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New Book: Counterterrorism in Belgium: Key challenges and policy options

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris (November 2015) and Brussels (March 2016), Belgium’s counterterrorism policy has been heavily criticized – domestically and worldwide.

Elke Devroe
07 November 2016

A number of these criticisms were overly exaggerated (so-called ‘Belgium-bashing’), and they were therefore quickly discarded. Worldwide Belgium was called the ‘failed state’. Yet, some criticisms pointed to real underlying problems, which required a serious response. Starting from this observation, a group of scholars convened by the Egmont Institute undertook the exercise to assess Belgium’s counterterrorism policy in a critical but nuanced manner. This challenge resulted in an 75 pages scientific contribution to the counterterrorism literature. Authors contributed on the relevance of counterterrorism financing, the 30 measures announced by the Belgian government, the terror-crime nexus and an overview of the ‘external dimension’ of Belgium’s counterterrorism efforts. Devroe and Ponsaers developed in their article ‘How integrated is local prevention and radicalisation of terrorism?’ the need of a strong locally integrated Community Oriented Policing (COP) Model, a disappearing way of policing in France and the Netherlands.

Also in Belgium, for a long period a purely reactive law enforcement strategy was dominant in counterterrorism and a preventive strategy (as a combination of COP and Intelligence Led Policing) was largely neglected. In essence, the judiciary has monopolized the problem and the administrative and preventive approach was considered in fact as less urgent. To a large extent this was a consequence of the fact that problems of terrorism were considered as the caseload of the federal police, with criminal investigation considered the core task of this component of the police system. This is the simple corollary of the policy concept politicians have of the real nature of police work, namely “tackling crime”, a concept that seems attractive in times of austerity. Police researchers agree on the fact that the influence on crime by the police is very limited. That is essentially because the causes of crime are beyond the sphere of influence of the police and these causes can only be countered by means of a mature and concrete concept of a Local Integral Security Policy, steered by the Mayor. As Peter Manning explained already in 1977, the mandate of police is fragile and vulnerable and police personnel should be aware that they personify a promise they can never keep.

The Egmont report does not aim for exhaustiveness, but it does focus on some priority aspects, and provides a number of recommendations to policy-makers.

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