EU, Croatia and “Europe that protects”

By: Igor Tabak (

At the end of 2019, the Republic of Croatia presented its Presidency Program of the Council of the EU, aptly named “Strong Europe in a world full of challenges”. It identified four main priority areas, including “Europe that protects” in third place – an area that would largely include the fight against terrorism and the protection of citizens from its consequences. However, in this document, the very concept of terrorism is mentioned only marginally – it is specifically listed only among the priorities according to the configurations of the council, in two configurations: the Council on Foreign Affairs (FAC) and the Council on Justice and Home Affairs (JHA).

In the field of foreign affairs, terrorism is mentioned in two contexts – (1) that of the European “southern neighborhood”, as a common challenge for which the emphasis is on “Cooperation in the fight against terrorism, combating radicalization and violent extremism and in response to the challenge of migration “, and (2) within the broader theme of the EU’s partnership with the United States and Canada. In the field of justice and home affairs, terrorism is mentioned among the main activities in the coming five-year period – along with judicial reforms, changes in migrant policy, protection of external borders and Schengen, packed with hybrid threats and strengthening civil protection capabilities. As part of judicial cooperation within the EU, terrorism was mentioned only as a factor in encouraging the exchange of information among members, and the adoption of a separate regulation on preventing the spread of terrorist content on the Internet. In the Union’s external relations, terrorism is again mentioned only as an area of ​​co-operation with the US, primarily for the purpose of concluding agreements with the US on the exchange of e-evidence, strengthening joint efforts in the fight against terrorism (“through information exchange”), and combating serious international organized crime, This shows that the emphasis of this whole story is actually on external threats, primarily of Islamist origin, which are suppressed in parallel with the conduct of various military actions in cooperation with the US and NATO. There was not much difference even immediately after the end of Croatia’s presidency of the EU Council, when terrorism began to be mentioned much less. This is clearly seen in the pre-election program with which the HDZ won the parliamentary elections on July 5, 2020. In that document, called “Safe Croatia”, HDZ mentions terrorism only once – in the chapter “Judiciary and the Fight against Corruption”. There, under the item “Reform of criminal legislation and legal certainty” (p. 86) as a priority for the next period, but without going into any details, it is only stated: “We will strengthen tools to combat terrorism and new forms of crime committed by modern technologies “.

But then changes took place and new terrorist attacks were recorded. First, on October 12, Croatia recorded a single attack on the Croatian government building in Zagreb, which led to restrictions on access to St. Mark’s Square and weeks of throwing at Prime Minister Plenković and the opposition and Croatian President Milanović. Following this domestic example of radical right-wing terrorism, Islamist attacks in France (the massacre around a church in central Nice on October 29) and Austria (the lone Islamist’s march through central Vienna on November 2, 2020) resonated with the public – and all triggered certain reactions. . Croatia’s reaction was reduced to a new conflict between the prime minister and the president over the convening of the National Security Council, and the role of the Homeland Security Coordination in national efforts to deradicalize violent right-wingers (who have periodically dominated the Croatian social scene for years).

This newly discovered problem of political deradicalization ended up upside down in the draft “National Development Strategy of the Republic of Croatia until 2030”, which the Government of the Republic of Croatia presented to the Croatian public on November 12, 2020. After years, the Security Intelligence Agency claimed in its annual reports that there was practically no domestic terrorism or radicalism in Croatia, but now a whole chapter called “Fighting Radicalism, Extremism and Terrorism” has been added to the draft of this new strategic document. It carefully avoids describing in detail the basis of domestic radicalization – mentioning only “the emergence and spread of radicalism that accepts the use of violence to achieve identity goals, and violent extremism and terrorism as its worst consequences.” Combating this new threat is not given to anyone in particular (“Joint efforts of all relevant actors in the public and private sector are needed, especially in the Homeland Security system”), and cooperation with EU bodies is called for – as if it were a matter of to some external challenge rather than a domesticated threat. The issue of “possession and easy availability of illegal firearms” is also mentioned – a topic that the Croatian Ministry of the Interior has been dealing with unsuccessfully and reluctantly for decades, which should also improve with the engagement of the EU and other organizations, primarily Interpol. combating firearms smuggling “. Part of the work is intended to go to the “private sector”, primarily the telecom sector and the media, because it “owns an important part of digital and non-digital infrastructure to effectively combat hate speech, radicalization and potential terrorist acts” – without mentioning the role of domestic policy in growth of this problem.

As for the space for potential terrorism, it is primarily physical – where (1) open and accessible public spaces are problematic, which should be monitored and protected with the cooperation of local authorities and “without endangering the freedom of citizens”, and (2) virtual space. It mentions the Internet in general and “social media” (I guess social networks, not community media or something) – which is described as “virtual arenas for radicalization”, and the scene of “unacceptable behavior to the detriment of individuals, especially vulnerable groups”. For some reason, the introduction of mechanisms to combat hate speech on the Internet is cited as a development goal of the state – transferring this work again to “Internet platforms and other media stakeholders”, despite the fact that the most serious part of such players is based far outside Croatia. thoroughly out of the reach of any domestic coercion.

What about the EU?

While these examples show everything that the state bodies of the Republic of Croatia have managed to compile in recent months on the topic of terrorism and radicalization (without even mentioning serious steps to achieve political deradicalization), the situation in the European Union is somewhat different. Namely, on Friday, November 13, the EU marked the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack around the Bataclan Theater in Paris. In those five years, much was said about new, general and widely accepted pan-European measures against terrorism, but much less was actually done. The disputed regulations were also the subject of a videoconference meeting of European leaders on Tuesday (November 10th), co-chaired in Paris by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and French President Emmanuel Macron – representatives of nations that have been victims of recent Islamist attacks in Europe. Although two years have passed since Austria adopted the motto “Europe that protects” as the motto of its EU presidency and more than a year since Macron used the same motto to encourage his calls for closer European integration – few have remembered the same motto. priorities of this year’s failed Croatian EU presidency. Only a gathering of continental-level political leaders – Kurz, Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, well-known Croatian Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – mentioned their desire to speed up the adoption of certain anti-terrorism measures. bureaucracies have been withdrawing since 2015 and the then phases of activity after the Paris attacks.

As usual, the context of terrorism in Europe, which often has its roots in the EU countries themselves and their attitude towards certain categories of their own citizens, has again been linked for political reasons to the topics of EU border control and immigration. This topic, especially dear to the countries of the Visegrad Group, was a sufficient means of gathering to bring to life only the European Border and Coastal Control Agency under the auspices of Frontex (organizations whose number and budget have multiplied in recent years). . This was followed on 10 November by the topic of further strengthening of controls at the EU’s external borders, with an emphasis on the new information system for border control (Entry-Exit-system – EES), which should come to life in 2022. In the meantime, very little has been done over the past five years to strengthen broad cooperation among national police forces, establish common databases, and share intelligence effectively. And while Europe is conducting criminal investigations into individual incidents immediately after individual attacks, and sometimes wider police actions – such as “Operation Luxor” across Austria on November 9, which immediately preceded last week’s EU video negotiations, and in which 70 people were arrested ( in a broader sense, members of either the Muslim Brotherhood or presumed Islamist organizations) – Croatia remains primarily on a verbal level, hiding behind the secrecy of investigations and entertaining the public with shootings between the prime minister and the president on combating radicalism and terrorism. Unfortunately, this is very similar to the majority of EU responses to these challenges – a response that regularly repeats the same measures on legal and illegal arms control (where on 13 November the Republic of Croatia again “appealed for consistent implementation of the EU Action Plan to Combat Smuggling firearms “), and the integration of immigrants and the tightening of border controls – but all bloodless and with very few indications of a serious will to address the problems identified.

In that light, a meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers was held on Friday (November 13th). About a month ago, Germany suddenly added it to the schedule, in order to work on a political agreement on the new “Pact on Migration and Asylum”, which was presented by the European Commission in September. On this topic, the Republic of Croatia, in addition to the three defined “pillars of solidarity” – (1) relocation of applicants for international protection, (2) sponsorship in return procedures, and (3) contributions to operational capacity building – as a fourth proposed external borders, with the detection of its GDP and population. However, current events have put additional new and old topics on the agenda. One of them was the question of the role of the Internet and its various services in the promotion of Islamism. By the end of the year, the EU intends to conclude a special Regulation on Online Terrorist Content (TCO), where it would not be surprising to come up with something similar to what has been thought out loud in Croatia in recent weeks, and which then materialized The Ministry of Culture and Media through the new proposal of the Law on Electronic Media, proposing the responsibility of the media for the publications of readers – without actually even scratching into social circles which in recent years have become normal to declare on the Internet everything that would otherwise be personal processed.

However, while numerous comments clearly emphasized the domestic political motivation of the last EU mention of terrorism and the fight against it, the fact remains that the European Union has concentrated on radical Islamism (especially the attacks on Austria and France). While the EU, through preparations for a joint statement published on Friday, November 13, only gradually came up with somewhat more general formulations about the threat, in the Republic of Croatia it has been deliberately vague for weeks, mentioning only “identity-motivated extremism”. However, to explain more precisely what it was about, Charles Michel took care of it by proposing some additional training for European imams, so that they would overcome “our fundamental values, especially freedom of thought and gender equality”. And while leaders like Merkel or Rutte dispute the context of opposing Christianity and Islam, albeit citing a somewhat more favorable dichotomy of civilization and barbarism, the fact remains that Macron and Kurz, both right-wing political leaders (Macron) in anticipation of the next French parliamentary elections, and Kurz in an effort to capture a stronger position in the European People’s Party at the time of Angela Merkel’s political decline). However, according to Ursula Von der Leyen, all these EU discussions on the European measures proposed for years should now be followed by somewhat more concrete measures – first, a kind of EU plan (agenda) for combating terrorism is expected on December 9, which would be discussed. at the last meeting of EU leaders this year on 10 and 11 December this year, live or again remotely. After that, a Schengen reform strategy is expected in May next year, on which agreement will be much easier to reach than on the EU budget or a uniform rule of law for the entire Union.

This material was created with the financial support of the European Union within the project ‘Towards an open, fair and sustainable Europe in the world – EU Presidency Project 2019 – 2021’. The author is solely responsible for the content and cannot be considered the official position of the European Union.