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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

U.S.-EU Cooperation Against Terrorism

Kristin Archick
Specialist in European Affairs

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, and subsequent deadly incidents in Europe such as the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005, gave new momentum to European Union (EU) initiatives to combat terrorism and improve police, judicial, and intelligence cooperation among its current 27 member states. Over the last decade, the EU has sought to speed up its efforts to harmonize national laws and bring down barriers among member states’ law enforcement authorities so that information can be meaningfully shared and suspects apprehended expeditiously. Among other steps, the EU has established a common definition of terrorism and a common list of terrorist groups, an EU arrest warrant, enhanced tools to stem terrorist financing, and new measures to strengthen external EU border controls and improve aviation security.

As part of its drive to bolster its counterterrorism capabilities, the EU has also made promoting cooperation with the United States a top priority. Washington has largely welcomed these efforts, recognizing that they may help root out terrorist cells both in Europe and elsewhere, and prevent future attacks against the United States or its interests abroad. Contacts between U.S. and EU officials on police, judicial, and border control policy matters have increased substantially since 2001. A number of new U.S.-EU agreements have also been reached; these include informationsharing arrangements between the United States and EU police and judicial bodies, two new U.S.-EU treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance, and accords on container security and airline passenger data. In addition, the United States and the EU have been working together to clamp down on terrorist financing and to strengthen aviation and transport security. Despite the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, both the United States and the EU maintain that continued vigilance against terrorism remains essential. Some observers note that the July 2012 terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in EU member Bulgaria serves as a stark reminder that Europe remains vulnerable to terrorist activity.

U.S.-EU cooperation against terrorism has led to a new dynamic in U.S.-EU relations by fostering dialogue on law enforcement and homeland security issues previously reserved for bilateral discussions. Nevertheless, some challenges persist in fostering closer U.S.-EU cooperation in these fields. Among the most prominent are data privacy and data protection concerns. The EU considers the privacy of personal data a basic right and EU rules and regulations strive to keep personal data out of the hands of law enforcement as much as possible. The negotiation of several U.S.-EU information-sharing agreements, from those related to tracking terrorist financial data to sharing airline passenger information, have been complicated by ongoing EU concerns about whether the United States could guarantee a sufficient level of protection for European citizens’ personal data. Other issues that have led to periodic tensions include detainee policies, differences in the U.S. and EU terrorist designation lists (especially regarding Hezbollah), and balancing measures to improve border controls and border security with the need to facilitate legitimate transatlantic travel and commerce.

Congressional decisions related to improving border controls and transport security, in particular, may affect how future U.S.-EU cooperation evolves. In addition, given the European Parliament’s growing influence in many of these policy areas, Members of Congress may be able to help shape Parliament’s views and responses through ongoing contacts and the existing Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue (TLD). This report examines the evolution of U.S.-EU counterterrorism cooperation and the ongoing challenges that may be of interest in the 112th Congress.

Date of Report: October 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: RS22030
Price: $29.95

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