Subdivision anti-terrorist police observed a black tactical exercises. Black and white photo.

Since the events of 11 September 2001 (9/11), it has been argued by some scholars that security has become the dominant force in the European Union’s Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ). As a result, there has been an active debate on the ‘securitization’ of the new threats, such as refugees and migrants (Bigo 1996, 1998a, 1998b, 1998c, 2001, 2002; Guild 1999, 2002, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2004, 2006; Guiraudon 2000, 2003; Huysmans 2000, 2004). In this context, ‘securitization’ refers to the theoretical suggestion that refugees and migrants are presented as security threats, based on the framework by the so-called ‘Copenhagen School’ (Buzan 1991; Buzan et al. 1998; Wcver 1993, 1995). This would lead us to hypothesise that an EU competence in security areas matters increasingly, and, given the importance of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, 03/03, and 07/07, EU competences in countering the terrorist threat, matter most significantly.


Yet, if one reviews the area of EU counter-terrorism, there are diverging opinions as to which extent EU competences matter in the fight against global terrorist threats (Reinares, 2000; Dubois, 2002; den Boer & Monar, 2002; Guild, 2008; Mitsilegas & Gilmore, 2007; Occhipinti, 2003; Deflem, 2006; Bures, 2006, 2008; Gregory, 2005; Zimmermann, 2006; Friedrichs, 2005; den Boer, Hillebrand and Nölke, 2008; Müller-Wille, 2008; Spence, 2006; Bossong, 2008; Kaunert, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010). On the one hand, the EU has been characterised as a ‘paper tiger’ (Bures, 2006, p. 57) and thus an ineffective counter-terrorism actor. On the other hand, scholars point out that the EU has taken great strides towards increasing integration and encouraging co-operation between member-states since 9/11 (Zimmermann, 2006; Kaunert, 2007, 2010).


Zimmermann (2006, p. 123) asserted that ‘on 21 September 2001, the Union prioritised the fight against terrorism, and accelerated the development and implementation of measures deliberated on prior to the events of 9/11.’ Yet, Zimmermann (2006, p. 126) makes an important caveat to all EU action in the field of counter-terrorism: ‘[…] the Union does not have a ‘normal’ government at the supranational level with all the requisite powers, competences, and hence, capabilities of regular government; it is not a federal European state.’ This means, a priori, one would not necessarily expect EU institutions to provide significant leadership in counter-terrorism. EU counter-terrorism policy itself has also begun to receive much scholarly attention. The Journal of Common Market Studies published a special issue on this topic in January 2008. The introductory article (Edwards and Meyer, 2008, p.1) suggests that the entire ‘governance of the European Union has been changed through its responses to international terrorism.’ However, counterterrorism, while clearly one of the most crucial security policy fields within the EU, is also one of the most complicated areas in institutional terms and can encompass measures across all three pillars prior to the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on the 01 December 2009.


Therefore, it is important to keep in mind the pre-Lisbon cross-pillar character of the EU counter-terrorism policy when drawing conclusions on the role of EU institutions from the following analysis, as they can only be generalised to the pillar concerned. Despite this note of caution, this article suggests that some limited generalisable arguments can be made.