‘Our fight not directed against religious beliefs but against violent extremism,’ EU interior ministers say in statement
European Union flags are seen waving outside the EU Commission Building at night in Brussels, Belgium on December 20, 2019. ( Dursun Aydemir – Anadolu Agency )
EU interior ministers Friday held a virtual meeting to discuss recent attacks in France and Austria.
Ministers released a joint statement after the meeting underlining their “fight against terrorism is not directed against any religious or political beliefs.”
Ahead of Friday’s meeting, France and Austria released drafts, calling for stronger efforts in “combating Islamism” but other member states opposed linking Islam with the fight against terrorism, according to Brussels-based news portal Politico.
The joint statement said: “Our fight against terrorism is not directed against any religious or political beliefs but against fanatical and violent extremism.”
The statement also stressed the importance of inclusion, social cohesion, and integration in the battle against radicalization and extremism.
“The sense of belonging and equality is of central importance for the social cohesion of our modern, pluralist and open societies,” the statement said. “Successful integration is of key importance in this regard. Integration is a two-way street.”
“This means that migrants are expected to make an active effort to become integrated, while help in this regard is important.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has drawn widespread criticism recently for his anti-Muslim stance, describing Islam as a religion “in crisis” worldwide, and pledging a crackdown against what he called “Islamist separatism” in France.
Critics accused Macron of politically exploiting recent terror attacks, adopting a populist far-right discourse about Muslims in an attempt to appeal to right-wing voters.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also sparked criticism this week by linking Islam with fight against terrorism. He proposed making “political Islam” a criminal offense, to shut down various Muslim organizations in the country.
Tightening border controls
Ministers of the EU member countries also agreed to strengthen border controls in Europe.
Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said it is essential to protect the EU’s external borders.
“In a study that Frontex carried out last year, there was obvious that 22% of those entering into the Schengen area will not checked towards the Schengen information system,” European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said at the same conference.
“The use of an analysis of passenger name records data is an essential tool to detect known and previously unknown terrorist suspects,” she also added.
The statement noted that the EU should “consider matter of data encryption so that digital evidence can be lawfully collected”.
Seehofer added: “It was clear there are data protection issues here, fundamental rights issues that have to be respected.”
Whenever an attack is carried out, security authorities and politicians are criticized, he said.
“So, there are plenty of possibilities to improve how we can avoid such barbaric acts, and we need to consider them all and look into them all in depth.”