Specialists on both sides of the Atlantic agree that in the four-plus years since the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States, European Union nations have made significant progress in developing a more coherent multinational approach to countering this threat.
Individual European nations have strengthened their anti-terrorism laws and policies, although specialists also suggest much more needs to be done. Meanwhile, the European Union has tried to coordinate the counterterror policies of its 25 members, particularly by harmonizing their laws and policies.
Specialists say the attacks on the London subway system in July and on Madrid commuter trains in March 2004 were important catalysts for improving EU anti-terrorism efforts.
Britain, which chaired the rotating EU presidency during the second half of the year, is one of the European countries at the forefront of that project. Austria will assume the EU presidency for six months beginning in January.
EU leaders have proposed an anti-terrorism action plan that includes more than 150 parts in varying stages of implementation.
EU arrest warrant
Many measures have been adopted — the most significant being a European Union-wide arrest warrant, first proposed immediately following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
This year, Italy became the final country to ratify the arrest warrant. There is also a proposal for an EU-wide evidence warrant.
After the London attacks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed a number of other measures, such as requiring that companies retain customer data longer and recording biometric data in passports and visas.
Money-laundering laws have been strengthened to make it harder for terrorists to finance their operations. In addition, Europol, which is the European police agency, has been given more resources and a terrorism task force of national police officers.
A new entity called Eurojust was established at The Hague to coordinate cross-border criminal investigations, and an EU border-management agency was set up in Warsaw to assist national border authorities.
But specialists on EU counterterrorism policy caution there are a number of factors that constrain the effort to develop a more robust EU approach to terrorism.
They say there are too many overlapping initiatives and entities, creating more opportunities for bureaucratic turf wars; that it is difficult to harmonize the legal systems of 25 countries; and that only member states have the authority to adopt the most important steps, such as sharing sensitive intelligence and arresting and convicting terrorist suspects.
According to a recent report from the Center for European Reform (CER) in London, European nations agree in principle on the need for counterterrorism cooperation at the EU level but are reluctant to give the European Union the powers and resources necessary to be truly effective in this area.
Daniel Keohane, senior research fellow at the CER, said this is “because security policy — especially when it concerns protecting citizens — goes to the core of national sovereignty, and governments are reluctant to give the EU powers that could interfere with their existing laws and national-security practices.”
Moreover, as Mr. Keohane noted in “The EU and Counter-Terrorism,” greater coordination of EU anti-terrorism policy is limited by the fact that the European Union is not a national government with prosecutorial or intelligence capabilities.
In addition, counterterrorism is not a well-defined EU policy.
As Mr. Keohane explained, it is difficult for national governments to coordinate all the agencies involved in their own counterterror policies, and coordinating the efforts of 25 governments is vastly more difficult.
Analysts added that intelligence policy is a central component of counterterrorism.
The European Union has improved its collective intelligence capabilities, particularly by creating an EU Situation Center that provides strategic analysis of terrorist threats inside and outside Europe.
But major European intelligence capabilities remain with national governments, especially those of the larger countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Following the March 11, 2004, terrorist attacks on commuter trains in Madrid, Austria and Belgium proposed establishing a European equivalent of the CIA. But the EU countries with the best intelligence abilities opposed the idea because it would vastly increase the number of countries with which they would share sensitive information and increase the chances of its ending up in the wrong hands.
Instead, EU officials and governments agreed to appoint a counterterrorism coordinator. This position has been held since the March 2004 by a former Dutch and EU official, Gijs de Vries.
Mr. Keohane of the CER said Mr. de Vries “has few powers, a small budget and no right to propose EU-level legislation in his area; nor can he call meetings of national justice or foreign ministers to set the anti-terrorism agenda.”
Consequently, said Mr. Keohane, the counterterrorism coordinator is limited primarily to monitoring progress on the anti-terrorism action plan and encouraging the many entities of the European Union to work more closely with each other to coordinate counterterrorism policies.
Trans-Atlantic cooperation has been critical to such coordination and to the U.S.-led war against terrorism, said specialists.
U.S. officials said that European countries have provided important counterterrorism, law-enforcement and intelligence assistance and participated in many joint anti-terrorism missions.
European agencies have broken up many terrorist cells in Europe and arrested terrorist suspects, although not all the suspects have been convicted.
Institutional links between the United States and Europe focused on counterterrorism have been expanded since the Madrid attacks last year.
For example, the FBI has a liaison officer at Europol, and the Department of Homeland Security has an attache at the U.S. mission to the European Union in Brussels.
Specialists also stressed that the war in Iraq led to major strains in the trans-Atlantic relationship.
Many European citizens and some of their governments, notably those of France and Germany, strongly opposed both the U.S.-led war and NATO involvement in postwar Iraq, but both countries have helped train Iraqi security forces outside the country.
The Iraq war also helped expose important differences in how Americans and Europeans view terrorism.
Secret CIA prisons
The Bush administration has been waging “a global war on terrorism,” but European officials refer instead to the fight or struggle against “international terrorism.” Europeans also tend to place greater emphasis on addressing the root causes of terrorism.
The trans-Atlantic rift over Iraq is over, but specialists said a new controversy over the possible existence of secret CIA prisons fuels discord between the United States and Europe that could harm their cooperation in the war on terror.
EU officials and governments have sought clarification from the Bush administration about recent press reports that the U.S. secretly “rendered” suspected terrorist detainees to covert CIA detention camps in Europe and elsewhere during the past four years.
U.S. officials neither confirm nor deny such reports, leading to heightened scrutiny by European parliamentary and judicial officials of American counterterrorism practices.
Before leaving for her recent five-day trip to Europe, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: “The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture.”
She also stressed that the United States respects the sovereignty of other countries and implied that any U.S. operations involving terrorist detainees were undertaken with the full consent of European governments.
Analysts said that during her visit, Miss Rice largely allayed concerns among EU and NATO officials about how the Bush administration is waging its war on terrorism. That change is mainly a result of her statement during the trip that U.S. personnel who interrogate noncombatants detained at home or abroad are bound by legal prohibitions against torture and other inhumane treatment.
Trust in U.S. damaged
Said Stanley Sloan, a former high CIA official: “U.S.-European cooperation has been one of the more successful aspects of post-September 11 efforts against international terrorism.”
He also said, “Human rights issues have for a long time played a major part in the foreign policies of most European nations. But European concerns about secret U.S. detention and interrogation facilities in European countries also reflect the extent to which trust in and respect for the United States has been damaged by the Iraq war, handling of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib scandal.”
Germany is at the center of allegations about CIA renditions and prisons.
According to recent reports in the German press, more than 400 secret flights carrying U.S.-held terrorist detainees used U.S. military airports in Germany or flew over German territory en route to another location.
Germany recently elected a new chancellor, Angela Merkel, the first German woman head of government and the first national leader from former East Germany.
Her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, strongly opposed the Iraq war and fought two elections in which he capitalized on German opposition to the war and the policies of the Bush administration.
Mrs. Merkel is widely expected to more closely align her country with the United States, although that effort is currently clouded by the furor over CIA activities in Europe.
The new German government is a coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. Legislators from the latter group have asked Mrs. Merkel to address with the United States the issue of so-called “black sites.”
Mrs. Merkel met with Miss Rice on Dec. 6 in Berlin and is scheduled to meet with Mr. Bush on Jan. 11 in Washington.
Germany is also helping to develop a more coherent EU approach to counterterrorism.