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#BrusselsAttacks: Attacks 'show the need' for improved co-operation between Europe's intelligence agencies



CeJLNfBUYAAB3HXA Brussels conference heard that the ISIS attacks on Brussels, which killed 31 people and injured another 270 on 22 March, further underline the urgent need for improved collaboration between Europe’s intelligence services, writes Martin Banks.

The policy dialogue was told of the need for improved co-operation between the intelligence services and the police in all member states, “working together to detain and deter terrorists.”

The debate was organized before Tuesday’s atrocity but, it was said, the attacks on the city’s airport and a city centre subway gave the discussion added poignancy.

It was organized by the European Foundation for Democracy and the European Policy Centre, two respected Brussels-based policy institutes, in conjunction with the Counter Extremism Project, a US-based initiative which was launched in Brussels six months ago, and ISPI, the Milan-based Institute for International Political Studies.

Opening the two-hour hearing, the first in a series of policy dialogues on jihadist radicalization and the European responses, Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Centre, said the events of this week, together with the attacks on Paris in November and recent bombings in Ankara, showed the problem of tackling Jihadist radicalization was a Europe-wide issue.

The fact that the terrorists had chosen well known landmarks such as an airport and the EU Quarter of Brussels was “symbolically important” and sent a “clear message” as to their intentions.

Amanda Paul, a senior policy analyst at the European Policy Centre, who moderated the debate, noted that the “ugly attack”, the latest in a series of such atrocities on capital cities in Europe, showed that it was “more important than ever” to take preventive measures.

A keynote speaker, Rashad Ali, head of strategy at the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said that improved intelligence gathering and collaboration between Europe’s police forces and intelligence agencies would be vital in dealing with such phenomenon.

Ali, who has worked closely on counter terrorist issues, said that Europe was now on the “frontline” in the fight against terrorism and radicalization and warned of an even “broader” reach of a “global terrorist project”.

“It is not the first time we have faced such a challenge but what has changed and what is new is the nature of the challenge,” he told the packed meeting.

The challenge, he asserted, came from those who have an “entirely different” view of society from the mainstream and this made the response to such a threat “fundamentally” important.

Ali, a well-known counter terrorist practitioner, cautioned against “engaging” with extremists, arguing that this could be “suicidal”. But he also insisted that it was equally important to ensure that “all Muslims are not labelled in the same way.”

Despite the temptation for reactionary measures in the wake of attacks such as those in Brussels, Ali also said it was vital that those seeking to counter such threats did not “compromise” their “values and principles.”

Further contributions came from Alexander Ritzmann, a senior research fellow at the Brandenburg Institute for Security and Society, who also strongly argued against instant reactionary measures.

Ritzmann, who has worked in the area of counter terrorism for many years, also questioned the capacity of the intelligence agencies to address the issues relating to jihadism, religious radicalisation and violent extremism.

He said he was “amazed” that, 15 years after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the West still “did not seem to understand” that terrorism was merely a “tactic” to achieve a specific objective.

“These people do these things not just to kill people – they want a reaction from us,” he argued.

One aim of terrorist attacks was to push moderate Muslims towards extremism and, in the event of attacks such as those in Istanbul, Brussels and other cities, for the Western powers to then “over react.”

Ritzmann added: “This would then allow the extremists to turn round and say to their recruits, ‘we told you so'.

“ISIS and other extremists want to lure the West into a battle on their territory and that is why they want the Americans to send ground troops to Syria.”

He was particularly keen also to highlight what he sees as current shortcomings in the capacity of some intelligence agencies to adequately deal with the threat to domestic and external security of many countries.

“You have to ask questions about the capabilities of our security and intelligence services and also their openness for co-operation and collaboration.”

“Information gathering and information exchange are the cornerstone of our security,” he asserted.

His comments took on added significance after it emerged that the men behind the Brussels bombings were known to police while the head of Europol has also warned that as many as 5,000 ISIS trained jihadists are wandering free in Europe

Ritzmann, though, said  that despite the apparently bleak outlook there was some room for optimism, adding: “We can deal with these people – we just need to be smarter in doing it.

Another speaker, Bakary Sambe, a Senegal-based senior fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy, reminded the audience that the problem of radicalisation and extremism was not confined to Europe but was also prevalent in Africa

He pointed out that he knew of instances where young Africans had been “trained” at mosques financed and built by ISIS-affiliates in Senegal and then gone on to fight for the group in Syria

“We have this problem in Africa too of course. It is a clash of religious models and a sort of ‘Islamization’ that is taking place."

While the “ideological dimension” could not be ignored, the university lecturer suggested that the only way to address the issue in the long term was to “invest more” in preventative measures.

In a short Q&A session, some panellists spoke of the ongoing need for an effective alternative, or “counter narrative”, to combat the propaganda that continues to attract young Muslim men and women through a variety of ways to ISIS and such groups.

Ritzmann suggested that the “messenger (s)” of such a counter argument was just as important as the message it sought to convey.

Ritzmann also pointed out that while US-led coalition bombing and other measures had made serious dents in ISIS-held territory and had also badly hit revenue sourced from its oil infrastructure, ISIS still held land “the size of the United Kingdom".

There was a consensus among the participants that it was the terrorist networks, which had spread "much further than many thought", that should be increasingly targeted.

Ali, responding to a question about new threats, spoke about a significant “change of tactic” by ISIS which, he said, was now increasingly using suicide bombers such as those deployed on the streets of Brussels.

Looking to the future, he predicted: “I think we are going to see a greater emphasis on broader terrorist attacks around the world and that is one reason why we need to step back and look at all this in a more sophisticated way."

Roberta Bonazzi, executive director at the European Foundation for Democracy pointed to the need expose the Islamist ideology that inspires and drives such terrorist acts.

"This is a pervasive ideology," Bonazzi said, "that is the source of radicalization that can lead to terrorism and/or recruitment to terrorist organizations.”


Unprecedented attack on a diplomatic mission of #Azerbaijan in Europe



A violent rally accompanied by acts of vandalism by Armenian diaspora took place in front the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Brussels on 22 July 2020. Demonstrators even tried to penetrate the Mission building with a clear aim of doing more harm.

This was the continuation of the very recent attack to the premises of the Embassy on 19 July 2020.

This is apparently continuation of radical Armenian rallies and attacks on Azerbaijan in other parts of the world, including but not limited to Paris, Los Angeles, Netherlands, and Warsaw.

The rally turned into a terrorizing attack to the Mission, camouflaged as peaceful demonstration.

Protestors rally threw various objects including stones, pyrotechnic articles, paintball shells and bottles, at the Mission building, diplomats and women and children gathered within the fences of the Mission.

The attack continued for several hours even after the demonstration was officially supposed to be ended within the maximum limit of two hours.

As a result, several diplomats, and civilians, including media representative were left with serious injuries and taken by ambulances to the hospitals.

The consequences of this rally were clearly a violation of international law, namely the international obligations envisaged in Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.

The victims of this attack are citizens of Belgium, and MEPs from all sides call upon the  Government of Belgium should show determination and act according to Belgium legislation and its international obligations as host country to punish all those involved in such violence in the heart of Europe.


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Commission approves €21 million Belgian scheme to support the production of #Coronavirus products in the Flemish region



The European Commission has approved a €21 million Belgian scheme to support the production of coronavirus-relevant medical products, equipment, technologies and raw materials in the Flemish region. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework adopted by the Commission on 19 March 2020, as amended on 3 April 2020 and 8 May 2020.

The public support will take the form of direct grants and will be open to all companies active in the Flemish region, except for financial institutions. The aim of the scheme is to incentivize companies to direct their activities to the production of certain products that are crucial to tackle the current health crisis, including vaccines and treatments, medical equipment and devices, disinfectants, data collection and processing instruments.

The Commission found that the scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular: (i) the measure will have an incentive effect i.e. companies would not carry out the investment in the absence of the aid; (ii) the support will cover up to all investment costs necessary for the production and all costs related to trial runs; and (iii) the scheme will not be accessible to companies that were already in difficulty on 31 December 2019.

The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to fight the health crisis, in line with Article 107(3)(c) TFEU, and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.57605 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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#Germany and #Belgium propose new tool to police #EUDemocracies



EU member states should be empowered to scrutinize each other’s democratic track record, Germany and Belgium have said, in an attempt to beef up the bloc’s defences against nationalist, populist governments flouting its key principles, write Gabriela Baczynska and Peter Maushagen.

The proposal, made at a meeting of EU ministers, coincides with high-profile EU investigations against Poland and Hungary for undermining the independence of their courts and media, while Romania is accused of rolling back on anti-graft reforms.


Germany and Belgium say their proposal would create space for member states to flag rule-of-law concerns early on rather than wait - as at present - for problems to escalate enough in a given country to trigger the EU’s existing mechanism - the complex and multi-stage Article 7.

The EU has invoked Article 7 to investigate concerns that Poland’s nationalist government has undermined the rule of law. The process could theoretically lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the EU, but it has now lain largely dormant for months.


EU states have been unable to agree since last autumn on how to proceed with a similar inquiry into Hungary.

Acknowledging the hurdles their proposal is likely to face, Germany and Belgium suggested the new screening procedure would only be voluntary and carry no sanction.

“The EU is a union of values. It is not only about the single market,” Germany’s EU minister Michael Roth said in presenting the plan for an annual peer review. “Everybody has to adhere to those values, they are not just nice-to-have.”

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said he hoped the new mechanism would be fleshed out by the end of the year. It was swiftly backed by the Netherlands.

The health and resilience of EU democracies are in focus ahead of European Parliament elections in May, in which pro-EU parties face off against eurosceptics who promote nationalist and populist policies that at times go against the liberal democratic values of the bloc.

The EU’s main centre-right group, the European People’s Party, is due to decide on Wednesday whether to expel the Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban over his anti-EU, anti-immigration campaigns.

Both Warsaw and Budapest have sometimes yielded to EU pressure, offering concessions in their push to centralise more powers. But the EU has been largely unsuccessful in preventing them from tightening controls on the judiciary, media and civil society groups.

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