The role of Europol and Eurojust in countering the threat of FTFs: An evolving mandate

Published date01 June 2023
AuthorAnne Weyembergh,Georgia Theodorakakou
Date01 June 2023
Subject MatterSpecial Issue Articles
Special Issue Article
New Journal of European Criminal Law
2023, Vol. 14(2) 157182
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/20322844231166359
The role of Europol and
Eurojust in countering the
threat of FTFs: An evolving
Anne Weyembergh
e Libre de Bruxelles (ULBInstitute for European Studies), Belgium
Georgia Theodorakakou
University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) can pose a major security threat to EU Membe r States as after
they return to the EU, they may engage in terrorism-related activities. In order to curb this threat,
the EU and the Member States have adopted a multidisciplinary strategy. This article discusses the
role that Europol and Eurojust play in supporting Member States in their efforts to combat FTFs
effectively, including in their relations with third partners. Their role is particularly necessary in the
f‌ield of the so-called criminal justice response, which is one of the core pillars of the holistic
approach to address FTFs and consists of investigating and prosecuting crimes allegedly committed
by FTFs abroad, including terrorism-related crimes and core international crimes. Aside from the
respective role that each agency can play in the f‌ight against FTFs, Europol and Eurojust cooperate
closely with each other to scale up the chances of a successful response. Although, both agencies
have considerably helped Member States tackle the FTF phenomenon, there are still some
challenges which lie in their interagency cooperation when it comes to the collection and use of
evidence, and in the lack of cooperation agreements with some signif‌icant in the f‌ield third partners.
Finally, the recent revision of both agenciesmandate is expected to further enhance the Europol
and Eurojusts capacity in supporting Member Statesefforts to combat FTFs; nevertheless, it raise s
some concerns as regards the fundamental rights of individuals concerned.
Foreign terrorist f‌ighters, Europol, Eurojust, terrorism, core international crimes, cooperation
between law enforcement and judicial authorities, cooperation with third partners
Corresponding author:
Anne Weyembergh, Institute for European Studies, Universit´
e libre de Bruxelles - Campus du Solbosch, 39, avenue
Franklin Roosevelt, Bruxelles 1050, Belgium.
Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) are individuals who travel abroad to join terrorist groups.
though this is not a new phenomenon, it has attracted considerable attention in recent years because
of the increased number of FTFs making their way to Syria to get trained in order to join terrorist
groups such as Jabhat-al-Nusra and Daesh in the jihad (and including FTFs originating in the
European Union (EU)).
These individuals can pose a major security threat to EU Member States
given that they have been radicalised and trained to f‌ight. There is therefore a risk that, after they
return to the EU, they may carry out deadly terrorist attacks or engage in recruitment, training,
propaganda or other terrorism-related activities.
As a result, since 2013 when the former EU
Counter-Terrorism Coordinator sounded the alarm about FTFs the EU
and the Member States
have adopted a multidisciplinary strategy in order to curb the threat posed by FTFs. That
strategy includes inter alia gaining a better understanding of the FTF phenomenon, preventing
radicalisation, detecting the travel movements of FTFs, sharing information and coming u p with
a criminal justice response.
Given the transnational dimension of the FTF phenomenon, it has been acknowledged from the
very beginning that an effective response to FTFs would entail intensifying cooperation between
Member States and, in particular, with non-EU partners. For instance, in the landmark Statement of
the members of the European Council in February 2015 in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris,
the Heads of State and Government called for information sharing and operational cooperation
between law enforcement and judicial authorities, as well as cooperation with EU international
1. So far, the def‌inition of FTFs is not very clear.The UN Security Council has, in its Resolution 2178, def‌ined FTFs as ‘…
nationals who travel or attempt to travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality,and other individuals
who travel or attempt to travel from their territories to a State other than their States of residence or nationality, for the
purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts, or the providing or receiving of
terrorist training, including in connection with armed conf‌lict. Nevertheless, this def‌inition has been criticised due to its
lack of clarity. With regard to the def‌inition of Foreign (Terrorist) Fighters, see more in Alex P. Schmid, Foreign
(Terrorist) Fighter Estimates: Conceptual and Data Issues(The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, October
2. According to the European Parliament, in 2015 this number amounted to around 3,850 FTFs (Piotr Ba˛kowski and Laura
Puccio, Foreign f‌ighters Member State responses and EU action(European Parliamentary Research Service, PE
579.080, 2016) 2).
3. Ba˛kowski and Puccio (n 2) 2-3; Thomas Renard, The evolution of the policy response to jihadi returnees in Europe
(2012-2020), in Christiane H¨
ohn, Isabel Saavedra and Anne Weyembergh (eds), The Fight against Terrorism:
Achievements and Challenges. Liber Amicorum Gilles de Kerchove (Bruylant 2021) 698; Europol, European Union
Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TESAT)(2022) 30.
4. In 2013 the Counter Terrorism Coordinator proposed 22 measures to tackle the FTF phenomenon in six priority areas:
better understanding of the phenomenon, prevention of radicalisation, detection of suspicious travel, investigation and
prosecution, returnees and cooperation with third countries. In June 2013, these measures were adopted by the Justice and
Home Affairs Council (Press release of the 3319
Council meeting <143119.pdf (> accessed 28 July 2022).
See also the outline of the counter-terrorism strategyfor Syria and Iraq, with particular focus on foreign f‌ighters, agreed by
the Council in January 2015 (Council Document 5369/2015> accessed 28 July 2022).
5. Pursuant to Article 4(2) TEU, national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State while internal
security is among the shared competences of the EU; it follows, therefore, that the Member States are the key actors in
combatting terrorism. With regard to the individual responses of EU MemberStates to the FTF phenomenon, see more in
Ba˛kowski and Puccio (n 2) 6ff.
6. Gilles De Kerchove and Christiane H¨
ohn, The Regional Answers and Governance Structure for Dealing with Foreign
Fighters: The Case of the EUin Andrea De Guttry, Francesca Capone and Christophe Paulussen (eds), Foreign Fighters
under International Law and Beyond (Asser Press 2016) 305ff.
158 New Journal of European Criminal Law 14(2)

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