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16th Jun 2019

Radicalism on the rise in Europe, EU commissioner says

  • Over 1,200 EU nationals are said to be fighting or training in places like Syria, Sudan, and Somalia, posing a threat for European security if they return (Photo: Francesco Rivetti)

The European Commission has said preventive action is needed to stop what it sees as spreading radicalism across the EU.

“We see that extremism, xenophobia and nationalism keeps growing in Europe [and] we see worrying signals that these groups act as breeding grounds of ideology motivated by violence and extremist views,” EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (15 January).

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To counter what she views as an internal security threat, Malmstrom announced a series of recommendations which she wants member states to immediately implement.

Among the new ideas is a €20 million fund to set up a so-called European knowledge hub, which is to pool expertise and support existing initiatives on the issue.

Other proposals include having member states set up national strategies and “de-radicalisation” programmes to help people leave extremist groups.

The recommendations will add to the EU’s arsenal of some 240 existing counter-terrorism measures (88 of which are legally binding) adopted since the World Trade Centre attack in 2001, according to the London-based civil liberties group Statewatch.

Malmstrom lumped far-left groups in with nationalist ideologues, al-Qaeda-inspired ideologies and right-wing extremists as parts of the radicalism trend.

According to Malmstrom, extremist groups are those that incite people to commit acts of violence.

She also wants member states to set up preventive radicalisation programmes with countries outside the EU.

Radical groups, for their part, are said to be recruiting and spreading their views through online social networking sites and chat rooms.

Member states need to provide counter platforms to combat the online propaganda, says the commission.

But other supposed threats are also on the horizon.

The commission estimates some 1,200 EU nationals are currently either fighting or training alongside radicals in Syria, Sudan, or Somalia.

“It [the number] could be higher,” said Malmstrom.

Some but not all, she noted, have joined terrorist organisations.

“They’ve been trained and hardened in war and can pose a threat to our security upon their return from a conflict zone and in the longer term, they an also act as catalysts for terrorism,” said the commissioner.

Meanwhile, some new EU legislation designed to help identify the potential threats is stuck in the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee.

MEPs last April rejected the European Commission’s 2011 proposal to set up an EU-wide passagener name record system, which would allow police investigators to identify and track suspicious travel itineraries.

Opposing euro-deputies say the commission’s proposal fails to address fundamental rights issues.

The European Data protection supervisor and the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights at the time questioned its “necessity” and “proportionality.”

Member states can set up their national PNR systems, but are unable to co-ordinate their data without the EU law in place.

They also have at their disposal the Schengen Information System, a large database that alerts police to criminals, politically exposed persons, or irregular migrants who no longer have a right to stay in the EU.

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