EU Member States Differ on Anti-Terror Measures | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 25.04.2007
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EU Member States Differ on Anti-Terror Measures

Even though the European Union has a common counter-terrorism strategy, its implementation is left to individual member states. That is why anti-terror legislations differ from country to country.

Suveillance is increasingly used as a counterterrorist measure

Suveillance is increasingly used as a counterterrorist measure

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon in Europe. In the United Kingdom, Spain and Ireland alone, it has claimed 5,000 deaths over the last 30 years.

New York 2001-2006 - #01/06

The effects of Sept. 11 are felt strongly in Europe

The Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, however, have had a rippling effect across the Atlantic as well. Faced with the challenges posed by the war against international terrorism, which were only heightened by the attacks in London and Madrid, European countries were forced to adapt and expand their anti-terror legislations.

"Legislative and institutional requirements have definitely become stricter in all 27 member states of the European Union," said Annegret Bendiek of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and author of a study on fighting terrorism in the EU.

Yet striking the right balance between efficient engagement in the war on terror and protection of civil liberties hasn't been easy to achieve.

One policy, many implementations

Überwachungskameras auf dem Bahnhof

The end of privacy?

In June 2002, the EU Council passed two resolutions -- one establishing a common European Arrest Warrant and one defining a common concept of terrorist offences which all the Member States of the European Union had to include in their legal system.

In December 2005, the EU adopted its EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy, but it left the responsibility for its implementation in the hands of individual member states.

"States like the United Kingdom, France and also Germany are of course very engaged," Bendiek said.

But European states continue to differ greatly in their institutional and legislative approaches.

Tough measures

Of all the EU member states, the United Kingdom has gone the farthest in expanding the legislation meant to counter acts of terrorism. Several months after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C, Britain's Terrorism Act of 2000 was replaced by the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act which stipulated that foreign terrorist suspects could be detained indefinitely.

Nach Terroranschag in London U-Bahn

The 2005 attacks in London lead to even stricter anti-terror laws

After a public outcry and an intervention from the Law Lords -- a judicial body of the upper house of the British Parliament which serves as a court of last instance in the UK -- this measure was abolished for being incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights. Its powers were later replaced by the so-called Control Order in the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The Control Order, however, still allows for comprehensive restriction of an individual's liberties for the purpose of "protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism."

After the London bomb attacks in the summer of 2005, the British legislation was made even stricter. According to the Terrorism Act of 2006, for example, "glorification of terrorist acts" can lead to a seven-year prison sentence.

It's legal to eavesdrop

Ever since July 2005, Italy's secret service has been allowed to monitor telephone conversations for the sake of preventing terrorist attacks.

Videoüberwachung in Düsseldorf

Police surveillance is a cause of concern for privacy activists

France adopted a new law this year that follows the British model allowing for surveillance cameras to be placed in public spaces such as train stations, churches and mosques, shops, factories or nuclear plants.

After a failed terrorist attack, in which crude propane gas bombs were primed to explode on two German trains on July 31, the German government introduced a new law on fighting terrorism. Germany now has a computer databank which allows police and intelligence agencies easier access to a range of information on terrorism suspects, including membership of terrorist groups, firearms registration information as well as Internet and telecommunications data.

Not everybody can do it

Symbolfoto Telefonüberwachung

You never know who's listening in

But smaller and less affluent EU countries are often lagging behind in terms of their legislative apparatus and implementation of counter-terrorist measures.

According to Bendiek, Malta, Portugal or Greece, for example, lack the administrative infrastructure, personnel and funds for implementing anti-terrorism laws. In other countries, it is above all different legal traditions that cancel each other in various legislations.

"The British have fewer problems with video surveillance than the Germans," Bendiek said. "But as war as telephone surveillance is concerned, it could be the other way around."

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