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Europe hamstrung on terrorism

Analysis: Experts agree homegrown terrorists will be tough to fight.

The European Union’s infrastructure presents a daunting challenge to combating this homegrown threat. Mark Rhinard, a senior research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, has been analyzing the situation, including for the European Commission itself.

“European governments know that more cooperation is necessary,” he said, “but the institutions are not yet quite suited for cooperation on sensitive issues like intelligence and internal security matters. … The question becomes how exactly do they do this, through what protocols, and there’s yet to be a real consensus around the fact that the EU institutions are the place to do intelligence cooperation.”

Rhinard said the EU’s reliance on member states as the leaders in security policy and counterterrorism is inefficient and disjointed. “Modern intelligence cooperation is much more than simply exchanging police information or military intelligence,” he explained. “It’s also gathering the whole array of information of what’s happening in society. And from that perspective, the EU is the only organization that has the breadth of policy competencies that potentially allow the free flow of information in a cooperative setting that help member states understand the full threat picture, gainful threat and situational awareness. “

De Kerchove doesn’t seem to be fighting for that to change. “The EU,” he said Wednesday, “is not the primary actor responsible for providing internal security. Member states are on the front line and therefore our role is mainly to design policies, to adopt legislation, and to develop financing program money to develop contacts and assist states.”

But, Rhinard said, because Europe has not experienced a large-scale attack since the 2005 London bombings or the Madrid attacks of 2004, the emergence of the new threats has not yet caused a wholehearted move toward convergence of capabilities.

“Unfortunately, one of the few ways to get European leaders’ heads together on the question of terrorism is for an actual attack to happen,” Rhinard explained. “It’s possible that this latest elevation of the threat level could focus minds enough to get them to reprioritize European cooperation against terrorism.”

Justice ministers from the 27 EU countries meet in Luxembourg today, with counterterrorism coordination high on their agenda. A U.S. official from the Department of Homeland Security will attend to discuss further the information that led to the U.S. alert telling tourists to be vigilant European countries.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the attribution of a quote.