How to stop terrorism: EU measures explained

Stopping terrorism requires tackling issues such as foreign fighters, border controls and cutting off funds. Learn about the EU’s counter terrorism policies.


EU measures to prevent new attacks run from more thorough checks at Europe’s borders, to better police and judicial cooperation on tracing suspects and pursuing perpetrators, cutting the financing of terrorism, tackling organised crime, addressing radicalisation and others.

Learn about terrorist attacks, deaths and arrests in the EU in 2019

What is the EU definition of terrorism?

The EU’s common legal definition of terrorist offences as set down in the directive on combatting terrorism, are acts committed with the aim of:

  • Seriously intimidating a population, or
  • Unduly compelling a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act, or
  • Seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation

Improving EU border controls

In order to safeguard security within the Schengen zone, systematic checks at external borders on all people entering the EU – including EU citizens – were introduced in April 2017

To record the movements of non-EU citizens across the Schengen area and speed up controls, a new entry and exit registration system was agreed by Parliament and EU ministers in November 2017 and should be operational from 2020. Also, travellers from non-EU countries that do not need to have a visa to enter the EU, will be screened through the European Travel Information and Authorisation (Etias) system, which should be operational from 2021.

Temporary border controls

To prevent terrorists from circulating freely within the EU, several countries have introduced temporary controls at their borders. Parliament sees these internal border checks as unjustified and a danger for the Schengen area and wants to allow them only as a measure of last resort.

Securing external borders

The European Border and Coast Guard should have a standing corps of 10,000 border guards by 2027 to effectively secure Europe’s 13,000 km of external land borders and nearly 66,000 km at sea. The new standing corps could, at the request of an EU country, carry out border control and migration management as well as fight cross-border crime.

Stopping foreign terrorist fighters

Since 2015, there has been an increase in religiously-inspired terrorism in the EU. By 2017 about 5,000 individuals from the EU were believed to have travelled to conflict areas in Syria and Iraq to join jihadist terrorist groups, but the number has dropped significantly since.

In 2019, few of those foreign fighters were reported to have returned, however hundreds of Europeans with links to Islamic state remain in Iraq and Syria.

In order to criminalise acts such as undertaking training or travelling for terrorist purposes, as well as organising or facilitating such travel, Europe put in place EU-wide legislation on terrorism that, together with new controls at the external borders, will help to tackle the foreign fighter phenomenon.

Making use of air passenger data

Airlines operating flights to and from the EU are obliged to hand national authorities the data of their passengers such as names, travel dates, itinerary and payment method.

This so-called PNR data is used to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute terrorist offences and serious crimes. Negotiations took more than five years and Parliament insisted on safeguards for sensitive data (revealing racial origin, religion, political opinion, health or sexual orientation) and data protection.

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