EU wants to boost border security against extremist attacks

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Commission wants member states to reinforce external border controls and police cooperation to better protect the 27-nation bloc from extremist attacks.

As part of its Counter-Terrorism Agenda unveiled Wednesday, the EU’s executive arm said an efficient detection of suspects at the bloc’s borders is crucial to guarantee European citizens’ security.

Since the deadly Paris attacks five years ago in which fighters who had returned from Syria were involved, the EU has been repeatedly hit by extremist actions. In 2019, seven jihadist terrorist attacks were carried out in the EU, and twice that number of plots were thwarted by law enforcement.

“Member states should urgently complete the modernization of our external border management within the agreed roadmaps, with the ambition of developing the world’s most modern border management system,” the commission said.

Under the Schengen Information System regulations implemented two years ago, national authorities are already required to create alerts related to “terrorist offenses” and member states need to share information with Europol.

“Despite the progress made, more work is needed,” said the commission, which plans to strengthen the EU agency for law enforcement with an increased budget and larger competences, including the possibility to issue its own alerts on foreign fighters.

The EU’s executive branch also plans to work with member states to improve access to digital evidence and encrypted information used by criminals.

The commission estimates that 5,000 EU residents have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist groups, including 1,500 who are still in the area and could return with plans to hit European targets.

“All those entering the EU, citizens or not, must be checked against the relevant databases,” said the commission, which will also propose that individuals who have been denied a firearm for security reason in one EU country can’t apply for a weapon in another member state.

In its proposals, the commission urged EU countries to ensure the interoperability of their information systems and to share intelligence on foreign fighters in a bid to carry out efficient, systematic targeted checks.

Last month, after France was hit by consecutive attacks in October, French president Emmanuel Macron pleaded in favor of a reform of the Schengen agreement, through which most EU countries abolished their national borders, to reinforce European security. The topic is expected to be discussed during a meeting of EU leaders starting Thursday in Brussels.

France has already reintroduced border checks since the Paris attacks and is planning to further reinforce its police and military presence at its own borders. More recently, Austria, Sweden and Denmark also reintroduced reinforced controls, citing security reasons.

As part of its strategy to fight radicalization, the EU’s executive branch also urged member states and EU lawmakers to quickly adopt legislation proposed in 2018 and still being discussed that would ensure that terror content would be removed from the internet within an hour.

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