Franco-Belgian intergovernmental meeting Val Duchesse II : joint communiqué (Paris, 11 June 2018)

On the invitation of France, the Prime Ministers of the French Republic and the Kingdom of Belgium, Édouard Philippe and Charles Michel, met today to consider how our two countries might co-operate in matters of internal security and counter-terrorism. In the presence of the Interior Ministers, Gérard Collomb and Jan Jambon, and of the Justice Ministers, Nicole Belloubet and Koen Geens, they expressed their appreciation of this excellent co-operation, which has been especially vigorous in the wake of the attacks which have struck our two countries in the last few years — most notably the recent attack which occurred in Liège on 29 May — and which has been formalised by a joint declaration of 1 February 2016 intended to consolidate the Franco-Belgian counter-terrorism partnership.

It is in the spirit of this joint declaration, and of the communiqué of 16 October 2017 announcing a range of bilateral measures in the security and justice domains, that both parties have now expressed their determination to follow through on the strengthening of this cooperation and to develop further some of the undertakings and initiatives taken heretofore.

We decided in 2016 to intensify police co-operation by reinforcing timely exchanges between our interior and security forces; reinforcing judicial co-operation; deepening co-operation aimed at ensuring citizens’ safety and tackling violent extremism; and consulting at European level on supporting reforms that would allow us to strengthen further the European Space of Freedom, Security and Justice.

In 2017, these endeavours received a new impetus when it was agreed that a joint working group should be put in place to consider criminal prosecution of serious crime and terrorism. The first meeting of the joint working group was held on 27 February 2017. Also during that year, it was agreed that we would intensify our co-operation in countering violent radicalisation in penitentiary environments and that we would deploy prison intelligence units; and we agreed to consult on care measures for minor citizens returning from the Iraqi-Syrian area and to reinforce co-operation on tackling illegal immigration.

Thus, in the past two years, and following constructive exchanges between our two countries, France and Belgium have taken concrete measures to implement this co-operation, including the reorganisation of operational and strategic consultative arrangements in the border area, stationing a French liaison magistrate in Belgium, intensifying the use of joint inquiry teams (JCTs, French acronym ECE, Dutch acronym GOT), and a tour of duty by a Belgian police liaison officer to the French prefecture of Hauts-de-France, based in Lille. The Police and Customs Co-operation Centres (CCPDs) in Tournai and the Belgian province of Luxembourg also play an essential role in developing operational Franco-Belgian police co-operation in our border area. Likewise, the partnership between Belgian intelligence services and their French counterparts has reached a level of trust and transparency which we are justified in calling exceptional.

Today, our two countries are taking a key step to extend our co-operation to extra risk areas: those of Islamist terrorism and violent radicalisation. The launch of our work on rehabilitating violent radicalised prisoners at the end of their sentences demonstrates our determination to adapt our co-operative framework to constantly new problems that we face.

We hope that the co-operative dynamic that our two governments entered upon in 2016 and 2017 can be strengthened. Nothing but a resolute and shared will can enable us to support and enrich our operational co-operation on security, intelligence and justice sustainably.

Determined to face unceasingly the new challenges posed by the threat of terrorism and violent radicalisation, France and Belgium have resolved:

1. On counter-terrorism —

-           To follow through on reinforcing the information exchange, operational co-operation and joint operation mechanism between our services.

-           To work to harmonise the biometric identification criteria in our databases, particularly as concerns how DNA is handled, to enable easier arrests of terrorism suspects.

-           To facilitate joint inquiry teams in cases where acts of terrorism have been committed on both our territories; and to ensure co-ordinated communication between our authorities, to allow a smooth flow of inquiry procedures conducted on both sides of the border.

-           Given the necessity of tackling the financing of terrorism, to reinforce our co-ordination and co-operation to assist the undertakings made during our conference on mobilising against terrorist financing (“No Money For Terror”, Paris, 25–26 April 2018); and to reach agreement on reinforcing our co-ordination in countering the trafficking of cultural goods, which are often a source of funding for terrorist organisations, particularly in order to be able to trace the origin of art objects, collections and antiques obtained.

-           To intensify exchanges between the French and Belgian crisis management centres, to facilitate the setting-up of dedicated co-operative frameworks in cases of national crisis with cross-border threats or effects.

-           To work to put in place a “ministerial quadrilateral” between the Justice Ministers of Belgium, Spain, France and Morocco, to allow high-level achievement of engagement between our governments and solidarity between them in the fight against Islamist terrorism. Also, to stress to our partners that this meeting could be held before the end of this year.

2. On countering violent radicalisation —

-           To give more extensive feedback on experiences and best practices in order to counter this scourge better, and to prevent more people from following through to acts of violence.

-           In order to counter the constantly-evolving terrorist threat which both our countries are facing together, to start anticipating the release (in the short to medium term) of prisoners convicted of terrorist offences relating to radical Islam, and also of violent radicalised detainees for regular offences (known as “leavers”). The prospect of these releases is a major challenge for our prison administrations, judicial authorities, intelligence agencies, police forces and civil service bodies. These new issues for consideration will be the subject of a dedicated consultative forum between the appropriate French and Belgian authorities.

-           To continue our collaboration on countering violent radicalisation in penitentiary contexts. Our penitentiary administrations and the services tasked with prison intelligence, which have been significantly boosted in France in recent months, will thus deepen their co-operation in order to reinforce the following-up and probation of violent radicalised prisoners.

-           In the wake of the terrorist attack at Liège on 29 May 2018, to reflect on how to harmonise the French and Belgian services’ practices for flagging up end-of-sentence violent radicalised prisoners in the Schengen Information System (SIS).

-           To continue our exchanges on administrative and judicial policy and follow-up on terrorist combatants returning from the Iraqi-Syrian area (at this time, more than 200 in France and more than 100 in Belgium), which constitutes one of the priorities in Franco-Belgian co-operation.

-           To continue Franco-Belgian meetings on countering violent extremism, in order to bring together local authorities to encourage them to set up partnerships and exchange best practices on prevention in the struggle against violent radicalisation.

-             To hold, by the end of 2018, a meeting of experts tasked with care orders for returning minor citizens, in order to exchange specific requirements on supervising these minors and assisting their rehabilitation in society, so that they will not form a threat in time to the security of our citizens.

3. At European level —

-             To support determinedly the reinforcement of border controls on the EU’s external frontiers, particularly in the context of the possible return to EU territory of terrorist combatants. To respond to these challenges, the European Union has availed itself of several tools in the past couple of years: the reform of and granting of further powers to the Frontex agency; systematic border controls on the EU’s external frontiers; the adoption on 25 April this year of the ETIAS system to forestall security risks; and the entry/exit system adopted on 30 November 2017, which allows the logging of the entry and exit of third-country citizens making short trips over the EU’s external frontiers.

-           The entry into force on 25 May this year of the European PNR constitutes a major step forward in the fight against terrorism and serious crime, allowing the reinforcement of border controls on the European Union’s external frontiers and greater security in the European space. Nevertheless, we are sure that we must go further. Jointly with our Dutch and British partners, we call for intergovernmental development of a railway PNR, which, in time, could be extended to other European partners to complete the air PNR.

-           On the matter of organised crime, we intend to boost our co-operation in the domain of countering arms trafficking and drugs trafficking networks, particularly via the Eurojust and Europol agencies, and to intensify our cross-border co-operation.

-           Access to digital evidence is a major issue in many judicial inquiries. As part of our criminal justice co-operation, we call for faster digital communications channels to be set up between detective services and providers of electronic communications services. The European Union must equip itself with an ambitious system to allow these providers and detective services proper legal certainty and to take account of the differences between legal systems. We undertake to continue our exchanges in order to take harmonised stances in European negotiations in the Council (Justice and Internal Affairs).

-           To make cross-border access to digital evidence easier, we emphasise the importance of reaching a rapid agreement on the proposed directive on appointing legal representatives of internet service providers and on the proposed regulation on European injunctions on producing and storing evidentiary material. The system that is put in place must be effective, including as relates to service providers located outside the territory of the European Union, and must have regard to fundamental freedoms.

-           We undertake to foster sharing and comparing of experiences on identification of users connecting to internet platforms using smartphones, a case in which internet service providers do not assign a unique internet address to each user.

-           In the context of the entry into force on 25 May this year of the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and indeed of the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union on collection and use of personal data, we think it necessary to ensure that a high level of efficiency is reached in European and national counter-terrorism legal instruments, while still preserving the balance between protection of personal data, respect for private life, and the security of the European space.

-           We support the European Commission’s proposal to draft a regulation on the marketing and use of precursors to explosive substances, in order to hinder small-scale production of explosives. The restrictions in place on the sale of these substances must be tightened up, both for private persons and professionals, particularly as regards sales made online.