Foreign fighters – Member State responses and EU action

Briefing 09-03-2016

As the hostilities in Syria and Iraq continue, and terrorist activities worldwide appear to be on the rise, EU Member States are increasingly confronted with the problem of aspiring and returning 'foreign fighters'. Whereas the phenomenon is not new, its scale certainly is, explaining the wide perception that these individuals are a serious threat to the security of both individual Member States and the EU as a whole. International fora, including the United Nations, have addressed the problem, with the UN adopting a binding resolution in 2014 specifically addressing the issue of foreign fighters. The EU is actively engaged in international initiatives to counter the threat. Within the EU, security in general, and counter-terrorism in particular, have traditionally remained within the Member States' remit. The EU has, however, coordinated Member State activities regarding the prevention of radicalisation, the detection of travel for suspicious purposes, the criminal justice response, and cooperation with third countries. The EU is seeking to strengthen its role, given the public feeling of insecurity in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. The EU's role as a forum to discuss security issues has consequently grown during 2015. Individual Member States have stepped up their efforts to address the problem, using various tools including criminal law, administrative measures and 'soft tools', such as counter-radicalisation campaigns. The Member States most affected have also cooperated with each other outside the EU framework. The United States has a particularly developed counter-terrorism framework, now used to deal with foreign fighters. Since 9/11, the EU and the USA cooperate on counter-terrorism, despite differing philosophies on issues such as data protection. This briefing substantially updates an earlier one, PE 548.980, from February 2015.