The fact that it was German citizens who were killed in a terrorist attack in İstanbul’s Sultanahmet Square and that the Paris massacre was planned in Brussels clearly shows that it is no longer possible to restrict counterterrorism to “national” boundaries.
French security forces hardly noticed the preparations for the attack in Brussels, and prescience of the Paris plot was not possible for Belgian security forces. Terrorism can hit Germany in Sultanahmet Square and it can strike Russia in Egypt. For this reason, the exchange of information among security forces is becoming more and more crucial. Even if all countries accept this fact, the 19th century nation-state reflexes still dominate the flow of information and cooperation. These reflexes are visible in the relations between the European Union and Turkey as well. Given the considerable importance of Turkey’s geographic and political position vis-à-vis the terrorist organizations threatening world peace like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaida, this security weakness is inexpiable. Unfortunately, this fact is not restricted to EU-Turkish relations only. The cooperation between EU member states is not as profound or optimal as one would expect either.
The most important development to have left its mark on the 30 years of the EU so far is the free movement of goods, money, services and individuals, which has come to be defined as the Schengen Agreement. The removal of checks at internal borders resulted in a security weakness which EU countries tried to compensate for by intensifying checks at its outer borders. Thus, a strict visa policy was implemented under the Schengen Agreement. The Schengen Information System (SIS) was introduced to support the agreement. This Strasbourg-based system relies on the data from member states and is the main pillar of the border security system. As it relies solely on data coming from the member countries and lacks data collection, assessment and analysis, the SIS can hardly be considered “intelligent,” despite its huge capacity. The SIS is a giant guided by the “intelligence” of the systems of the member countries. It has many ears and 28 eyes, but a small brain.
Aware of this anatomic problem regarding the SIS, the EU countries established Europol, headquartered in The Hague, it is a security unit characterized by close cooperation. Europol was designed as a security organ acting as an umbrella organization for the security and police departments of the member countries, ensuring uninterrupted flow of information among them. Theoretically, it is an ideal structure. French, German, Swiss and other police officers work at the same offices and use the same canteen. It is suitable for swift settlement of misunderstandings through information flow and assessment. But this hasn’t completely eliminated the security weakness within the EU (in Turkey, such a weakness has never existed). If the data from Belgium and Germany had been correctly analyzed, the Paris attack could probably have been prevented.
Anyway, as it was originally designed as an “intelligence” center, Europol is an information center that feeds solely on the data from the member countries. It is open to non-EU data and information from partner countries like the US. In theory, Europol should have “superior intelligence” as it is supported by 28 members and other sources, and it should be used extensively by EU member states. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case. Despite years of efforts, Europol is not as “rich” as the information centers in Paris, Berlin, Stockholm or London or indeed more “intelligent” than these centers. This is because Europol cannot have direct access to the source of information in the capitals. It has to make do only with the information supplied by the capitals. There are also problems related to language, corporate infrastructures and cultural differences as well.
Despite these flaws, Europol is an important institution, and Turkey has long been a member of it. But this is hardly possible as the “language” problem with Turkey is very profound. Ankara has a very different perspective regarding terrorism. ISIL, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), Can Dündar, the “Hashashin” and even certain academics all fall into the “terrorism” bracket for Ankara. As long as Turkey is confused regarding counterterrorism, it will carry little strength into the struggle against terror.