European ParliamentStrasbourg, 5 September 2007
The Commission continues to be fully committed to the implementation of the EU counter-terrorism strategy.
Our political goal remains to strike the right balance between the fundamental right to security of citizens, which is first, right to life, and the other fundamental rights of individuals, including privacy and procedural rights.
All sources indicate that the threat of new terrorist attacks continues to be high. Our member states' authorities have been able to prevent a number of attacks, for which we must be grateful.
I am talking about Spain, Italy, Belgium, United Kingdom and Germany. Yesterday, Danish authorities dismantled a group of young terrorists, also of Danish nationality; ready to move to a bombing attack. Minister Espersen of Denmark said that this was the most serious terrorist case in Denmark so far. This morning, we learned that suspect terrorists have been arrested in Frankfurt and the German Minister of Defence said that: "an attack was imminent". Would you say that in all this cases no results have been achieved? Don't you believe that stopping the final stage of a terror attack is in itself a fantastic result? But it is shows that, there is no room for complacency or letting our guard down.
I would first of all like to take this opportunity to inform you on a package of measures which are in preparation by my services, and which will be adopted by the Commission this autumn. We work on prevention and prosecution.
This package will consist of an EU Action Plan on the security of explosives, a proposal for an amendment of the Framework Decision on terrorism to deal with terrorist use of the internet, and an EU Passengers Name Record (PNR) policy. In addition, the package will contain a report on the evaluation of the implementation by the Member States of the Framework Decision on terrorism. A few words on each of these elements.
The EU action plan on explosives is a follow-up to the 2005 Commission communication on this topic, and aims to respond to the repeated call from the European Council and JHA Council meetings to improve the explosives situation in Europe.
You will no doubt recall that the attacks in Madrid were committed using commercially available explosives and detonators, which prompted the call for EU action in this area. I am glad that I can report to you that a lot of good work has been done by our services together with a wide rage of representatives of the private sector. I have received what I think will prove to be a ground-breaking report from a public-private expert group which I have established which contains around 50 valuable recommendations to improve the security of explosives, precursors and detonators across the EU.
These recommendations will form the basis for the EU Action Plan which should be adopted in November. Amongst the measures that will be proposed there are, for example: the setting up of an EU Explosives database at Europol, with links to the responsible services in the Member States, an early warning system so that these services are informed quickly for example when explosives have been stolen, or a new terrorist modus operandi is discovered from credible intelligence informations.
This brings me to the Internet and the way this tool, which has brought amazing advantages to our world, is being misused by terrorists. We all know that terrorists enjoy the benefits of the internet just as much – or even more so – as ordinary citizens, for instance to plan their attacks or to disseminate messages of concrete incitement to commit terror attacks.
The benefits of e-learning have also not escaped the attention of terrorists – you can find detailed instructions on all kinds of terrorist tactics, including the production of explosives, on the internet.
The proposal I mentioned just now will aim at ensuring that these forms of behaviour will be made punishable across the EU.
Another element of the package of measures relates to a European policy on PNR. Reflection on the details of the proposal is still ongoing but the Commission's main intention is to ensure that each Member State collects the PNR records, processes them and, where appropriate, exchanges them with others.
Up until now, PNR has been associated mostly with negotiations aimed at securing that EU citizens data are correctly processed by our partners and allies, in particular the United States. The Commission thinks the time has come to change focus and devote resources to the security of the Union. The Union is at least as much a potential target of a terrorist attack as the United States and the use and analysis of Passenger Name Records is an important law enforcement tool, to protect our citizens.
The final element of the package consists of the second report on the implementation of the Framework Decision on combating terrorism by the Member States. The new report will also include information on the situation in the new Member States, which was not yet available in 2004.
This brings me to the more general question raised concerning an overall comprehensive evaluation of all counter-terrorism measures adopted until now.
Of course, the Commission is in favour of the principle of evaluating the effectiveness of policies. As regards JLS policies, in particular, you might be aware that work is ongoing on the development of a global evaluation mechanism. I am ready to cooperate as I have been doing in the past, with the Parliament and LIBE Committee to carry out the evaluation of the existing measures, including the international and EU agreement with our international partners. To be clear, my aim will be to strengthen, not to weaken our ability to prevent and prosecute terrorism in a more effective way.
As regards the exchange of information between the Member States and the EU institutions, I fully agree that this is as an essential aspect of the fight against terrorism.
As you know, I have been active in this area and put forward a number of legislative proposals over the past years: on data protection in the third pillar, on the principle of availability and on data retention of electronic communications. Unfortunately, except for the data retention initiative, it has not been possible yet to reach agreement on these proposals in Council, but I will continue to strive for their adoption.
It is often said that mutual trust is needed for effective co-operation, especially when combating terrorism. My view on this is that trust can be stimulated by us mainly in two ways: first through ensuring that there is a clear and appropriate legal framework in place which provides confidence that information supplied will be treated in an appropriate manner, and secondly through stimulating as many shared international experiences as possible, including joint training exercises, so that people working in the field get to know and appreciate each other.
Concerning Sit-Cen, I should mention that, although it has certainly provided the Council with valuable strategic analyses of the terrorist threat and I have established with M. Solana a good practical cooperation on sharing info and data. Nevertheless I don't see a role for SitCen in the area of operational co-operation – certainly not as a co-ordinating tool for investigations - since its mandate is limited to dealing with non-personal information.
This is rather a task for Europol and Eurojust, I believe, which are the organisations set up and better equipped to deal with such tasks.
We should not forget that an overwhelming majority of our citizens – 84% percent according to a recent Eurobarometer poll – are strongly in favour of EU action to combat terrorism and organised crime.
Naturally any action which we take must be in line with fundamental rights acquis and with Article 6 of the Treaty. I intend to submit to the member States a questionnaire on anti-terrorism measures they have adopted on their effectiveness and how these relate to the human rights framework. I am ready to share with you data and results of this exercise.
Finally I would stress that our counter-terrorism efforts clearly require joint action and dedication from the Parliament, the Council and the Commission, and I am committed to continuing this work together with you, and to respond positively to further invitations from the LIBE Committee, as I have been doing since my appointment at the European Commission.