The European Response to Terrorism

Sep 26, 2001

How should the European Union respond to the threat of terrorism? Ambassador De Ruyt presents several concrete measures agreed upon by the member states.


JOANNE MYERS: September 11th. It was a day when the absolutely unthinkable became the almost unspeakable, a day when the meaning of terrorism changed forever in our minds. The appalling atrocities committed on that day were crueler in conception and more shocking in execution than anything that has ever come before, for these brutal acts of violence were perpetrated not simply on the people of New York and Washington, but on all civilized people who believe in values common to our free world, such as openness and tolerance.

There is no doubt that terrorism poses a real challenge to both the world as a whole and to Europe in particular. Some countries in Europe have been waging war with terrorism for decades and they have learned some hard lessons in the process. The biggest of these is that there are no quick victories to be gained and that multinational cooperation is what is needed most when fighting international terrorism.

As countries around the world rally to join President Bush and America in the fight against terrorism, the shock and sympathy felt in Western Europe have been unparalleled. In Brussels the mood among European leaders has been resolute. The European Union signaled its immediate support by issuing a declaration stating that "an American military riposte is legitimate." Subsequently, at a special meeting of the fifteen-nation European Union, the leaders approved proposals for wide warrants and stronger laws against money laundering, all urgent and long overdue. These measures are to be voted upon at a meeting scheduled to take place on December 6th.

To discuss these and other issues, we welcome this morning Ambassador Jean De Ruyt to the Carnegie Council. Ambassador De Ruyt is the Belgian Ambassador to the United Nations and also holds the Presidency of the European Union. He will address the issues on behalf of Ms. Annemie Neyts, the Belgian Minister of State of Foreign Affairs, who could not be with us this morning.

Ambassador De Ruyt began his diplomatic career in Africa, with his first posting at the Belgian Embassy. Shortly thereafter, he became Deputy Chief of Mission in Algiers. When he returned to Brussels, little did he know that the experience he would gain as his country's Ambassador to the European Union, and later as Ambassador to the NATO Council, would serve him extremely well during these hard times. He has also served as the Director of Political Military Affairs in the Foreign Ministry, and most recently he was the Director General for Political Affairs. In addition, he has written on European political cooperation for The European Foreign Policy and various articles on European institutions and defense policies.


AMBASSADOR DE RUYT: Everyone agrees that the world changed on September 11th, and one very small symbol of that is that I am replacing the Belgian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was supposed to be here for the general debate of foreign ministers in the UN, which had to be postponed because of the events. But I am very pleased that the Carnegie Council offered me the chance to replace Mrs. Neyts, and to change the topic, which was to be "The Future of Europe." Because we all need to concentrate our efforts on facing the world challenge which terrorist groups sent us on September 11th, I think that there is only one topic possible now.

After the terrorist attacks, the reaction in Europe was immediate, unambiguous, and three-fold:

  1. Dismay, fear, as everywhere in the world, when people saw what had happened, something which could never have been imagined;
  2. Solidarity with the United States, the victims, with those who could not find their friends, their families. This was very well expressed in Le Monde's headline, "Nous sommes tous américains" [We are all American]; and
  3. The third reaction was an immediate effort by the European Union and NATO to strengthen and concentrate attention on the fight against terrorism.

A special meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers of the European and the NATO Secretary General was organized on the 12th in Brussels. If you are familiar with the European institutions, you know that the Secretary General of NATO does not normally meet with this group. Just after this meeting, NATO itself also met and, decided for the first time in its history to refer to Article 5 of the Treaty, which commits all members to help another threatened by attack. The European Union immediately issued the statement, to which Joanne referred, outlining the three points I have just mentioned.

On September 12th, the third Declaration of the European Union was very revealing of the reaction from Europe: "These horrendous acts are an attack not only on the U.S. but against humanity itself and the values and freedoms we all share."

What happened here at the UN? On the 11th, as you know, the UN building was evacuated immediately. But the President of the Security Council, French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte arranged by phone or e-mail to have his counterparts agree to the Presidential Statement the same day as the attacks. When it was once again possible to return to the building the following day, the Security Council met -some representatives of the member states are here, and I hope that they will comment in the question-and-answer period - and after an hour's discussion, issued a very strong Resolution, without ambiguity, referring to "a threat to peace and security," using language which made it very clear that the United States was authorized to retaliate.

The same day, September 12th, the General Assembly met and passed a Resolution. This time not only all countries in the world agreed, but all were sponsors, because this Resolution was presented by the President of the General Assembly himself. This show of unity, of solidarity from Europe and the international community was very clear from the beginning.

Shortly thereafter we had to look at concrete measures, first, to respond to these attacks; and, second, in the more medium and long term, to decide how the international community could fight terrorism.

There were many meetings and visits. President Chirac was one of the first to go to Washington to meet with President Bush; Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister of Germany; Prime Minister Tony Blair from Britain. My Foreign Minister, along with Mr. Solana and the Commissioner Mr. Patton, met with Mr. Powell. Many foreign ministers are coming to New York or Washington this week for discussions on retaliation and fighting terrorism.

Last Friday, after the visits of President Chirac, Mr. Fischer, Mr. Blair, and the Presidency of the European Union to Washington, the European Council met in Brussels. Having worked for some time in the EU and NATO, I can tell you that it is not often that leaders of the fifteen member countries adopt strong and unequivocal language. Let me read the beginning of this statement to show the resolve of Europeans:

"The European Council is totally supportive of the American people in the face of the deadly terrorist attacks. These attacks are an assault on our open, democratic, tolerant, and multicultural societies. They are a challenge to the conscience of each human being. The European Union will cooperate with the United States in bringing to justice and punishing the perpetrators, sponsors, and accomplices of such barbarous acts. On the basis of Security Council Resolution 1368, the Resolution passed on the 12th of September, a riposte by the U.S. is legitimate. The Member States of the Union are prepared to undertake such actions, each according to its means. The actions must be targeted and may also be directed against States abetting, supporting, or harboring terrorists. They may require close cooperation with all the Member States of the European Union.

"Furthermore, the European Union calls for the broadest possible global coalition against terrorism, under United Nations aegis. In addition to the European Union and the United States, that coalition should include at least the candidate countries, the Russian Federation, our Arab and Muslim partners, and any other country ready to defend our common values. The European Union will step up its actions against terrorism through a coordinated and inter-disciplinary approach embracing all Union policies. It will ensure that that approach is reconciled with respect for the fundamental freedoms which form the basis of our civilization."

This clearly demonstrates the state of mind in Europe.

What, then, must we do to fight terrorism?

  • Share in the U.S.-led efforts to fight back against terrorism. Europeans are very familiar with terrorism after the seventies and eighties with the ETA, the IRA, and other such movements. Our governments are used to dealing with terrorism, but in separate ways, under national sovereignty. Because of the magnitude of what has happened, we realize that we in Europe are possible targets as well, so must offer our expertise and cooperate in the American campaign against terrorism.
  • Establish a European arrest warrant, which would replace extradition procedures by each member state. This was a major decision taken just now by the European Council. There had been discussions of such a measure for the distant future when Europe is more unified, but we have made the decision to introduce legislation immediately in all EU countries for an arrest warrant.
  • Take strong and prohibitive action against terrorism. The European Union accepts a common definition of terrorism, and the European Council has encouraged Europol and all police and interior ministries in Europe to help the United States in identifying terrorist cells.
  • Sign and ratify the UN Conventions on Terrorism. There has been a strong appeal to all the EU member states to do so. In New York, we received this request as an appeal for the European Union to act in the United Nations also, and work toward establishing the broadest possible coalition under its aegis. In the Security Council and the General Assembly as a whole, we are working at identifying the appropriate response. The Security Council is discussing a possible second resolution, which would address specifically those who support terrorism and measures to persuade them to stop this support. In the General Assembly, the EU has called for a general debate on terrorism starting next week. We will try to arrive at conclusions, at a consensus of the international community. It is very important to encourage countries to ratify the Conventions which already exist, to continue work on the Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism, and maybe also to encourage other regional groups to do the same as the EU, to have a more cohesive approach to terrorism.

So there you have a summary of our steps in the last two weeks to face the challenge. In conclusion, I would say that Europe can be counted on to provide:

  • Strong solidarity and assistance. The Europeans want to help the United States build a broad world coalition against terrorism.
  • A commitment to fight terrorism with our experience, our means, and in cooperation with the United States and all countries in the world which commit themselves to do so.
  • A strong appeal for a multilateral approach. Europe hopes that the efforts made by the anti-terrorism coalition will be accomplished through the UN, or at least through a multilateral approach. All international commitments and conventions addressing terrorism and other issues like the proliferation of biological and nuclear weapons can also indirectly contribute to this fight.
  • A balanced appraisal of the situation. European countries have pledged to help the Americans, but they would also like to convince them that retaliation should be specific and not indiscriminate. We are ready to support the American administration's efforts if we see that they are focused and will in fact have beneficial effects.
  • A concern not to make this a clash of civilizations, nor a fight against Islam or Arab countries. It is a fight against terrorism of a kind that has absolutely no possible justification. This is a concern that we share with the American administration.

Thank you very much.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: Will you be able to realize your goals without curtailing civil liberties?

JEAN DE RUYT: The right way to fight terrorism is not to diminish or to reduce our commitment to the principles of human rights and civil liberties. The terrorist threat we are facing now - of a new magnitude, such as massive suicide attacks - will require us to take a stronger and tougher approach to prevention of these acts.

But, at the same time, we cannot transform our countries into police states. If we fail to respect the principles of democracy and human rights, there will be more danger, more violence, and more global threats. For the moment, it is clear that the terrorists are a very militant group that has been condemned by the rest of the world. Even countries that blame the United States for something are part of this coalition. These terrorists are limited in number and we have no reason to create a world that would lead to more terrorism.

At the moment, we don't have European legislation for stopping the financing of terrorism, but the member states are each facing this problem. The EU Council has encouraged all countries to sign and ratify the UN Convention on the Financing of Terrorism, which would commit each government to stop or prevent the financing of terrorism by anyone in the country.

QUESTION: Would countries necessarily feel that this Convention was binding?

JEAN DE RUYT: Yes, because ratification of this Convention is a legal commitment. The European Union has appealed to each country, according to its own legislative rules, to ratify these conventions. We are trying to act at the EU level for prevention and controls with Europol and more and more European instruments. The European system of controlling the movement of citizens is in the making. We have opened our internal borders, but still need to make efforts to create this space and establish the appropriate instruments, because these are matters which are deeply rooted in the national sovereignty of the member states. The warrant is a system that has been discussed in a meeting of the European Council, trying to define what kind of control might be established for the circulation of people to replace the procedures that are still in place in all countries for extraditing terrorists. The European Council says that the arrest warrant will allow a wanted person to be handed over directly from one judicial authority to another without having to resort to all of the extradition procedures.

QUESTION: The United States identified Bin Laden as a terrorist, and they immediately called for intelligence cooperation. Yet the United States is the last to share intelligence information with international tribunals. How is this situation viewed from Europe?

JEAN DE RUYT: There are two ways of approaching this issue. We hope that people will be more reassured if we manage to establish an intelligence system at the European level. Intelligence is something that is very close to national sovereignty, and it also works as a very good democratic control. We need to have a more integrated Europe, and certainly more democratic control at the local level. Since we cannot reassure people by telling them that they will have a European system of intelligence tomorrow, we have to work pragmatically, as our intelligence services are now doing. They are also increasing cooperation with the United States, but through activities that are not publicized because of their sensitive nature. The first week after the attack, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the European Council, and the meeting of EU justice and foreign affairs ministers all addressed the need for an exchange of information, reinforcing Europol and the police system at the European level. Governments have to be pragmatic; otherwise we will create more problems than we solve.

QUESTION: My question is very simple. We have 189 members in the United Nations and 172 in Interpol. I see fragmentation in intelligence sharing. How are we going to address in a central body, such as the General Assembly, problems of jurisdictions, of national sovereignty, and the accusations that will be made about terrorism? What is being done? Is there anything being considered such as a universal jurisdiction of limitations, which has proven to be successful? Do we then focus on the European Union, or establish a central body, an international security force and place the jurisdiction there, with a central definition of what terrorism is and all of its ramifications?

JEAN DE RUYT: That is a very simple question. Again, we cannot change the old world in two weeks to adapt to this situation, and I am not sure that we would do a good job if we tried to establish world bodies at the moment, because to have institutions work, to have a judicial system work, it has to be well rooted in constitutions and in a legal system and be placed, as I said before, under democratic control. We don't have that at the European level yet, and certainly not at the world level.

The UN is now in the process of addressing this issue through international conventions that will commit countries to fight terrorism, to block financing, to hand over terrorists. The pressure is on to have all countries sign and ratify, so that if a country says "I don't want to do it," it would be considered a sponsor of terrorism. We have a chance now to put pressure on all countries, even those that have reservations.

We are working on the Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism, which has been around for a long time. It was proposed by India, to define the scope of terrorism. There is also the question of whether a comprehensive convention will replace other conventions or be supplemental thereto. The UN has organized a working group meeting on the subject for October 15th, and there is strong political pressure to push for international instruments.

QUESTION: Could I just follow on to John's simple question. Simple questions are often the most difficult. I think that it is imperative that we make these international systems work better. The questions and answers have demonstrated that there is no single panacea in the aftermath of September 11th. We have an opportunity now to galvanize a coalition against terrorism. We need to harmonize internal legislation and cooperation among agencies. Fighting crime in individual nations is difficult in itself when various agencies fail to share information. Before we are able to do anything on the European level, we will have to work on the national level.

These tragic acts will have an influence on most European countries, and they will certainly influence the thinking of the next generation of political leaders about the future of Europe. This will result in a certain shift towards European regulation and intergovernmental cooperation, placing more emphasis on Community steps and some of the effects that are still governed by international cooperation will be moved from this field to the Community.

JEAN DE RUYT: I think you are perfectly right. That is exactly the way we are going, with a process of less intergovernmental cooperation as such, but more throughout European institutions. For instance, the recent proposal for the European warrant was made by the European Commission, which means we are moving in that direction, though it will be a slow process because of the sensitivity of the issues involved. As you said, even inside one country, there may be five institutions and instruments, so at the European level it will be very difficult for the police and the justice authorities to surrender that power. But I think the events of September 11th will expedite the process. QUESTION: Let me call your attention, first, to a book that came out earlier this year by the former chief of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's anti-terrorist center for terrorism and foreign policy. He looked at many of the same problems we are discussing here, particularly international collaboration in extraditional affairs. As you know, the United States relies very heavily on the intelligence apparatuses of other countries for cooperation, but we find reluctance to share that kind of information because of national fragmentation within the EU.

This problem is not a new one. We've been fighting this kind of terrorism for a long time, like the IRA, but particularly in this case we're dealing with a network that is not new. The assets of most of these groups have already been frozen in the U.S., but the question now is about centers like Geneva and Stockholm and London, where we have a great deal of Arab money, for example, flowing into accounts. European countries know full well who is living within their borders. Their territory is much smaller, their intelligence establishments have a greater capacity to penetrate throughout the society because of existing laws.

My question then is: To what extent does one arrest or extradite people who are known to the security apparatuses of each country? We know who they are. What will it take in Europe to make the process work as effectively as in the United States?

JEAN DE RUYT: That's a very good question and not a new one, as you point out. It is a question of the balance between repression of terrorism and respect for civil liberties. For example, British authorities are often accused of not doing enough to arrest and extradite well-known terrorists to their countries of origin. Under British law, as long as they have committed no offense, nothing can be done. So we've had to work under these kinds of restrictions.

It is easier to work on the freezing of assets because there is no ethical problem. However, it should be accomplished as much as possible through international cooperation and not unilaterally. The United States, for example, should not impose sanctions on European banks for their activities with the United States unless all possibilities of cooperation have been exhausted. We must continue in this climate of building a world coalition against terrorism, rather than resorting to unilateral measures, which are contrary to individual national interests. The scope of international cooperation tracks the paths of finance of terrorism, and there are many steps that could be taken in the future.

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