Wednesday 21 August 2019

Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for freedom

A Belgian army soldier patrols on a main boulevard in Brussels
A Belgian army soldier patrols on a main boulevard in Brussels

Brian Hayes

We take our everyday freedoms for granted. Freedoms which are now under threat all across Europe. The bombing of the Russian airline, the attacks in Paris and other terror attacks in North Africa and across the Middle East are designed to instil fear and create division between peoples and countries. This weekend in Brussels, a state of alert and a risk never seen before instilled genuine fear in people.

The present crisis requires a political and security response from Europe and the wider international community. There is an arc of instability on Europe's borders stretching from Afghanistan through the Middle East and across much of North Africa. Stabilising the political situation in Syria must be an urgent priority.

Last Tuesday, EU defence ministers invoked Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty, which obliges other member states to provide France with assistance as it faces attack.

The security response to the terror threat must be vigorous, determined and resourced. Legislation for the sharing of intra-European flight passenger lists and other data needs to be accelerated.

Law enforcement authorities, customs and border police should know who is entering and leaving the EU and this information should be shared. EU-wide rules controlling the movement of foreign fighters will be necessary.

A particular focus of attention must be to stop the flow of foreign fighters going to Syria and to monitor those who return. Strong pressure must be brought to bear on Turkey to prevent its country being used as a transition zone for such people.

Brussels also appears to be a location of significant terrorist activity and planning including the recent Paris attack. There are obvious failures and weaknesses in Belgium's policing and counter-terrorism capacities which need to be addressed.

Better cross-border information sharing between security forces is also essential. Europol will need extra resources to upgrade technical capacities. Getting the balance right between and protection and privacy will be an ongoing debate. When there is danger to life, time-limited special security and surveillance measures are justified.

Cyberspace is being used to radicalise and organise attacks. Security services will need to develop strategies for disrupting such activities.

No terrorist organisation can operate without finance and access to weapons. And targeting the flow of funding to the organisation and preventing it using captured oil resources will be important steps in degrading the organisation. There is a need for enhanced measures against the shadow market in arms.

Necessary measures will also include tighter control of the external borders of the EU. Refugees and migrants crossing into the EU will need to undergo careful security screening and must be properly registered. Elements of the Schengen Agreement may need to be suspended as a temporary measure until the present crisis subsides.

France has declared a national emergency and introduced border controls. Declaring a national emergency allows the suspension of some basic rights, including the right to public demonstrations. France is also planning to change its constitution to give the state more powers.

Outlawing terror groups was effective against the IRA and similar legislation may be needed in other European countries. If the terror threat worsens it may even be necessary to contemplate house arrest or selective internment. These are drastic measures. But if there is no security there is no freedom.

We need to be vigilant in defending the freedoms we now enjoy.

Brian Hayes is a Fine Gael MEP

Irish Independent

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