Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos at the Readout of the College Meeting of 23 March 2016
Ladies and gentlemen,
Yesterday we were hit in the heart of Europe – but this heart is strong and resilient. In this situation we are all Belgian, because to be Belgian is to be European.
What has happened in Brussels, has happened unfortunately already in Paris, in Madrid, in London, but also outside Europe in Turkey, Lebanon, Tunisia, Mali – and the list unfortunately goes on.
But precisely because it has happened before, we know that each time the citizens of these cities, the citizens of Europe, have come out stronger and more united. To those that wish to divide us, we respond with more unity, cohesion and strength. A threat towards Europe needs a European response – and we have been calling for it for months.
We cannot keep learning the hard way, but the events in Brussels show, once again, that we absolutely need more coordination and more information exchange. The fact that the perpetrators of the Paris and Brussels attacks were known to the police proves this once again.
Information gathering and information exchange are the cornerstone of our security. Our information needs to be inter-connected. Our systems need to talk to each other. That is where we need to improve, urgently.
Last year we launched the European Counter Terrorism Centre in Europol. Member States have to use it more and better, by sharing information proactively and consistently, by offering resources and sending experts.
Member States have to trust each other.
Yesterday, I was immediately in touch with the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Jambon and several other European Ministers of Interior, including the Dutch Presidency of the Council. I proposed to organise an extraordinary meeting of the Ministers of Interior, and I am happy to see that this will happen as soon as possible.
We are all facing the same challenges, so we need a coherent and coordinated approach. And that is precisely what the Commission has proposed from the very outset through its European Agenda on Security.
Certain issues are still on the table, and others need to be implemented properly. Last year, the Commission presented proposals to make it more difficult to acquire firearms in the European Union, aimed at tightening controls on the acquisition and possession of firearms, as well as common minimum standards for deactivation of firearms.
The European Parliament and Member States have to work quickly and constructively now, because we have to reduce the risks of guns falling into wrong hands.
In that same period, the Commission adopted proposals to step up the fight against terrorism and organised crime, by revising the existing Framework Decision on Terrorism.
More than 3 months later, the proposal is still on the table and negotiations are going slowly. But also for the tools we have, Member States must use them better. For example, an agreement was reached on our proposal for an EU Passenger Name Record at the end of last year, but things need to be finalised soon.
The European Parliament should vote at the earliest possible moment and Member States must not delay implementation.
Better implementation also goes for the Schengen Information System between national borders guards, the Interpol databases on Stolen and Lost Travel Documents, and the Prüm framework for police officers to exchange forensic data.
Finally, there has also been a lot of talk about Schengen.
First of all, let me say that Schengen is not the problem. But let me also say that we cannot have a secure area of internal free movement without better control of our external borders – that's why we proposed systematic checks for all those who enter but also why we proposed the European Border and Coast Guard.
The current temporary border controls that have been introduced cannot remain forever – that is why the two proposals by the Commission need to be adopted urgently.
Finally, we cannot lose sight of addressing and eradicating the roots of terrorism and radicalisation – both here at home but also outside.
Right now, we are at the peak of two crises: security and migration. And while they overlap in timing, they should not be confused. Those people who have arrived on our shores are precisely fleeing the same terror that has struck us, right here in the heart of Europe.
To antagonise those seeking protection would be giving in to the hatred and division that terrorists seek to sow.
If now is not the time to step up cooperation, then I don't know when is. It's beyond time to get serious about security.