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19th Jan 2020

EU proposes new steps against radicalisation

  • Avramopoulos (l) and Navracsics (r): "Terrorism is global and yet extremely local, there are failures to address" (Photo: European Commission)

Amid terror threats and continued travel by young people to and from Syria, the European Commission wants to help EU countries to tackle violent radicalisation.

The EU executive presented on Tuesday (14 June) a communication wih propositions to extend current programmes in education, social inclusion, counter-propaganda, cooperation with third countries or addressing radicalisation in prisons.

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"Terrorism is global and yet extremely local," EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said at a press conference.

He reminded press that over the past year, terrorists in Paris, Copengahen and Brussels had turned "against their neighbours and our values".

The attackers, the education commissionner Tibor Navracsics added, were "young people who have been raised in our society and taught in our schools".

"There are clearly failures here that we have to address," he said.

The commissionner said that "promoting freedom, democracy, human dignity and respect" were the way to reach out to young people and prevent them from turning to violent extremism.

He stressed the social dimension of the issue and said that authorities at all levels should help young people to "find jobs and their place in society".

"Violent radicalisation is not a new phenomenon," the commission said in its communication. "However, its most recent manifestations, its scale, as well as the use of new communication tools present new challenges."

The commission called on "all relevant actors across society" to address both the immediate security implications of radicalisation as well as the root causes".

"The target is the jihadist-type, the Bataclan-type of radicalism," an EU source said, referring to the concert venue in Paris where gunmen shot dozens of people dead.

The source said that 4,000 so-called European foreign fighters have joined the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq.

For that reason, the actions proposed by the commission will targets the fighters' main source countries like France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark more than other EU members like the Baltic states.

Speaking to a group of journalists before the press conference, Navracsics said that "militant jihadists simply use religion as a reasoning for their actions" and that social and educational conditions were the "real cause for radicalisation".

Role models

The communication said that "religion can play a vital role in preventing or countering radicalisation" because "it binds communities, strengthens the sense of belonging and guides people in a positive direction".

Faced with sometimes extremely quick and undetected processes of radicalisation, the commission wanted to highlight role models who work with schools and associations.

It says it will establish a network of people from various backgrounds, such as entrepreneurs, artists, sportspersons, as well as formerly radicalised people.

"Positive role models are the most efficient representatives and promotion of democratic ideas," Navracsics said.

The commission also planned to extend its eTwinning scheme - an internet platform that connects teachers and classrooms across Europe for dialogue and sharing of skills - to selected countries in the EU neighbourhood, "especially those facing problems related to violent radicalisation and where intercultural dialogue is most needed".

The plan, which is already ongoing in Tunisia, will target countries like Egypt, or Bosnia "where [the] IS flag can be seen in some places", the EU source said.

Battleground internet

Internet is the "most important battleground', Avramopoulos said. The commission wanted to push for further action to delete hate speech and violent-incentive contents online.

It proposed to develop a Joint Referral Platform, a web platform to speed up report and deleting of hate or violent content, with the internet industry. It also wanted to develop media awareness and to work with the industry to monitor a code of conduct on countering illegal contents.

The Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), the EU think-tank on radicalisation, will be tasked with designing prevention actions and counter-propaganda as well as supervision work in prisons.

The commission's proposals are the continuation of a decade-old strategy, with "no questioning of the way the problem and the solutions are considered," said Francesco Ragazzi, a lecturer at the university of Leyden, Netherlands, and associate fellow at SciencesPo in Paris.

Ragazzi, who works on the impact of anti-terrorism strategies on Muslim communities in Europe, said that the RAN included no critical voices and was just "relaying the commission's messages without questioning the concepts and measuring results".

'Community under suspicion'

"Submitting social policies to an anti-terrorist logic leads to focus on Muslim populations, and the whole community is under suspicion," he said.

"Dialogue strategies are good, but not if they are undertaken from an anti-radicalisation point of view," Ragazzi added.

He said that although a series of factors could explain radicalisation, "it is scientifically wrong but politically very important to say we can detect radicalisation".

Instead of focusing on local communities and civil society, Ragazzi said, policies should focus on how police and intelligence services work.

"Almost all those who committed terror attacks were already known", he said. "We already know who are the next terrorists, we don't need civil society."

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