As part of its continued efforts to tackle the serious security problems facing Europe, rendered ever more visible by the recent terrorist attacks in France and Brussels, the European Commission has published a Communication on the prevention of violent radicalisation leading to extremism. In spite of the fact that this is generally viewed as a national responsibility, the Commission has nevertheless put forward a series of actions which it believes would be enhanced by European cooperation. Indeed, in the Commission’s words, “radicalisation, like terrorism, knows no borders.”
The Commission notes that in recent times the drivers of terrorist acts have become more complex, with perpetrators acting upon varying motivations and in an increasingly global network. For this reason, in preparing the Communication, the Commission has tried to identify the most prevalent methods employed by extremists or terrorists in enticing radicalisation and those persons most vulnerable to new radicalisation phenomena.
The importance of education in this context is repeatedly highlighted. The Commission intends to develop a “toolkit” for those working closely with young people, so as to enable them to detect and address radicalisation, and hopes to use Erasmus+ funding to support social inclusion, common values and intercultural understanding. It moreover suggests enabling an exchange of Member States’ experiences of radicalisation in prisons – a recognised hotbed for radicalisation and the spread of criminal practices – so as to facilitate the development of guidelines and programmes to support rehabilitation and reintegration. Furthermore, it wishes to support research activities, with the aim of producing tools and policy analysis for Member States’ security actors and policy-makers.
The need to address the spread of online propaganda and hate speech is also underlined in the Communication. It is noted that terrorist groups are increasingly investing in the production of online terrorist material such as training manuals and propaganda including videos of attacks and acts of violence. Moreover, in addition to the simple fact that recruiters are able to interact with a much wider audience than is the case offline, the Commission fears that such interactions can lead to the creation of social environments in which deviance and violence are accepted as normal. The Commission is therefore proposing to work with industry and civil society in order to prevent the proliferation of illegal content, support the development of “positive alternative narratives” and encourage a critical approach to online information.
Finally, the Commission focuses on legal and security-related actions, calling in particular for reinforced international cooperation with third countries, improved information sharing and dissuasive measures such as travel prohibitions and the criminalisation of travel to third countries for terrorist purposes.
Each of the ideas put forward by the Commission is supported by a number of more concrete actions to be put in place in order to support the Member States in the fight against radicalisation. For instance, in the hopes of addressing violent radicalisation outside the EU’s borders, the Commission proposes providing support and assistance to international organisations and Global Counter Terrorism Forum initiatives, developing further activities to better focus the EU’s external financial instruments, extending twinning networks to EU neighbourhood countries and initiating a feasibility project for Erasmus+ Virtual Exchanges, the aim of which would be to promote online engagement between young people. While such actions will undoubtedly require a significant investment of funds, they appear more grounded in realism than can sometimes be the case with proposals on such sensitive matters.
The Commission has invited the European Parliament and the Council to endorse its Communication so that the actions proposed can be put in place as soon as possible. In the current environment, with many questions being raised about security within the EU, the question now is not whether they will do so, but rather whether they will believe that the proposal goes far enough or call for the development of even more measures.