EU Finalizes Criteria for Labeling Potential Terrorist and Extremist Threats

EU Finalizes Criteria for Labeling Potential Terrorist and Extremist Threats

The European Union (EU) has developed a set of non-binding criteria to identify individuals who could potentially be involved in terrorism or violent extremism.

The goal is to promote entering these individuals into European databases and systems used to track and analyze potential threats.

Populating European databases with “future” criminals

The criteria, outlined in a note circulated by the Belgian Council Presidency last month, emphasize the need for clear and reliable evidence that a person is likely to commit, help with, or be involved in future terrorist or violent extremist activities.

However, this assessment is only for people who have already been accused or convicted of such crimes, or those with an existing arrest warrant.

Projected target of Muslim activities and foreign fighters

Among the Europol files mentioned in the note are Analysis Project (AP) Hydra and AP Travellers.

Hydra focuses on activities involving Muslims, with the goal of preventing terrorism-related crimes committed by individuals or groups using Islam as justification.

On the other hand, Travellers focuses on investigating and analyzing data on foreign terrorist fighters, particularly those returning to Europe or the US from conflict zones like Syria or Iraq.

The note emphasizes that any information shared about potential terrorists or violent extremists cannot be used for investigations without proper mutual legal assistance requests and procedures.

Concerns over potential impact on political activities and activists

The idea of labeling someone as a “potential terrorist or violent extremist threat” has raised concerns that it could be used to unfairly monitor, watch, and restrict political activities and activities.

According to a report by Statewatch, several governments in the EU are trying to stop or hinder different types of activism, such as protests against war, actions supporting Palestine, environmental activism, and movements for racial justice.

These governments are increasingly using exaggerated claims and calling protesters “extremists” or “terrorists.”

The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency has also warned in its 2022 report that the EU’s 2017 terrorism law could undermine important rights and freedoms, like the freedom of speech, information, artistic expression, scientific inquiry, and movement.

Expanding scope to include terrorist-related offenses

Besides the main indicative criterion, the note also includes additional criteria that may indicate potential involvement in terrorism, based on the EU’s 2017 law against terrorism.

These criteria cover a wide range of activities, such as directing or participating in a terrorist group; providing information, resources, or funding; publicly encouraging terrorism; and recruiting, training, and traveling for terrorist purposes.

The additional criteria also include individuals who have spread terrorist material to the public, as well as those who have been refused entry into an EU country because of activities related to terrorism.

Navigating the EU’s shifting landscape

The EU’s new criteria for identifying potential terrorist and extremist threats may affect people visiting or moving to Europe.

Starting in mid-2025, the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) will screen travelers from visa-exempt countries before they enter the Schengen Area. 

This is meant to improve security, but the new criteria might influence how ETIAS checks are done.

Families, investors, digital nomads, students, and visitors staying longer in Europe might face more questions when applying for their respective visas.

Long-term immigrants could also be affected as the new criteria might be used in background checks and assessments.

Balancing security and fundamental rights

The effort to act against individuals based on the belief that they might commit crimes in the future has caused concern among those who advocate for human rights. 

As the EU finalizes its rules for identifying potential terrorists and extremists, it is important to make sure these measures do not violate basic rights and freedoms or lead to unfair surveillance and limitations on legitimate political activities and activism.