When the European Union issued a Declaration on Combating Terrorism in 2004 in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Madrid, it promised solidarity and firm action from the 25 member states. But more than two years later, that promise remains unfulfilled, according to Paul Wilkinson, professor of International Relations and Chairman of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
In place of the hoped-for cooperation, countries have exhibited nationalistic behavior, and that behavior has impeded efforts to present a unified antiterror response, said Wilkinson - a widely respected terrorism expert - in the keynote address at the Security 2006 Exhibition and Conference in Essen, Germany.
The declaration included a seven-point strategy that called for working together 'to deepen the international consensus and enhance international efforts to combat terrorism.' It also called for building up the resources of appropriate European Union (EU) bodies such as the European Police Office (EUROPOL), the organized-crime-busting unit Eurojust, and the European Police Chiefs' Task Force in preparing intelligence assessments regarding all aspects of the terrorist threat.
The agreement further urged greater international cooperation among these bodies to cut off terrorist financing; to detect, investigate, and prosecute perpetrators; and to secure international transport and borders. The words have proved hollow.
"The reality is that national governments are unwilling to allow other governments' intelligence services and police anything more than a limited access to their secret intelligence on terrorism," said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson said that the subsequent collected intelligence has not been shared, but rather hoarded by national authorities. The reasons for this behavior are varied. One problem is that national governments are afraid of disclosing their sources and potentially compromising them. They do not trust other countries to keep their covert intelligence a secret, says Wilkinson. They also fear that other countries will maneuver against them based on the knowledge they gain through shared intelligence.
Wilkinson further reasoned that EU governments were loath to share information because it could reveal gaps and errors in their own intelligence collection efforts. He also cited internal rivalries within the national intelligence services as a barrier to the flow of information. Rival agencies within the same states look for advantages over their national competitors, and intelligence can give them an edge.
"For all of the above reasons, national intelligence agencies working with Europol and other EU collaborative bodies will only provide sanitized intelligence data for sharing purposes," Wilkinson told the group. "Hence, it is national governments, and not the EU, which inevitably and understandably are the key recipients and gatekeepers for sensitive counterterrorism intelligence," he added.
While the EU has failed to serve as the unifying force for counterterrorism efforts, progress has been made in Europe on a country-to-country basis. Some exceptional bilateral cooperation between states has chalked up successes that should be emulated by the EU as a whole, in Wilkinson's view.
A case in point is the trusted cooperation between France and Spain to face down Basque terrorism, which has resulted in a "concomitant sharing of high-grade and sensitive intelligence," he said.
Wilkinson also advocated adoption of proposals set forth by Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union. Among his proposals is a call for EUROPOL to resuscitate its Counter-Terrorist Task Force to improve the flow of criminal intelligence.
If that task force were renewed, EU decision makers would be better informed to be able to devise effective counterterrorism policies, and member states would not only receive more support from European bodies but would also retain the lead in the operations field while working closely through the Counter Terrorist Group and EUROPOL, Solana argued.
In addition, Wilkinson advocates strengthening European border controls, facilitating joint training for police and emergency services, and enhancing EU capabilities for combating terrorist financing and money laundering.