Assessing the role of the EU in a global counter-terrorism regime – Part I: Context and Coherence

Posted on Posted in Analyses, Intelligence and Security, Terrorism, Organized Crime & Security

By Evangelos Grapsas, Analyst KEDISA

The terrorist attacks in several capitals around the globe such as Boston, Paris, Moscow and Mosul have indicated the international character that terrorist groups have acquired. In addition, as the Belgian ambassador Johan Verbeke has underlined, ‘the state of the world today is often defined as a world in flux, transition or turbulence’ (1). In particular, the Belgian ambassador has stressed what the European Union institutions have already attempted to emphasize (1). As a result of the strategic unease of the current world order, the European Union has strived for establishing a global strategy against terrorism. The terrorist incident of 11 September 2001 has been described as the turning point for a global strategy promoted by the EU and a global regime advocated by the US, the EU and numerous third countries.

Theoretical Framework on the EU actorness

The theoretical framework of this analysis is divided into four variables as the title emphasizes itself. First of all, EU activity is analyzed in regards to its context, that is the extent to which conditions for EU action are deemed favorable.  In terms of context, the EU is perceived by the world scheme as an important global player in the international fight against terrorism as Smith argues (2). In addition, the EU is recognized in both a de jure (according to international laws) and a de facto (according to legitimacy conferred by third parties) context. This variable comprises the first step of the framework and its fulfillment is essential in order for the following variables to be attained. Within the context, the EU is examined through its authority and recognition in international organizations and multilateral fora such as the United Nations and the G-7 Council. Furthermore, EU actorness can be assessed based on its coherence, where shared values are translated to coherent policy output. Coherence, as Thomas highlights, is perhaps the most influential concept in assessing EU actorness as the shared values of the Member States of the EU imply the extent of political unity of the EU as a whole (3). In addition, EU policies on counter-terrorism not only have to be common but they have to provide the meaning of a coherent articulation of European values and fundamental notions and behaviors of the member states and institutional bodies.

Context: The EU and the International Organizations and Forums

The first dilemma that concerns the role of the EU in establishing a global governance model to fight terrorism is whether the EU has the legitimacy to acquire such an important role. The EU has obtained an enhanced status within the United Nations which has allowed for a de jure recognition of its authority and status (4). In addition, EU member states are all members of the United Nations while the competences of the Union are carefully outlined by the Lisbon Treaty’s provisions. Through its member states’ UN memberships and its recognized status by remaining members of the UN, the EU has also acquired a de facto recognition as a non-voting observer in the UN. The influence and prominence of the EU following the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York, has been increased, especially within the forum of the United Nations, the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council. The input of the EU to the initial resolutions to global terrorism that were drafted by the UN, has been deemed as rather crucial by several authors such as Keohane (5).

In addition to its role within the UN context, the EU has also been active and recognized as an important player in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which has been supported by the G-7 group (6). Within the FATF, the European Commission enjoys a full membership and acts within a framework of an international body that has been established to disrupt money laundering, terrorist funding and financial criminal activities connected to threats to global stability and security. Most notably, the European Commission has an observer status on the specialized and rather effective Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism, a platform also known as Moneyval. The Moneyval’s annual report for 2016 indicates the essential role and the context under which the EU has operated. In particular, according the report, Moneyval has been trusted as the global setting for the Council of Europe in its efforts to combat terrorism funding and financial criminalities (7).  Moreover, the European agency for dealing with judicial co-operation in criminal matters, including terrorism, has also obtained an observer status within the FATF in order to develop the context of the EU actorness in monitoring international financial manipulations by criminal groups. The cooperation between the European agency and the FATF has provided the EU with an additional favorable condition to operate.

Coherence: Coherent Policy Outcomes

In concern to coherence of policy outcomes, the European institutions and the member states have progressed with a significant pace towards a harmonization of counter-terrorist measures. The introduction of a widely-consented definition of terrorism in 2001 has laid the fundamental settings for the implementation of shared policies and decisions in the field of counter-terrorism. The regulatory frameworks that have been introduced in a European level facilitate the cooperation and coordination of national security agencies and provides an international coordinated pattern for third countries as well. For instance, the identification and tracking of terrorists has become less challenging due to an increase of harmonized policies on a European level. This has been made clear during the intelligence agencies’ cooperation in France, Belgium and Greece that linked certain terrorists’ backgrounds and origins (8). Even before the recent terrorist attacks that have shaken the ground of several European capitals, the European Counter Terrorism Strategy has attracted attention for the positive outcomes that it has already shown in various operations. The explosions that came as a result of a terrorist assault in London in 2005 marked a pivotal point for the EU. The strategy that was adopted following this incident, emphasized a global model against terrorism that would be based on four pillars (9). The first pillar includes the attention that has to be paid to the conditions that direct people to terrorism and radicalization. The second pillar refers to the protective measures that need to be considered world-widely in order for reduce the social vulnerability. The third pillar is related to pursuing and tracing any potential information and alarms that may reveal terrorist preparations, communications and activities. Finally, the fourth pillar emphasizes the ways to minimize fatalities and strengthen resilience resulting from the occurrence of a terrorist assault.


  1. Verbeke, Ambassador Johan. The World as I found It-A geopolitical Analysis. The European Union in Global Governance Session 9. s.l. : KU Leuven, 03 23, 2017.
  2. Smith, David Allen and Michael. Western Europe’s Presence in the Contemporary International Arena. [book auth.] Martin Holland. The Future of European Political Cooperation. New York : St. Martin’s Press , 1990, pp. 95-120.
  3. Still Punching below Its Weight? Coherence and Effectiveness in European Union Foreign Policy. Thomas, Daniel C. 3, May 2012, Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 50, pp. 457–474.
  4. Väyrynen, Paavo. On the role of the EU within the UN – how to better achieve EU foreign policy goals. European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs. Brussels : European Parliament, 2015.
  5. The Absent Friend: EU Foreign Policy and Counter-Terrorism. Keohane, Daniel. 1, January 2008, Journal on Common Market Studies, Vol. 46, pp. 125-146.
  6. Financial Action Task Force. European Commission. Financial Action Task Force. [Online] 06 13, 2017. [Cited: 06 13, 2017.]
  7. Moneyval. Outcome of MONEYVAL’s 53rd Plenary meeting. Moneyval. [Online] 06 02, 2017. [Cited: 06 13, 2017.]
  8. EKathimerini. Three Brussels bombers passed through Greece. EKathimerini. [Online] 03 16, 2016. [Cited: 06 13, 2017.]
  9. Council of the European Union. The European Union Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Brussels : Council of the European Union, 2005.