20:36 GMT +323 September 2019
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    Ex-Belgium prime minister Guy Verhofstadt is talking at the entrance of the EP hemicycle in Strasbourg.

    EU Chief Hopeful Verhofstadt Calls for 'More EU,' Not Less, After Berlin Attack

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    Former Belgian prime minister and potential candidate to be European Parliament president, Guy Verhofstadt, has said the latest terrorist attack in Berlin has highlighted the need for "more Europe," not less, in a dramatic rebuff against rising nationalism within the EU.

    A dozen people were killed and 48 were injured when an attacker drove a truck into a crowd of shoppers at an outdoor Christmas market in Berlin, December 17, despite the assailant — identified as Tunisian national Anis Amri — being known to intelligence agencies within Europe.

    Anis Amri, a Tunisian suspect in the Berlin truck attack
    © AP Photo /
    Anis Amri, a Tunisian suspect in the Berlin truck attack

    Verhofstadt believes "the only answer to terrorism is more Europe" because "the attack on the Berlin Christmas market was terrible.

    "It was an attack on Germany and an attack on our liberal, European values ​​and ideals," Verhofstadt said.

    ​Writing in the German magazine Focus Online, Verhofstadt argued that the Berlin attack by Amri — who was later shot dead in Italy having managed to evade capture while apparently traveling from Germany, through France, to Italy without being caught —  "reminds us painfully that, in the European Union, information exchange procedures are too weak policy and that we do not have a common migrant return policy."

    The fact that Amri was able to travel so easily throughout the EU's Schengen zone — the area where there are no border controls or customs checks — has brought calls from many critics — including right-wing groups — for countries to take back border controls.

    "This escapade in at least two or three countries is symptomatic of the total security catastrophe that is the Schengen agreement. I reiterate my pledge to give back France full control of its sovereignty, its national borders and to put an end to the consequences of the Schengen agreement," said Marine Le Pen, who leads France's far-right, anti-immigration National Front party.

    'Not Popular'

    However, Verjofstadt said the case underlined the importance of EU member states pulling together for a common goal.

    ​"We need more than just a loose cooperation between Member States in Europe. We need genuine European competencies so that we can protect our external borders and better share critical security information through a common security and intelligence service that has investigative competences," he said.

    "Europe is the way to protect Europe. This may not be a popular claim in times of increasing populism and nationalism. And yet, if we can learn something from the attacks that have hit us lately, whether it be Berlin, whether it be Paris, Nice or Brussels, then that terrorism cannot be combated nationally. In a networked world like ours, we can and must not tackle questions of security or questions of asylum and migration policy any more nationally, but only in a European context," Verhofstadt said.

    Verhofstadt is tipped to throw his hat into the ring for the presidency of the European Parliament, where he is currently leader of the Liberals and Democrats Group and the lead negotiator on Brexit. Before Christmas, her garnered the support of the liberal prime ministers of the Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland, Slovenia and Estonia who said he "would be best" for the presidency, which will be voted on in January 2017.

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    Tags:
    EU concept, intelligence cooperation, terrorist attack, terrorism, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), European Parliament, Front National, European Union, Guy Verhofstadt, Marine Le Pen, Germany, Europe, Berlin, France
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