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Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs
Europe needs to step-up its efforts to fight violent extremism
Inauguration of the EU Radicalisation Awareness Network
Brussels, 9 September 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The eleventh of September 2001 is a date we will always remember. I was in the European parliament that day and we had a meeting in the Committee of foreign affairs where I was a member. Around half past three that afternoon mobile phones started to ring and there were strange rumours spreading. The chairman, Elmar Brok, interrupted the meeting and sent us all away asking us to switch on the TV in our offices.
Together with the whole world, I witnessed the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon that killed almost 3,000 people.
Since then, terrorism has shaped much of the international agenda – and it has certainly affected Europe. Terrorists have killed tens of thousands of people all around the world, and Europe has experienced its own tragedies such the ones in London and Madrid.
More recently, there was the suicide attack in Stockholm, and now we have another name to add to the list — Utöya, the small, beautiful island in Norway.
I have difficulty finding the words to describe that horrible attack. Just the thought of being on that island, trapped with someone dressed as a policeman who is killing your friends and is also after you...
And you are either hiding somewhere, hoping he will not see you, or swimming as fast as you can, hoping he will not shoot you. This is the worst of all nightmares, but it became a reality. 69 teenagers were shot in cold blood that afternoon and 8 people died in the bombings of governmental quarters the same day.
In its most recent report on terrorism, Europol confirms a trend towards lone individuals being responsible for terrorist attacks.
And let’s face it: neither the EU Member States nor the European Commission have taken enough action to face the growing problem of radicalisation.
So far, the focus in the fight against terrorism has been on traditional law enforcement tools. But these are not enough to counter violent extremism and its underlying ideologies. It’s therefore time to change the approach.
With the Polish Presidency, I have agreed that, at their next meeting, in less than two weeks from now, EU interior ministers will discuss in depth what we can do to counter violent extremism.
Naturally, the primary responsibility lies with the Member States. The core of Europe's action on radicalisation and recruitment is — and should remain — at national and, above all, at local level.
However, Member States vary in their range of experience. Some are already very active and have developed strategies and action plans, while others have only just begun.
The role of the European Commission is to support the Member States. In the Internal Security Strategy that we adopted last year, I made it a priority to empower communities to prevent radicalisation and recruitment.
Since the main idea was to set up an EU Radicalisation Awareness Network, I’m very happy to be here with you at its inaugural meeting today.
Local actors — community leaders, teachers, police, victims, and youth associations, to mention a few — are often in the best position to act. They are well placed to see signs that people are becoming radicalised and risk becoming violent. And they can develop the most effective programmes, because they know their communities best.
But a policeman working with vulnerable communities in Spain should be in a position to share his experience with a policeman from Belgium. A lot can be learnt from front line professionals working with local authorities or from mentors assisting youth groups.
The EU Radicalisation Awareness Network will therefore be an EU-wide umbrella network of practitioners and those involved locally in countering violent extremism. It will include groups of stakeholders, practitioners, researchers, associations and platforms whose activities can help counter violent extremism.
Our network will draw together a constellation of previously unconnected efforts and programmes give them visibility and form a cohesive response to violent extremism.
And let me be clear about one thing. Both the European Commission and the Member States will rely on this network.
We lack the answers to so many questions about radicalisation today. For example, ‘what makes someone in our community attack their fellow citizens?’, ‘Who can influence – positively or negatively – the ones who drift towards violence?’ and ‘How do we prevent it from happening?’
You need to help us find answers to these questions so that we can detect early signs of radicalised behaviour regardless of who inspires it, and prevent all types of extremism from leading to violence. And you need to help us spread that knowledge.
Without going into the different lines of action to be developed by the Network, I would like to mention one area I think is very important for you — and for us — to concentrate our thinking on: the role of the internet.
The increasingly sophisticated use of the internet and social media by violent extremists adds an extra layer to security challenges.
One task for the Network should therefore be to find ways of challenging terrorist propaganda and supporting forces for good so that their voices can be heard.
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Meeting all these expectations will be no easy task for the Network. But the team we are putting together is a very strong one. We have with us here today experts from a large part of Europe and from an impressive variety of fields: the Muslim Women’s Network in the UK, the Danish Ethnic Youth Council, the city of Rotterdam, the Belgian federal police and many others.
I would also like to thank the Norwegian participants for joining us. Your country’s response to the tragic events we saw this summer has been impressive. It is important for all of us to listen to your experience. But I also hope that this network can offer you some ideas for the future.
Furthermore, I want to thank the Committee of the Regions for its cooperation so far. You will certainly make an important contribution in helping us identify local partners.
But without resources it is difficult to achieve results. The network will therefore be supported by a Secretariat financed by the European Commission. Through this secretariat, the Commission will provide eight million euros in financial support for the network's activities over the next four years.
The Commission has also just published a call for project proposals on radicalisation with a budget of four million euros for 2011. A similar amount is expected for 2012.
I strongly encourage you to submit project proposals.
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So what is the role of the Commission in the Radicalisation Awareness Network? Let me answer that in the words of Winston Churchill:
‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak: courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’
In previous years, I have sometimes heard the Commission accused of being like a crocodile… you know: big mouth and small ears. In this work, I can assure you that we will listen to you and learn from your expertise.
But after having done so, we must then be courageous and bring your results back to the policymaking level — even though some of the findings might be politically sensitive.
One of my major concerns is the lack of leadership we see today in Europe, with more and more populist parties influencing the European agenda. I am not saying that these parties are directly responsible for terrorist attacks, but we must acknowledge that they provide oxygen - and increasing acceptance - for extreme views.
Our efforts to counter violent extremism are a long-term commitment. To keep up the political momentum, the Commission is planning a high-level conference in the first half of next year. By then we expect to hear from the Member States on what they have done to counter violent extremism.
But, equally important, I expect the network to present some preliminary findings which will help the EU Member States to sharpen their policies.
This is a huge challenge, I know that. But looking at all of you today I feel confident that together we can make a difference.
Let me close by saying that we can probably never expect to completely eradicate extremist behaviour nor prevent all terrorist attacks from happening. But with the support of the Radicalisation Awareness Network, we will do everything we can to counter the growing trend of violent extremism we see around us.
Again, I am grateful to all of you for being here today.
Thank you for your attention.