Security in Europe goes to the heart of the Union and it is more important than ever before. Recent events need a unified response to terror threats. Terrorists don’t respect national borders. This is why President Juncker created a new Security Union portfolio in August 2016. This has resulted in many major security initiatives. Some have recently come to fruition, and some are still in progress.
Prevention is better than cure. Systematic checks before people reach borders is essential to prevent terrorists entering the EU. On 16 November the Commission established a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). This comprehensive security initiative is ETIAS’s equivalent to the US ESTA scheme. This strengthens security checks on visa-free travellers. The system will conduct prior checks and either issue or refuse travel authorisation.
National border guards will always take the final decision to grant or refuse entry. But the extra information will help. Third-country nationals are already subject to systematic document and security checks. But it’s not just entry which is important. They will introduce checks on people leaving the Schengen area too.
The various databases will be crucial in the fight against terrorism. This includes the Schengen Information System (SIS), the Interpol Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Database (SLTD), relevant national systems and Interpol databases. The balance between privacy and security is delicate. All checks will respect data protection rules and the EU’s legislation on fundamental rights.
The legislative process for ETIAS is almost complete. The speed of this legislation is in response to last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The European Parliament recently agreed to the Commission’s proposal to introduce mandatory border checks for all. The Commission expects a prompt adoption of the proposal into legislation.
European Border and Coast Guard
Checks and documentation are important but extra personnel is essential. The recently created European Border and Coast Guard Agency will provide practical help. Through Frontex, they will be able to deploy as many as 1500 EU border guards at short notice to assist member states.
Frontex is a specialist rapid reaction pool. It includes border surveillance officers, registration and finger scanning experts, and nationality screening experts. To function, this expert group of personnel will needs appropriate equipment. Member states have agreed to supply the necessary technology, including vehicles, vessels and aircraft.
The rapid reaction pool will be an addition to the regular deployment of officers in Frontex operations at EU’s external borders. We don’t want emergency situations at EU external borders, but preparation is crucial.
Other legislation and initiatives
The latest Security Union progress report listed other European Parliament legislative priorities for 2016-2017. They need to reach agreement on other security focused Commission proposals. This includes the Directive on Combatting Terrorism, and the Firearms Directive. In December, the Commission presents the final package about money laundering and terrorist financing.
We need to stop people from getting involved in violent extremism in the first place. The security of Europe relies on protecting young people from radicalisation. The Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) was set up to encourage young people to get involved in prevention work. The EU Internet Forum explored ways to prevent online radicalisation and internet terrorist propaganda.