A Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the EU: Anticipate, Prevent, Protect, Respond

Summary of key elements by Jake Grinyer, Researcher at Talking About Terrorism, and Dr. Patricia Pazos, Director of Talking About Terrorism.



With the Counter Terrorism Agenda, we are boosting our ability to anticipate new threats, we are helping local communities to prevent radicalisation, we are giving cities the means to protect public spaces and we are ensuring that we can respond quickly and more efficiently to attacks.”


Ylva Johansson, Counter-Terrorism Agenda 2020



The EU’s new Counter-Terrorism Agenda, the Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the EU: Anticipate, Prevent, Protect, Respond, published in December 2020, is a collaborative approach to the shifting threat of terrorist activity in Europe. The strategy, which connects existing and new tools, engages society as a whole in the fight against terrorism and includes several new actions compared to the previous strategy. The document is built on four fronts:

  • Anticipate: To anticipate existing and future threats via multi-level information sharing;

  • Prevent: To focus on the root causes of radicalization and empowering local actors;

  • Protect: To address previous gaps, including the return of FTFs, by improving infrastructure and strengthening border security;

  • Respond: To increase the capacity of EU Agencies when responding to attacks, including strengthening the legal framework.


The strategy, within these four fronts, places a strong emphasis on its implementation and enforcement. This lack of regional enforcement of policies and procedures has previously been a weakness that has undermined the EU's fight against terrorism. The strategy, therefore, encourages engagement and cooperation among the EU Member States, an ongoing problem that we have witnessed in the past decades.

Within the Western Balkans specifically, a priority is placed on police and judicial cooperation. This priority on police cooperation is also expanded to the Southern Mediterranean countries, where much needed collaboration and engagement is a must. The EU needs bodies need to improve their communication among countries and the EU agencies.

Four Pillars, One Strategy: Main Working Lines


Pillar 1: Anticipate

  • Strategic intelligence and threat assessment: Counter-terrorism policies should be based on the collective threat assessments from national security services. The EU Intelligence and Situation Centre, which is dependent on input from the Member States, should be utilized to increase situational awareness and support the capability of risk assessments.

  • Risk assessments and preparedness: This strategy will focus on multi-sectoral risk assessments to highlight existing shortcomings and, where identified, will focus on supporting critical infrastructures of specific Member States. These risk assessments will focus on aviation security and bolster the exchange of information between countries outside of the EU.

  • Reinforcing early detection capacity; the role of new technologies: Focusing on the impacts of technology, security research will seek to focus on the changing modus operandi of attacks. This will involve using AI to process large amounts of data, and will also develop detection technologies. This development of AI will be effective in public spaces to detect threats and will also increase the capacity of law enforcement to respond to terror threats.

Under the pillar Anticipate the EU proposes several actions to be completed:

• Improved performance of detection technologies: Chemical and bio-security, malicious drones.

• Increase cooperation between all security stakeholders.

Including the completion of the previous actions, the EU Agenda proposes the following actions:

• Better use of strategic intelligence for policy making.

• Risks assessments to be developed in the maritime domain.

• EU Protective Security Advisors, to be deployed on demand.

• Integrating foresight in the policy cycle.

Pillar 2: Prevent

  • Countering extremist ideologies online: Preventing violent material online is the responsibility of all actors, including digital actors. Initiatives such as the EU Internet Forum will be made publicly available and increase local resilience to content online.

  • Supporting local actors for more resilient communities: Coordination with city-based solutions to terrorism are prioritized from a bottom-up approach. Emphasis will be placed on communities, creating opportunities for young people at risk, to increase social inclusion. In this approach, cooperation between schools, social workers and other local actors will encourage the sharing of best practices and experiences.

  • Best practices and guidance: Best practices will be shared on the risk assessments of radicalized inmates and will provide training and guidance to professionals in this field. Best practices will also be shared on how to manage returning foreign fighters.

Under the pillar Prevent the EU proposes several actions to be completed:

• Proposed EU rules on addressing terrorist content online.

• Extension of EU-level crimes to all forms of hate crime and hate speech.

• Implementation of the Action Plan on integration and inclusion.

Including the completion of the previous actions, the EU Agenda proposes the new following actions:

• Guidance on content moderation for extremist material online.

• EU Knowledge Hub on prevention of radicalization.

• Support on risk assessments in prisons, rehabilitation and reintegration

• Supporting Member States in managing returning foreign terrorist fighters and their families


Pillar 3: Protect

  • Protecting people in public spaces: This will focus on protecting public spaces, especially places of worship, whilst at the same time granting public freedom. Experiences and innovation will be encouraged by cross-sectoral collaboration. Urban security will be highlighted through city-based solutions against terrorism.

  • Border security: To bolster border security, especially in the Schengen area, by facilitating cooperation and systematic checks on all travelers. Information on foreign terrorist fighters from third-countries is essential and will build on the effectiveness of Passenger Name Record data.

  • Denying terrorists the means to attack: Focused on firearms, explosives and chemical weapons, Member States are urged to implement and enforce new rules to close existing loopholes.

Under the pillar Protect the EU proposes several actions to be completed:


• Development of new information systems for border management, full interoperability between EU information systems for migration, border management and security.

• Full implementation of the current framework on Passenger Name Records (PNR).

• Full implementation of EU rules on firearms, explosives, systematic border checks at the external borders, new Schengen Information System functionalities.


Including the completion of the previous actions, the EU Agenda proposes the new following actions:

•Architectural book on urban design.

• EU Pledge on Urban Security and Resilience, to reduce vulnerabilities in public spaces and counter radicalisation.

• Better protect critical infrastructures and public spaces, including places of worship • Information exchange on firearms authorisations.

• Enable Europol to issue alerts on foreign terrorist fighters in the Schengen Information System.

• Revision of EU rules on Advance Passenger Information.

Pillar 4: Respond

  • Operational support strengthening Europol: Cooperation between Europol and private parties is encouraged to strengthen Europol’s mandate.

  • Law enforcement cooperation: Cross-border cooperation will be enhanced to streamline different EU instruments of law enforcement cooperation and to support joint training, exercises and channels for cross-border communication.

  • Strengthening information exchange: To update existing measures to further exchange information between the Member States. Cooperation with Interpol should be reinforced.

  • Supporting investigations and prosecution: Improving the analytical capacity and structures of investigations, including digital, such as by building a network of counter-terrorism financial investigators to exchange experiences and techniques.

  • Strengthening support to victims of terrorism: To set up contact hubs for victims of terrorism to increase support, protection and recognition.

Under the pillar Protect the EU proposes several actions to be completed:

•EU Crisis Protocol, ensuring rapid response to online dissemination of terrorist attack imagery.

• A clear and robust framework for timely cross-border access to electronic evidence.

• More effective prosecution of returning Foreign Terrorists Fighters.

• Strengthening Eurojust’s counter-terrorism register.

• EU Strategy on victims’ rights (2020-2025).

Including the completion of the previous actions, the EU Agenda proposes the new following actions:

•Revision of EU rules on the exchange of fingerprints, DNA and vehicle data registration (Prüm).

• Strengthening Europol and its European Counter-Terrorism Center, for better support to Member States.

• Consider law enforcement access to interconnected bank registers.

• An approach maintaining the effectiveness of encryption in protecting privacy and security of communications, while providing an effective response to crime and terrorism.

• New EU police cooperation code.

• New legislation on information exchange in judicial proceedings in cross-border terrorism cases.

• Better cooperation between the EU and Interpol.

• Improve the situation of victims of terrorism.

Access the full Counter-Terrorism Agenda here