French and German Finance Ministers: Europe must step up its fight to block funding of terrorism

Michel Sapin and Wolfgang SchaeubleMichel Sapin and Wolfgang Schaeuble

In a letter to the European Commission, French and German Finance Ministers, Michel Sapin and Wolfgang Schaeuble, said Tuesday that Europe needs to step up its fight to block the flow of money destined to fund terrorism and to adopt a continent-wide legislation to better trace financial flows.

The two ministers set out a plan of action as a follow up from an EU declaration on the subject issued after a meeting of Finance Ministers in Brussels on January 27 , which followed deadly terrorist attacks by Islamist gunmen in Paris against a satirical newspaper and a kosher supermarket in which 17 people were killed and elsewhere in Europe.

At the meeting, the Finance Ministers discussed new ways to stop the flow of financing to terrorists.

Among the proposals was one for an asset freezing system that covers people domiciled in the European Union as well as those from outside, over whom such powers already exist.

The ministers also called for stronger controls on anonymous payments through extra reporting requirements on the movement of gold and precious items, and regulation of electronic money, such as smart payments cards, and virtual currencies.

Quicker access to bank data was another proposal. Ministers also called for coordination among member states to scrutinize international flows to what they called “high-risk areas”.

“Cutting off terrorist financing is a challenge for our community but it offers us an important opportunity to drain terrorist organizations of resources,” the letter of the French and German ministers said.

“Recent events underscore the need to adapt our systems and rules to the evolution of the threat in order to further guarantee the security of European citizens,” they said.

“Coordination at the European level is essential since national-level freezes may be easily circumvented due to the open nature of the European market,”the letter added.

In a written declaration, eleven members of the European Parliament recently also called on the EU to cut the financial flow to organisations actively promoting terror “as the best way to fighting terrorism.”

“We have many indications that countries such as Pakistan or entities such as the Palestinian Authority, funnel EU money towards terrorist organisations, such as Al-Qaeda or Hamas. With this Written Declaration we are urging the European Court of Justice and the European External Action service to follow up on these indications and deliver final proof, so that funding can be frozen,” said German Liberal MEP Michael Theurer, one of the signatories.

He mentioned in particular the so called ‘law of prisoners’ of the Palestinian Authority which, he said, “raised suspicion to how EU financial assistance might be spent.”

The law grants prisoners that participated in “the struggle against Israel`s occupation” an average monthly salary of 3129 US Dollar,’’ according to a report by Palestine Media Watch (PMW).

In the declaration, the MEPs stressed that ‘’in times of economic stringency and heightened security concern, it is important to ensure that EU funds are not wasted or abused. This would be the case if EU funds were being channelled, deliberately or by neglect, to terrorist organisations.’

Though security against terrorism is principally an issue for individual member states, the EU has long been looking for ways to improve coordination, since many terrorist organizations function internationally.

Several thousands of European-born people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight in the Syrian civil war and an unknown number of them have also joined the terrorist group Islamic State.