For everyone in the European parliament, 22 March was an agonising day. On that day, on rightwing blogs I read some extraordinary responses to the Brussels attacks. One hinted we were going to hear all the same responses that we heard after previous atrocities. But to be tired or complacent in our response is no luxury any progressive should have.
My first reaction, aside from the deep personal sorrow for my adopted city and its people, was how deeply resonant the attacks were of the 7/7 bombings. Sadly, following Paris, Ankara, Istanbul and so many global terrorist outrages, such public targeting, while shocking, gave way very quickly to questions of why and what we do about such threats.
In security terms much inaccurate mileage is being made about failures of policing and wider failures of intelligence cooperation between European Union countries. The fact is that we are dealing with multiple issues. Intelligence and policing is primarily a national issue and key European countries – Belgium, France and here in the United Kingdom – see a heightened threat of so-called ‘foreign fighters’ who in fact are homegrown, some of whom have made the journey to Islamic State centres and have returned trained and further indoctrinated. Some of the radicalisation predates the Syrian conflict and is now a major problem not just in those countries but more widely across Europe.
Progressives must avoid pointing fingers at the wrong targets or being complacent about the threats. This means that our approach must be based on encouraging the best intelligence and police practice nationally and the most effective intelligence-sharing between countries. Here the EU is vitally important, with the highly effective Europol, an intelligence agency credited with multiple successful anti-terrorism leads and for assisting in foiling multiple terrorist plots. Yet there is great scope for better cross-border intelligence exchange. In this respect most of the media have completely missed some of the big and effective building blocks within the EU, including the vital Schengen information system which the UK opted in to from the start. The EU has legislated on key security measures such as passenger name record data, and in the coming weeks sensitive legislation on firearms control, terrorism financing and criminal databases are on the agenda.
There must also be a recognition that the foot-dragging over government-led anti-radicalisation measures must stop. The UK has recent history of effective anti-radicalisation measures pioneered under Labour. With the challenge now greater the government is again attempting anti-radicalisation targeting but particularly in schools it has been too ineffective and controversial. This cannot go on.
A recent European parliamentary report on radicalisation warned how complacency over the cult-like jihadism of still relatively small but active groups of young people would lead to further terrorist atrocities. Add to this the savage ideology of Isis, and we have a generational challenge which has only just begun. Progressives must play their part in prevention as well as the security agenda. Above all we cannot be complacent about the potential for a future attack in the UK.
Claude Moraes MEP is chair of the European parliament civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee
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