By Alice Giannini
Alice Giannini is a fourth-year law student at the University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy.
“The primary responsibility in the fight against terrorism lies with the member states. However, the EU can and should play a supportive role that helps respond to the cross-border nature of the threat.”
This is one of the first statements made in a presentation of the European Council’s policy on the fight against terrorism, a plague that has been taunting the European continent in the past several years like never before.  In the spirit of the words pronounced during that meeting, held in February 2015 after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris, the heads of state of EU members declared that they would strive to “further reinforce action against terrorist threats” by focusing on four main areas of action: ensuring the security of citizens, preventing radicalization, safeguarding values, and cooperating with international partners. 
The European counterterrorism strategy is based on four pillars: prevent, protect, pursue, and respond. The main ways through which the European Union adds value to the responsibility of every state to combat terrorism are by strengthening national responsibilities, facilitating European cooperation, developing collective capability, and promoting international partnership. Specifically, one of the measures that was most frequently invoked and debated before and after the terrorist attacks is the Passenger Name Record Data (PNR). This term refers to a list of personal information provided by passengers and collected by air carriers, which can include passengers’ names, travel dates, itineraries, and other details. So far, the European Council’s only achievement toward this goal is the approval of a compromise text of a directive with the Parliament.
Moreover, the importance of information exchange between national intelligence agencies has been stressed numerously times. This is supposed to be carried through EU agencies such as Europol and Frontex. However, these agencies lack any kind of power to collect information on their own through tactics such as interceptions.
So now, can the European institutions say that their words have come into action? Unfortunately, these latest tragic events have shown that we are far from answering yes. At this very moment, no local government has enough political or military power to directly attack the Islamic State. On the other hand, however, the idea of creating some sort of “European FBI” is just utopic: without a united political power, such as the American one, the EU will never be able to call itself federal and therefore can never effectively create a united European front against terrorism.  As no substantial joint measure has been adopted yet, some of the most evident consequences on the European regulatory system are those suffered by the Schengen Pact. This agreement, which was signed in 1985, allows for free movement between member states without the need of a passport or a visa. It is considered one of the EU’s greatest achievements, but it now faces its worst crisis ever due to two reasons: the migrant crisis and the terror attacks.  Countries have the power to suspend it for reasons of national security and, so far, Belgium, France, Austria, and Germany have done so through the institution or reinforcement of temporary border controls.
Most Eurosceptics (those who do not support the European Union and other such bonds between European nations) used the terrorist attacks as a political instrument in support of their arguments. Mike Hookem, a member of the U.K. Independence Party, stated, “This horrific act of terrorism shows us that Schengen, free movement and lax border control are a threat to our security.” Nevertheless, border closure is not the winning solution in this war: as reasonable as it may look to keep the “outsiders” from getting inside a country, Europe’s terrorist threat is not merely an outside problem. Rather, it comes from deep within.  The perpetrators of the Paris and Brussels attacks were not foreign fighters: they were regular European citizens who were radicalized in Europe. For this reason, closer cooperation is the key to solving the crisis, rather than individualism. Belgium, a country that is profoundly divided between three communities speaking different languages, is the perfect example of the devastating consequences that a lack of unity can have.
What should heads of state do? Europe has to put its words into action fast. If diversity is what caused the weakness of Europe’s counter terrorism policies up until now, member states will have to cede some of their sovereignty to the EU in order to together build a united front. The only solutions are common policies, not building walls between frontiers. It’s time to turn diversity from Europe’s biggest liability into its biggest asset.
 "Response To Foreign Terrorist Fighters And Recent Terrorist Attacks In Europe - Consilium". 2016. Consilium.Europa.Eu. http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/fight-against-terrorism/foreign-fighters/
 "Informal Meeting Of The Heads Of State Or Government Brussels, 12 February 2015 - Statement By The Members Of The European Council - Consilium". 2016. Consilium.Europa.Eu. http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2015/02/150212-european-council-statement-fight-against-terrorism/.
 Jozsef, Eric. 2016. "Quattro Modi Per Reagire Al Terrorismo Dopo Bruxelles". Internazionale. http://www.internazionale.it/opinione/eric-jozsef/2016/03/24/bruxelles-attentati-risposte.
 Hope, Christopher. 2016. "Brussels Attacks: Europe Is Acting As A 'Welcome Sign' To Terrorists, Warns Former Tory Leader". Telegraph.Co.Uk. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/belgium/12201677/Brussels-attacks-Europe-is-acting-as-a-welcome-sign-to-terrorists-warns-former-Tory-leader.html.
 Taub, Amanda. 2016. "Shutting Down Immigration Won't Solve Europe's Terrorism Problem". Vox. http://www.vox.com/2016/3/22/11285962/brussels-attack-refugees-immigration.
Photo Credit: Flickr User tristam sparks
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