Regional and local politicians see role for EU in victim support, and identify ways EU can help efforts to anticipate, prevent, protect and respond in the face of terrorist challenges.
Efforts by the European Union to involve regions and cities in counter-terrorism efforts over the past five years have been welcomed by the European Committee of the Regions in a set of recommendations that, as well as calling for a continued deepening of cooperation, urge extra support for law-enforcement efforts at the EU level and the extension of support for the victims of terrorism.
The recommendations, which were adopted by EU local and regional politicians on 12 October, span four pillars of counter-terrorism activity – work to anticipate, prevent, protect, and respond – and contribute to the EU's Security Union strategy for 2020-25.
Karl Vanlouwe (BE/EA), Member of the Flemish Parliament and the CoR's rapporteur on "A Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the EU", said: "The counter-terrorism agenda from the European Commission is very welcome. This is a threat of a cross-border nature and that requires cooperation and common rules and standards. I am very pleased that the European Commission has recognised the role of regional and local authorities, in particular when it comes to the prevention of radicalisation and the protection of open, public spaces. When it comes to tackling radicalisation, we need a multi-disciplinary approach with society. For example, in Flanders, we are creating local task-forces that bring together civil society, teachers, local authorities, the police and others. Cities also need to protect people in public spaces, and they need to be involved when it comes to security by design."
Mr Vanlouwe was elected to the Flemish Parliament to represent voters from Brussels, a city that in March 2016 was the target of deadly attacks on its airport and metro. He described the experience of developing the report, which included speaking to family of victims of terror, as "very emotional for me" and said that, as part of the counter-terrorism agenda, "we have to be able to find the truth, be reconciled with the truth, and we have to be able to help people". The development of "case-management systems where individuals are given support individually" was necessary, he suggested. He also praised the work of a two-year EU pilot project, the Centre of Expertise for Victims of Terrorism, calling for it to be continued and expanded beyond 2021.
The opinion described the work of Europol – the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation – and of the European Counter-Terrorism Centre (ECTC) as "crucial", calling for extra resources for both and, in the case of Europol, a stronger mandate so that it can provide more support to national investigators.
The report notes that Europol has identified a growing phenomenon of perpetrators acting alone. Europol has divided current threats into five categories: jihadist terrorism, left-wing and anarchist terrorism, right-wing terrorism, ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism, and single-issue terrorism.
The opinion builds on earlier work by the European Committee of the Regions on countering radicalisation, including recommendations on combatting radicalisation and violent extremism issued in mid-2016, a few months after attacks in Paris and in Brussels, and on the EU's action plan to support the protection of public spaces in 2018, which was preceded by attacks in Nice, Berlin, Manchester, London and Barcelona. Since 2015, the EU's security agenda has developed into a broader concept of a Security Union, leading to the adoption in July 2020 of the EU Security Union Strategy for 2020-2025.
The European Committee of the Regions has made building resilient regional and local communities one of the three political priorities of its work for 2020-25, a priority that includes efforts to slow down and adapt to the climate crisis, work to promote the digital transformation, and policies that make cities and regions more resilient to other shocks.