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Fighting terrorism: "The more we know each other, the more we trust each other, the more we exchange intelligence"

For Gérard Deprez, EDP Delegate General, member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament, the exchange of information between European services is far from optimal because of the lack of confidence. He is campaigning for the creation of a European FBI. Interview with Jean Quatremer, published in Libération.

Why was the first reaction of the demagogues in Europe to incriminate the policy of hosting refugees of Chancellor Angela Merkel?

Must we recall that the attacks that blew the French and Belgian soils were committed by French and Belgians or foreigners holding a residence card that had nothing to do with the refugees who had arrived recently? That some refugees may be infiltrated terrorists, it is obvious, but it does not mean that it is a breeding ground for terrorism. Yes, there are criminals among asylum seekers, as there are among our population, and that is why we have a penal code and prisons! This amalgamation between refugees and criminality is unbearable!

Yes, but several attacks were committed by infiltrators among the refugees or by Europeans who fought in Syria…

That is why we have provided for systematic monitoring of all persons entering the Schengen area, including European nationals. This is important because the "returnees", those who have gone off to fight with Daech and return to Europe, have the nationality of our countries: they could be stopped when they cross the border.

Likewise, we adopted a PNR [the European Passenger Name Record, adopted in April, editor’s note.] to identify people with a suspicious behaviour. In the hotspots that have been set up in Greece and Italy in order to register asylum seekers, national agents and Europol have been seconded to identify suspicious individuals.

Is cooperation between European police forces in the fight against terrorism sufficient?

It is very difficult to answer that question. Why? Because police services are familiar with cooperating and exchanging information with people they trust. The more people know each other, the more they trust each other, the more they exchange intelligence. Conversely, the less we know each other, the less we have certainty about the reliability of the other, and the more reluctant we are to communicate information. Trust cannot be decreed; it has to be built.

Can the European Union at least provide a framework for a minimal exchange of information between European services?

We fought in vain in the European Parliament to obtain an automatic exchange of information. Thus, we wanted the Schengen Information System (SIS), which is accessible to officials responsible for external border control, to include persons who are suspected of terrorism or prosecuted for terrorism. The Member States have clearly refused. The same applies to the European PNR, which is in fact made up of 28 national PNRs and not one central file: the exchange of data is left to the discretion of the Member States, including in terrorism issues... In other words, the use of existing European instruments is not at all optimal because of the lack of trust between services. That is why it is important to organise regular meetings between European counter-terrorism officials so that they know each other and build trust. After that, as everyone needs information, cooperation will develop.

Should we finally set up a European intelligence agency?

I am in favour of it. Europol should be given the power to investigate terrorism and to have access to all information held by the 28 countries. At present, it can only accompany inquiries or organise exchanges of information. The problem is that the European Treaty expressly states that intelligence is a national competence…

Should Europeans re-learn how to live with violence on their own soil?

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was considered that we had entered an era of pacification, and we lowered our guard, both from the military point of view and from the police point of view. Watch the cuts in safety budgets! Today we are disarmed, both psychologically and militarily, because we have underestimated the impact of the outside world on our societies. We must re-arm ourselves in every sense of the word to reduce the threat, and collectively we will face it. The retreat into the national redoubt, as advocated by demagogues, is a chimera. But let us be clear: no matter what measures are taken, the terrorist risk will never be eliminated.

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