The European Parliament’s inaugural topical debate, made possible in the latest revision of the Rules of Procedures, took place this afternoon in Strasbourg almost one year on from the Brussels attacks.

MEPs paid tribute to the victims of the attacks and expressed condolences to the families. Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos was present to update the Parliament on measures put in place in the EU to guarantee security for the citizens.   

But GUE/NGL MEP Cornelia Ernst wasn’t impressed with the list of measures presented, saying that the real focus should be on the effectiveness of the systems in place so they actually stop future attacks:

“Rather than providing an explanation for the attack, citizens want to know how we can stop attacks from happening, even though we know that there is no such thing as absolute safety and security.”

“But listening to the Commissioner’s long catalogue of activities to prevent terrorism, one cannot but wonder if the right things are being done. It is wrong to assume that expanding data collection and surveillance on private citizens may stop future attacks. On the contrary, intelligence gathering should be more refined and focused so to catch better the relevant information able to thwart potential attacks. For instance, when the Commission says that there is a 34 per cent increase in data coming into Europol, we know that data was already available to the police before previous attacks and they weren’t stopped.”

“Therefore what’s important is to know how best to use data to stop the next attack. What we need are scientific exchanges between the authorities and to better understand what kind of data is needed, what information is necessary and relevant, and what kind of measures are needed at the borders.”

“It is of paramount importance that our citizens are safe and this cannot take place without the appropriate exchange of data.”

Swedish MEP Malin Björk, who was close to where the attacks took place, warned the EU against the pitfalls of America’s ‘War on Terror’:

“I was at Brussels airport on the day of the attack and heard the explosions. It felt that the roof was about to fall on us. My body remembers that fear and I still cry for those who lost their lives. I refuse to heed the words of those telling us that we need to learn to live like this. We can stop terrorism and we can do better than we are doing now.”

“The EU is repeating the mistakes of the US in the ‘War on Terror’. A strategy that fomented wars and made the world unsafe. The one-sided focus on militarised security and surveillance-based security is short-sided and inefficient. We are missing our goal and wasting energies and resources. Terrorism is man-made and it can be undone.”

Björk also called for inclusive policies, not more militarisation:

“We need to shift focus – we need to create inclusive, more equal and less polarised societies. We need to fight racism and Islamophobia. We need to work for gender equality. No rifles or surveillance technology in the world can solve these problems.”

“I call on the Council to change its current institutional set up addressing human security and counter-terrorism: I want to see ministers for social affairs, employment ministers, ministers of interior and gender equality ministers work together. Only in this way can we ensure that terrorist threats are addressed in a more efficient way.”

Finally, GUE/NGL MEP Javier Couso called on European governments to stop arming dubious groups in Syria:

“There are contradictions when we talk about the terrorists that perpetrated this attack as they are Europeans and from our ghettos but trained in Syria and known to security services. There are some 5000 Europeans fighting in Syria today. This means we need anti-terrorism cooperation with the Syrian government as our secret services are already doing that.”

“We also need to cease supporting so-called moderate groups in Syria who are actually terrorists. We need to pressure our allies, for example Turkey, on their permeable borders. And finally, we need to stop radicalisation by having an economic and cultural plan for our precarious and economically-deprived ghettos,” Couso concluded.  

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