 1373) and G7’s Financial Action Task Force recommendations (the 40 Recommendations and 9 Special Recommendations). Although these documents are recognised as the international standard in fighting terrorism financing, their appropriateness in the EU’s environment is debatable, not least because of human rights and judicial concerns. Secondly, policy success rests on proper implementation. Experts and scholars agree that implementing EU counterterrorism measures is inadequate, giving the book its name: in terms of legal measures, the EU seems like a formidable actor, but closer inspection reveals failures in implementation, reducing the EU’s potency and rendering it a “paper tiger.” Indeed, as Bures highlights, ‘these shortcomings represent and important reminder that the EU is ultimately its member states, without whose wholehearted support even the most elaborate and innovative counterterrorism structures and mechanisms remain useless’ (p. 248).
Finally, it seems that a counterterrorism fatigue is setting in. Other priorities such as dealing with the impending economic crisis, trumps counterterrorism initiatives and increases the probability of dreaded scenarios. Since terrorists, not governments enjoy the advantage of choosing the means, the dates and the targets, ‘Governments have to be lucky all the time and the terrorist needs to be lucky only once’ (p. 4).
Such shortcomings paint a rather alarming picture of EU counterterrorism policy, though consideration must be paid to the unique manner the EU is attempting to integrate and cooperate in the field of counterterrorism; attempting to institutionalise air-tight cooperation between forces across sectors and across borders (with the national internal security still in place) so the EU is actually breaking new ground in international counterterrorism efforts.
Despite problems, there is room for cautious optimism – abiding by a common definition of terrorism is a solid starting point of any initiative – the EU counterterrorism platform offers member states a well developed administrative capacity for long-term planning and coordination; the distance from national capitals ensures technical not political problem-problem solving; the ‘Terrorism Working Group has progressed from a talking shop to an instrument that is giving useful advice to authorities at the EU level’ and after initial mistrust the EAW proved to be an asset (p. 252).
EU Counterterrorism Policy: A Paper Tiger? is a one-of-a-kind book, unrivalled in the EU internal security literature and combines, in a single volume, both complex, robust textbook knowledge of EU’s counterterrorism policy with detailed critical analysis and insider’s comments. It is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in European internal security policy in general and counterterrorism in particular.