P044507-165482 (2)

Security Union: A Counter-Terrorism Agenda and stronger Europol to boost the EU’s resilience

(European Commission Press Release)

Brussels, 9 December 2020

Today, the Commission is presenting a new Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the EU to step up the fight against terrorism and violent extremism and boost the EU’s resilience to terrorist threats. Building on the work done in recent years, the Agenda seeks to support Member States in better anticipating, preventing, protecting and responding to the terrorist threat. Europol, the EU Agency for law enforcement cooperation, will deliver better operational support to Member States’ investigations under the revised mandate proposed today.

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “The inclusive and rights-based foundations of our Union are our strongest protection against the threat of terrorism. By building inclusive societies where everyone can find their place, we reduce the appeal of extremist narratives. At the same time, the European way of life is not optional and we must do all in our
power to prevent those that seek to undo it. With today’s Counter-Terrorism Agenda we are putting the focus on investing in the resilience of our societies with measures to better counter radicalisation and to protect our public spaces from attacks through targeted measures.

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “With today’s Counter-Terrorism Agenda, we are boosting experts’ ability to anticipate new threats, we are helping local communities to prevent radicalisation, we are giving cities the means to protect open public spaces through good design and we are ensuring that we can respond quickly and more efficiently to attacks and attempted attacks. We are also proposing to give Europol the modern means to support EU countries in their investigations.

Measures to anticipate, prevent, protect and respond
The recent spate of attacks on European soil have served as a sharp reminder that terrorism remains a real and present danger. As this threat evolves, so too must our cooperation to counter it.

The Counter-Terrorism Agenda aims at:

  • Identifying vulnerabilities and building capacity to anticipate threats

To better anticipate threats as well as potential blind spots, Member States should make sure that the Intelligence and Situation Centre (EU INTCEN) can rely on high quality input to increase our situational awareness. As part of its upcoming proposal on the resilience of critical infrastructure, the Commission will set up advisory missions to support Member States in carrying out risk assessments, building on the experience of a pool of EU Protective Security Advisors. Security research will help enhance early detection of new threats, whilst investing in new technologies will help Europe’s counter terrorism response stay ahead of the curve.

  • Preventing attacks by addressing radicalisation

To counter the spread of extremist ideologies online, it is important that the European Parliament and the Council adopt the rules on removing terrorist content online as a matter of urgency. The Commission will then support their application. The EU Internet Forum will develop guidance on moderation for publicly available content for extremist material online.

Promoting inclusion and providing opportunities through education, culture, youth and sports can contribute to making societies more cohesive and preventing radicalisation. The Action Plan on integration and inclusion will help build community resilience.

The Agenda also focuses on strengthening preventive action in prisons, paying specific attention to the rehabilitation and reintegration of radical inmates, including after their release. To disseminate knowledge and expertise on the prevention of radicalisation, the Commission will propose setting up an EU Knowledge Hub gathering policy makers, practitioners and researchers.

Recognising the specific challenges raised by foreign terrorist fighters and their family members, the Commission will support training and knowledge sharing to help Member States manage their return.

  • Promoting security by design and reducing vulnerabilities to protect cities and people

Many of the recent attacks that took place in the EU targeted densely crowded or highly symbolic spaces. The EU will step up efforts to ensure physical protection of public spaces including places of worship through security by design. The Commission will propose to gather cities around an EU Pledge on Urban Security and Resilience and will make funding available to support them in reducing the vulnerabilities of public spaces. The Commission will also propose measures to make critical infrastructure – such as transport hubs, power stations or hospitals – more resilient. To step up aviation security, the Commission will explore options for a European legal framework to deploy security officers on flights.

All those entering the EU, citizens or not, must be checked against the relevant databases. The Commission will support Member States in ensuring such systematic checks at borders. The Commission will also propose a system ensuring that a person who has been denied a firearm on security grounds in one Member State cannot lodge a similar request in another Member State, closing an existing loophole.

  • Stepping up operational support, prosecution and victims’ rights to better respond to attacks

Police cooperation and information exchange across the EU are key to respond effectively in case of attacks and bring perpetrators to justice. The Commission will propose an EU police cooperation code in 2021 to enhance cooperation between law enforcement authorities, including in the fight against terrorism.

A substantial part of investigations against crime and terrorism involve encrypted information. The Commission will work with Member States to identify possible legal, operational, and technical solutions for lawful access and promote an approach which both maintains the effectiveness of encryption in protecting privacy and security of communications, while providing an effective response to crime and terrorism. To better support investigations and prosecution, the Commission will propose to create a network of counter-terrorism financial investigators involving Europol, to help follow the money trail and identify those involved. The Commission will also further support Member States to use battlefield information to identify, detect and prosecute returning Foreign Terrorists Fighters.

The Commission will work to enhance the protection of victims of terrorist acts, including to improve access to compensation. The work on anticipating, preventing, protecting and responding to terrorism will involve partner countries, in the EU’s neighbourhood and beyond; and rely on stepped up engagement with international organisations. The Commission and the High Representative/Vice-President, as appropriate, will step up cooperation with Western Balkan partners in the area of firearms, negotiate international agreements with Southern Neighbourhood countries to exchange personal data with Europol, and enhance strategic and operational cooperation with other regions such as the Sahel region, the Horn of Africa, other African countries and key regions in Asia.

The Commission will appoint a Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, in charge of coordinating EU policy and funding in the area of counter-terrorism within the Commission, and in close cooperation with the Member States and the European Parliament.

Stronger mandate for Europol

The Commission is proposing today to strengthen the mandate of Europol, the EU Agency for law enforcement cooperation. Given that terrorists often abuse services offered by private companies to recruit followers, plan attacks, and disseminate propaganda inciting further attacks, the revised mandate will help Europol cooperate effectively with private parties, and transmit relevant evidence to Member States. For example, Europol will be able to act as a focal point in case it is not clear which Member State has jurisdiction.

The new mandate will also allow Europol to process large and complex datasets; to improve cooperation with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office as well as with non-EU partner countries; and to help develop new technologies that match law enforcement needs. It will strengthen Europol’s data protection framework and parliamentary oversight.


Today’s Agenda follows from the EU Security Union Strategy for 2020 to 2025, in which the Commission committed to focus on priority areas where the EU can bring value to support Member States in fostering security for those living in Europe.

The Counter-Terrorism Agenda builds on the measures already adopted to deny terrorists the means to carry out attacks and to strengthen resilience against the terrorist threat. That includes EU rules on combating terrorism, on addressing terrorist financing and access to firearms.

For More Information

Communication on a Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the EU: Anticipate, Prevent, Protect, Respond

Proposal for a Regulation strengthening Europol’s mandate

Strengthening Europol’s mandate – Impact assessment Part 1

and Part 2

Strengthening Europol’s mandate – Executive summary of the impact assessment

A Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the EU and a stronger mandate for Europol: Questions and Answers

Press release: EU Security Union Strategy: connecting the dots in a new security ecosystem, 24 July 2020

Security Union – Commission website

Illustration 2020/2
© Copyright European Commission 2020

What is QAnon about, and why is it considered a danger to democracy?

by Andrea Molle 

According to journalist Marc Endeweld, French President Emmanuel Macron is dangerously close to the world of conspiracy theories. In particular, he appears to be obsessed with the “Replacement Theory,” an alleged plan to “replace” Europeans with African immigrants. In Italy, ordinary citizens believe that these same theories have breached into mainstream politics. For example, some believe that Matteo Salvini is a sympathizer of conspiracy theories. They have created online groups dedicated to finding evidence that the leader of The League is a follower of QAnon, a US-based movement which, partly due to the lockdown, is becoming increasingly popular in Europe.

There is no evidence confirming such conjectures. However, even the remote possibility of this represents a very concerning scenario. Several extra-parliamentary movements, those same organizations that mobilize identitarian votes for the far-right and the extreme left, have started to pick up and amplify QAnon’s messages and conspiracy theories all over the world. To increase consensus, some of the Italian mainstream parties started relaunching those same contents as part of their outreach efforts, especially on social media. Relaunch often happens accidentally, without a deliberate intent to connect with it, yet conspiracy rhetoric, filled with invisible enemies, international “powers,” and overly simplistic explanations, quickly gains media attention. By doing so, however, these parties take a chance of associating themselves with a perilous movement and underlying political culture.

Conspiracy rhetoric, filled with invisible enemies and overly simplistic explanations, easily gains media attention. Some parties started relaunching the same content as part of their outreach efforts, especially on social media.

Let us try and shed some light on a niche phenomenon that could soon make it to the front pages of national newspapers in Italy and anywhere else in the world. During the 2016 US presidential election, Republican candidate Donald J. Trump was referred to as “the Chosen One” by several conspiracy groups who have since begun to follow him with growing interest and turned him into their Messiah. Following Trump’s victory against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, those same groups have increasingly gained visibility and gathered under the label of QAnon. This movement brings together self-styled followers of an anonymous internet user known by the code name of “Q.” In his recent career as a “whistleblower,” Q has claimed to be a high-level member of Trump’s administration and then began to reveal, progressively and through clues that his followers must decipher on their own, the supposed truth about the “Deep state.” The alleged “powers of the Deep State” is a cabal of left-wing politicians, entrepreneurs, and Hollywood personalities who allegedly engage in kidnappings, human sacrifices, and satanic rituals with the ultimate goal of achieving immortality and enslave the world to their will. A cabal that Donald Trump, supported by a few world leaders and allies, is said to be strenuously fighting. At least according to QAnon, Trump is the last hope of humanity. While this idea represents QAnon’s core belief and the nutshell of Q’s revelations, each user or self-styled “truth-seeking group” integrates it with other content, modifying and adapting the message to their needs and cultural or political context. For this reason, the movement is considered by scholars to be radically different from previous or traditional conspiracy theories and to be instead a DYI, conspiratorial “open world.”

Q’s revelations: each user or self-styled “truth-seeking group” integrates them with additional content, modifying and adapting the message to their needs and cultural or political context. For this reason, the movement is considered to be a DYI conspiratorial “open world”.

Although QAnon started as a fringe group deeply rooted in American political reality, it quickly gained visibility on YouTube thanks to its flexibility. Here, producers of conservative content, such as TRU Reporting or SGT Report, have immediately started putting out dozens of videos inspired by Q’s revelations, getting hundreds of thousands of views. At the beginning of 2018, QAnon had already inspired an extensive network of YouTube channels, podcasts, and publications dedicated to the “Deep State.” QAnon slogans and symbols, such as the hashtag #WWG1WGA (“Where We Go One We Go All”), have populated the conservative social media ecosystem and have often made an appearance through President Trump’s supporters’ rallies. Simultaneously, QAnon started to show its darker side, with several of its followers implicated in harassment, vandalism, armed assaults, and even murders. In 2019, the movement’s short but efficient career as an extremist organization culminated in the FBI’s designation of QAnon as a domestic terrorist threat. The first conspiracy theory to be classified as such in the history of the Bureau.

QAnon received a boost during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a decline of trust in social and political institutions. QAnon is ‘booming’ in Europe, where the movement now has more than 500,000 followers connecting over several dedicated social media platforms. 

With nearly 1.5 million followers, QAnon undoubtedly received a boost during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated the decline of trust in social and political institutions. The number of QAnon-related Tweets has risen from nearly 5 million in 2017 to over 12 million in 2020. Donald Trump remains a vital character of the conspiracy narrative, and the movement is still primarily focused on the United States. However, we are witnessing a QAnon boom in Europe, where the movement now has more than 500,000 followers who connect over several dedicated social media platforms. In Germany, the second-largest nation after the United States for QAnon presence, the movement is not surprisingly very popular with far-right movements thanks to the anti-Merkel sentiment that grew exponentially during the lockdown. However, it must be mentioned that even several leftist movements, particularly those linked to ecologism and climate change, are increasingly attracted to Q’s rhetoric. In France, the European nation where the movement has been present for a longer time, QAnon has initially penetrated thanks to the Yellow Vests movement. Finally, in the United Kingdom, Q gathered support thanks to the Brexit campaign. As far as Italy is concerned, the real dimension of QAnon remains largely unknown. However, Q’s propaganda has already spread mainly through the populist right that, as we mentioned above, accesses its contents through several identitarian movements that have openly embraced its rhetoric.

In 2019, the movement was designated a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI. The first conspiracy theory to be classified as such in the history of the Bureau.

Party leaders and pundits who relaunch QAnon’s content can effortlessly gain thousands of followers. They can achieve this result by republishing Q’s “drops,” maybe with a few adaptations to the Italian context, for example, while flirting with the NO-MASK or the NO-VAX movements. Alternatively, they can repack the contents giving it a Catholic spin, typically focusing it against the Muslim minority. Finally, they can link them to the umbrella concept of “tradition” as, for example, when claiming to be defending “our children” from pedophiles or the traditional nuclear family against the threat of the “Gender theory.” However, even if they gain an instant payoff, the cost of it can be much higher. When politicians retweet Q’s tropes, or back up outspoken supporters of QAnon, or when they claim the existence of a “Deep State” controlled by a “globalist” élite, they are enabling a criminal organization that is considered by American law enforcement agencies to be a nest of potential terrorists.

Immagine: “QAnon – Q Conspiracy – Deep State Trump” by mikemacmarketing is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Image via www.vpnsrus.com