BRUSSELS, Belgium — The EU faces a “huge challenge” to reassure Jews about their future in Europe after Islamist attacks in Paris, a top official said Wednesday as it discussed fresh counter-terror measures.
European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said the 28-nation bloc was determined to respond in keeping with its core values of tolerance and inclusion, promising a new strategy would be ready by May.
“Today we see in some of our member states that a majority of the Jewish community is not sure that they have a future in Europe,” he said.
“I think this is a huge challenge to the very foundation of European integration,” he added.
He said the issue was more important than the single European currency or internal markets or other initiatives.
It is a “fundamental value” that everyone has a place in Europe no matter what his or her creed or background is.
Timmermans said Europeans must use education and other tools “to make sure that we don’t lose part of our population to extremism, to fanaticism, to exclusion.”
The Commission will do everything to develop a “strategy that offers hope and prospects for everyone in Europe,” he said.
‘Everyone has a place’
“Whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Christian or atheist, everybody has a place in this society,” he added.
In France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, estimated at up to 600,000, many are considering leaving as the number of anti-Semitic attacks mounts.
An Islamist gunmen shot dead a policewoman and then four Jews in a kosher supermarket in the French capital on January 9 before he was killed by police.
An earlier attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine left 12 dead, sparking a huge outpouring of grief and defiance.
Timmermans said the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, would work especially hard to meet European Parliament concerns over data protection which have held up agreement on an air passenger tracking system.
Many member states back use of the Passenger Name Record system as an essential tool to track suspected “foreign fighters” but lawmakers have held up an EU-wide system for years.
Timmermans said the Commission would “see if we can change our proposal to meet these concerns,” stressing that Europe had to been seen as “taking its job seriously” in countering the militant threat.
At the same time, security remained the responsibility of member states and the European Union’s role was to “assist them, support them so that jointly they can (meet) that responsibility.”
Europe’s greatest fear is that disaffected citizens who go to fight with extremist groups such as the Islamic State group in Syria or Iraq and return home even more radicalised and battle hardened.
The Paris gunmen were linked to various jihadi groups in Syria and Yemen.
Timmermans raised the possibility that the EU could look at tightening up its Schengen passport-free system so as to boost checks on its external border to pick up militants.
Asked about possible intelligence sharing, Timmermans said member states appeared more confident on the issue but also cited “some obstacles” without detailing them.
Most EU states have been reluctant to open up their intelligence networks to anyone except their most trusted allies for fear of harmful leaks.
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