EU Officials Debate Intel Agency, Other Security Steps After Paris Attacks
By Martin Banks
(From L) French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos arrive to attend an extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council following the attacks in Paris, at the European Council in Brussels, on November 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS — The European Commission has called for the establishment of an EU-wide intelligence agency in the wake of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.
"I believe it is a moment to make one more step forward and put the basis for the creation of a European intelligence agency," Speaking on Friday, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Friday.
The demand comes came as European Union interior ministers held emergency talks in Brussels on boosting security and after the French President Francois Hollande's decision to order an "intensification" of anti-IS intensify strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Francois Hollande has also presented a UN draft resolution calling for global support in the fight against the so-called Islamic State group.
EUnion interior ministers called for stepped-up checks on EUuropean Union citizens entering the 26-nation Schengen zone in a move aimed at preventing foreign fighters moving back and forth in the region in the wake of the Paris terror attacks by Islamist militants attacks in Paris, which left 129 people dead and hundreds injured.
The move would broaden the current checks, which focus on non-EU citizens, to potentially all those entering by land, air or sea into Europe’s border-free zone. It comes as evidence has emerged that the presumed ringleader of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 27-year-old Belgian who died during a police raid on Wednesday, travelled to Syria and then came back undetected into the EU.
The proposed tightening of checks on all travellers at the external borders of the EU follows recognition that Europe has fallen short in screening and tracking suspected terrorist suspects.
According to a draft text of the ministers' statement, EU ministers will "undertake to implement immediately the necessary systematic and coordinated checks at external borders, including on individuals enjoying the right of free movement."
In a separate move, France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has called on Europe to "wake up" to the threat posed by Islamic State extremists and take steps to ensure the safety of citizens.
"Terrorists are crossing the borders of the European Union," he said. "It is urgent that Europe wakes up, organises itself and defends itself against the terrorist threat." he said.
The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says police have conducted 600 raids targeting Islamic extremists in the week since the Paris attacks.
The Belgium government, meanwhile, has unilaterally introduced a raft of new security measures following in the wake of the Paris attacks and the consequent focus on Belgian inner cities as a crucible of jihadism, including:
Belgians found to have gone to fight in Syria and returned to Belgium will be imprisoned. The federal prosecutor's office estimates there are currently 135 returned foreign fighters are now in the country, at liberty but under surveillance by the security services.
Furthermore, Anyone deemed by the security services to be a threat because of their radicaliszation will have to wear an electronic tagging bracelet.
In terrorist cases, detention is to be extended from 24 hours to 72, necessitating an amendment to the Belgian constitution.
And Belgium is not going to wait any longer for the long-delayed European decision on sharing of passenger data for security purposes (PNR). All passengers travelling onby plane or high-speed train will have to register their details prior to departure.
The measures authorisze the deployment of 520 soldiers on Belgian territory, and an extra €400 million (US $428 million) is going to be spent on the country's overstretched security services.
Molenbeek, the rundown Brussels district that is home to several wanted terrorists, faces a clampdown summarized as "prevention and repression."
Further comment came from UK Home Secretary Theresa May, who was in Brussels for the emergency ministerial meeting, who said, "I think we need accelerated progress on firearms. I would like to see all member states committing to improving the measures and penalties for dealing with those who traffic in firearms.
"On passenger name records (PNR), we need to see immediate progress," she said. "The negotiation's taken too long. That must be concluded. The UK will be going ahead with obtaining records from those who are operating to and from the UK."
After the meeting, France's French interior minister, Bernard Cazaneuve said, "Terrorists are crossing the borders of the European Union. We can’t take any more time. This is urgent."
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that while there was no such thing as "zero risk," the EU’s 26-nation, passport-free Schengen zone would be "jeopardizsed" if Europe did not considerably improve border security. The terrorist threat, Valls warned, would be "long and permanent."
The interior ministers’ meeting in Brussels followed an announcement on Thursday by Europol Director Rob Wainwright that the EU police agency’s database now contained the names of 28,000 people in the EU who needed monitoring for possible terror links, including the confirmed names of 2,000 foreign fighters from EU countries who had been to Syria from EU countries.
Meanwhile, reacting to EU calls for an intelligence agency, UK Conservative MEP Tim Kirkhope, a UK Conservative member of Parliament and his party's Home Affairs spokesman, said, "Commissioner Avramopoulos might want to read the EU's treaties, which clearly say that national security is the competence of the member states. The commissioner is right that the EU needs to work on building cooperation, trust and efficiency of existing systems; but some EU leaders need to stop thinking that the solution to every challenge the EU faces is more Europe.
"There are a large number of instruments which we can make better use of and make more effective," Kirkhope said. "We do need better sharing of information, but we do not need a new European intelligence agency to do that. January the 1st will see the counter terrorism center in EUROPOL ready for action; and an internet referral unit under EUROPOL remit is in the pipeline. I am also positive that the EU-PNR Directive will be finalized by the end of the year to give us more tools in the fight against terror and serious crime."
"An EU intelligence agency is not needed and not permitted in the EU treaties. In the aftermath of this attack we should be looking at practical measures, not the federalist ambitions of some."