Blog post 6

9/11 and the Europeanisation of anti-terrorism policy: a critical assessment

This analysis of the European reaction to septembre 11th shows that many security measures capture a much wider field of security concerns than merely terrorism.


The 11th of September terrorist acts in the USA seemed to unleash an unprecedented wave of policy interventions within the European Union. In the words of EU Justice Commissioner Vitorino, the terrorist attacks have led to a “giant leap forward” for EU Justice and Home Affairs co-operation. European approaches to the fight against crime, in particular terrorism, were suddenly regarded as more feasible and important. However, counter-terrorism is certainly not a new policy issue within the EU: it is a theme, which was central in the early days of internal security cooperation between EC Member States.

Through TREVI, which was originally conceived in the context of European Political Cooperation (EPC) and which became a regular high- level congregation of the Interior Ministers and national top security officials, counter-terrorist policies were established in a climate which was rife with domestic terrorism in several EC countries (Anderson et al, 1995: 53f). The works of TREVI had however become absorbed in the executive-driven Third Pillar hierarchy, and terrorism was demoted to a position amidst other internal security concerns, among which illegal immigration and organised crime. Hence, within Europe, it seemed as if the issue of terrorism had temporarily disappeared from the stage. Meanwhile, however, the European Parliament had started a campaign to speed up the adoption of counter-terrorist measures in the EU, and came out with a resolution notably a week prior to the 11th of September 2001.

The rest is history. Terrorism was resurrected with all its political salience after this date, especially after a meeting of the Extraordinary Council. Below, we will venture into the question of whether and to what extent terrorism may be regarded as a conflated set of policy agendas in the EU. Experiences with terrorism in European countries have traditionally mainly – although not solely – been of the “domestic” type, which implies that political views on terrorism and counter-strategies differ greatly between the Member States in scope and intensity. By and large, governments have traditionally interpreted terrorism as a domestic problem, although it should be acknowledged that even over a century ago, European countries had already started cooperating against international anarchy and subversion. But it is only in the last decade that the general focus has gradually shifted to international and/or imported terrorism, and this has been strengthened by the threat posed by Islamic fundamental terrorism. Reframing terrorism as an international and – because of its networked character – as a more unpredictable threat, has facilitated the mobilisation of international criminal justice efforts. As a consequence, developing an EU policy against terrorism is increasingly regarded as indispensable and unavoidable.

The EU policy-making pattern however reveals that the concern about terrorism, and the perceived urgent need to address it with counter-terrorism measures has also functioned as a major policy-catalyst in the Europeanisation of crime control policies. This regulatory spillover effect can be clearly demonstrated in the wide application of the European arrest warrant, which was adopted in the wake of the 11th of September.

This paper endeavours to show that most Title VI1 instruments capture a much wider field of security concerns than merely terrorism. First, the paper looks into the question of whether and to what extent terrorism poses a common problem to the EU Member States.

It is suggested that the reframing of terrorism as a transnational, networked phenomenon has infused the need for international co-operation. Second, by establishing an overview of legal and institutional measures that were adopted after the 11th of September 2001, it can be illustrated that the catastrophic events in the USA formed a pretext for the acceleration of the legislative process. Leading on from this, the third part of the paper argues that the fast adoption of a wide range of measures may have been at the expense of a cautious consideration of human rights, privacy and effects on the free movement of persons. The fourth part of the paper looks into the paradox of terrorism as an internal security concern: while it is traditionally considered as an issue of state sovereignty, it lies at the roots of the Europeanisation (and globalisation) of law enforcement co-operation and criminal law harmonisation. Finally, some broader policy recommendations are suggested to overcome some of the typical problems encountered in the context of EU-decision-making on terrorism.