Response to foreign terrorist fighters and recent terrorist attacks in Europe

Timeline: foreign terrorist fighters and recent terrorist attacks in Europe


Council conclusions on the Commission action plan on travel document fraud


Council adopts directive on combating terrorism


Council adopts regulation to reinforce checks at external borders


Council discusses foreign fighter returnees


Council adopts conclusions on preventing violent radicalisation

The threat posed by Europeans being radicalised, many of who are also travelling abroad to fight, is likely to persist in the coming years. An effective response to these issues requires a comprehensive approach and long term commitment.

The primary responsibility in the fight against terrorism lies with the member states. However, the EU can and should play a supportive role that helps respond to the cross-border nature of the threat. 

The role of the Council

Since the beginning of 2013, the issues of radicalisation and foreign terrorist fighters have been regular items on the agenda of the Council of the EU and the European Council. They have developed a comprehensive response , including both internal and external lines of action. 

After the terrorist attacks in Paris in January 2015, the European Union decided to reinforce its response and accelerate the implementation of agreed measures. On 12 February, EU leaders held a debate on the way forward and agreed on a statement to guide the work of the EU and the member states in the coming months. This statement called for specific measures, focusing on three areas of action:

  • ensuring the security of citizens
  • preventing radicalisation and safeguarding values
  • cooperating with international partners

The statement by EU leaders built on the work done by ministers of home affairs, justice, economy and foreign affairs during previous months.

In December 2015, EU heads of state and government noted that the full implementation of the measures defined in the statement was still a priority.

Enhancing EU's security: key milestones

Improved firearms controls

On 25 April 2017, the Council adopted a directive on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons. The directive aims to improve the existing legislation in the aftermath of the latest terrorist attacks in Europe.

Criminalisation of foreign fighters

On 7 March 2017, the Council adopted a directive on combating terrorism. The new rules strengthen the EU's legal framework to prevent terrorist attacks and address the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters. The directive criminalises acts such as undertaking training or travelling for terrorist purposes, as well as organising or facilitating such travel.

Reinforced checks at external borders

On 7 March 2017, the Council also adopted a regulation amending the Schengen borders code to reinforce checks against relevant databases at external borders. The amendment obliges member states to carry out systematic checks against relevant databases on all persons when they cross external borders. 

New Commissioner for the security union

On 19 September 2016,  Julian King was appointed as the new commissioner for the security union by the Council, by common accord with the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. With this new portfolio, the commissioner will support the implementation of the European agenda on security. 

Improving information exchange

The European Council of 18 December 2015 called for urgently improving the interoperability of information systems in its conclusions. 

On 10 June 2016, Ministers endorsed a roadmap to enhance information exchange and information management including interoperability solutions.

In 2016, the Commission setup a high-level expert group on information systems and interoperability. It will explore the question and inform the Council of its findings.

European counter terrorism centre

 in January 2016, the European counter terrorism centre (ECTC) was launched following a decision from the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 20 November 2015. It is a platform by which member states can increase information sharing and operational cooperation with regard to the monitoring and investigation of foreign terrorist fighters and the trafficking of illegal firearms and terrorist financing.

EU internet referral unit

In March 2015, the Council mandated Europol to create a dedicated unit to tackle terrorist propaganda on the internet. The EU internet referral unit (EU IRU) was established in July 2015. It aims to identify terrorist and violet extremist content online  and to advise member states on the matter, among others.

Enhanced cooperation with third countries

 In February 2015, the Council decided to step up external action to counter terrorism, in particular in the Mediterranean, Middle East, North Africa, the Gulf and the Sahel:

  • cooperation with key partners will be strengthened
  • new projects to support capacity building will be launched
  • action to counter radicalisation and violent extremism will be intensified

The EU counter terrorism/foreign fighters strategy focusing on Syria and Iraq was adopted in October 2014 by the Council. This strategy outlines several priority areas, including improving cooperation with third countries to identify recruitment networks and foreign fighters.