DW talked with EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove about the successes and pitfalls of Europe's fight against terror, which increasingly involves the Internet.
The use of the Internet to incite and recruit terrorists is growing
The European Parliament is debating new plans to combat terrorism, including the creation of new offenses such as recruiting and training terrorists. The discussion is increasingly focused on the growing use of the Internet as a terror tool, and the threat to data-protection standards in the EU.
DW-WORLD: What are the priorities in the EU's fight against terrorism at the moment?
Gilles de Kerchove: The strategy we adopted in 2005 foresees four main pillars: to prevent people from being radicalized; to pursue actors and prosecute them; improve protection of borders; and improve ways member states respond to a major attack.
For me, the priorities are to emphasize prevention and to work on consequence of a major attack.
On Tuesday the European Parliament will debate creating new offenses, like incitement to commit terror over the Internet. Has this problem grown in the past few years?
Indeed. It is very important and I am very much in favor of this piece of legislation. If it is implemented by the member states, it will allow them to start prosecuting those who mainly use the Internet to try to incite hatred and commit terrorist acts.
There are something like 5,000 Web sites that call for violence and for committing terrorist acts. It's important that we can handle that through criminal law.
De Kerchove: EU is fighting for hearts and minds
And it is not only that. We have to develop a counter-narrative as well. We need to explain that the first victims of all this are the Muslims themselves, and that it is a war of ideas. We have to counter the hijacking of the Muslim religion for political purposes.
Is Germany playing a big role?
A project where Germany has taken a very interesting lead is in monitoring the Internet. It has led to the creation of a portal at Europol. The project is called "Check-the-Web," where we try to pull all our information together, and make it accessible to police and intelligence services from all the member states.
I'm currently working with my German colleagues to see what we can do to speed up that project, and reinforce what we can do together in monitoring the Internet.
The Internet is vast, fluid, and difficult to control. Can you really get a handle on terror sites overall?
It is a difficult exercise indeed. As I said, it is a war of ideas, and we have to win the hearts and minds at the same time.
One thing that is developing on the Web -- its interesting to see on YouTube for instance -- more and more people are putting up videos that denigrate Osama bin Laden. And in some polls of the Muslim world, the support for Bin Laden, for al Qaeda, is declining. That is something we have to invest in.
You speak about sharing data within Europe. But there are those who argue that could lead to data security problems. Could innocent people become targets of Europol or secret services?
Yes, but if it's the case, I think it will be easily detected. I recently visited a private company that worked for intelligence services, where they tried to enter into certain chat rooms. And you know, you don't enter those chat rooms easily. You have to build trust, and it can take months before getting a password. So users who wait for months to get this password aren't innocent people.
How do European institutions, like investigative arm Europol and the enforcement arm Eurojust, working together?
It is improving, but a lot more needs to be done. For instance, not all cases of prosecution or investigation are sent to Europol or Eurojust, respectively. So it is important for me to remind member states of this obligation.
It is important for Europol and Eurojust to be associated with as many joint investigation teams as possible. They have to show member states their added value, which is important. And I think in two or three years this will have changed significantly.
Does cooperation between European member states work as well as it should?
There is certainly room for improvement. But the cooperation is much better than it was five years ago. Just take the recent plots that have been foiled in Europe -- in Barcelona, in Denmark, in Germany, and in Belgium. In many of these cases it's due to a closer cooperation between the different intelligence services and police.
We still have to improve the way all the players are sharing information. It is not that that obvious at the level of the European Union, between the intelligence community and the police community.
It does happen at the national level. In Germany you have a platform within which all the players are sharing information.… I am trying to convince all 27 states to all set up a similar platform. And after that, we need to improve the network between these 27 platforms.
That is an indirect way to implement the concept of availability, the information-sharing environment that the report of the 9/11 commission in the United States considered to be the top lesson learned from 9/11.