Researching EU counter-terrorism policy post-2015 | Christine Andreeva, UACES Scholar 2019

The UACES Network |

UACES Scholar 2019, Christine Andreeva (Dublin City University), visited a range of European capitals to conduct PhD fieldwork. Here, she reports on her experience. 

The UACES Scholarship supported the fieldwork for my PhD research, which looks into the development and integration of EU counter-terrorism efforts, particularly since 2015.

The EU response to terrorist acts has been characterised by 28 approaches addressing one problem. Different threat perceptions and strategic cultures explain the divergence of policy approaches guided by high-politics and driven by exogenous shocks, while the complexity of governance structures has led to inter-agency competition. As the issue of terrorism is new to the EU, policy-making is short-term and reactive instead of driven by strategically coordinated prevention and response.

While in counter-terrorism there is no model to follow, in the EU’s open-border, single-market space, the absence of strategic, coherent, cross-border response has created accountability gaps exploited by extremist groups. The EU’s counter-terrorism policy is not integrated, which arguably compromises inter-actor coordination, thus my study investigates the effects of integration on the policy’s performance and the advancement of this integration since 2015.

The data consists of desk research and semi-structured interviews of policy practitioners and decision-makers across national and EU levels of agency. While desk research (EU documents, performance evaluations, media reporting/investigations) serves to inform some of the empirical case study analysis, these are not sufficient, as public discourse in counter-terrorism might aim to conceal inefficiencies.

As practitioners (among which police and intelligence officers, border guards, counter-terrorism analysts, prosecutors and policy-makers) are in the heart of counter-terrorism efforts, they are reliable witnesses to operational practices in counter-terrorism, including the gradual changes in those. Importantly, they are also qualified to judge on whether the EU’s tools, mechanisms, institutions, legislation and cooperation structures offer any added value to national efforts in counter-terrorism, which is increasingly transnational. They are thus also able to determine whether current (post-2015) EU efforts offer more added value therein.

I obtained key findings through the semi-structured interviews regarding policy and coordination mechanisms, for which direct contact with practitioners was necessary and instrumental. As a triangulation tool, the interviews validated the hypotheses framed through the desk research and theoretical exploration of my topic, and they further complemented those with empirical explanations of the complexities of counter-terrorism work.

A key element of the data my PhD treats is its secrecy – even when no operational details are uncovered, simply by describing the idiosyncrasies of counter-terrorism work, my interviewees potentially may reveal national security information or details of inter-governmental or inter-institutional negotiations. The concern of not doing so often makes practitioners overly cautious, where the few of them who do agree to be interviewed tend to be reticent and prudent with any information they are willing to share.

This made it crucial for me to be readily available to any EU or national counter-terrorism official willing to be interviewed for my research – this usually entailed traveling to their places of work (while leaving the choice of meeting place and time up to them). As an intrinsic element of their profession is distrust and secrecy, these practitioners need to build trust with an interlocutor before they are ready to discuss anything. This entailed face-to-face contact, flexibility and availability on my part, and the UACES Scholarship allowed me the opportunity to have that.

In the absence of this scholarship, I would not be able to afford the flexibility that my fieldwork required, and I owe this to the generous support of UACES. As a result of the rich empirical material obtained, I was able to start preparing a number of timely publications, I was invited to speak to a number of conferences and I look forward to concluding my PhD in 2020.

Views expressed here are solely of the Author and are not the views of UACES.

Christine Andreeva is a PhD Candidate in the School of Law and Government, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dublin City University. @C_Andreeva




Learn more about funding opportunities with UACES.

Watch a short clip of Christine discussing her fieldwork: