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EU Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs
EU Initiatives to Tackle Extremism and De-radicalisation
Conference on Tackling Extremism: De-radicalisation and disengagement
Copenhagen, 8 May 2012
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.
I'd like to thank the organisers for their kind invitation and for giving me the opportunity to talk to you about the EU's work in tackling violent extremism. I'd also like to recognise the work that has been driven forward under the Danish Presidency.
The list of terrorist attacks carried out by individuals, acting on their own or with limited contacts with terrorist groups, gets longer and longer. And while we were trying to understand the reasons behind Anders Behring Breivik's horrific attack in Utöya, we recently witnessed another man, Mohamed Mehrat, killing innocent people in France.
I could go on to list more attacks of this nature. And sadly, I believe it's only a matter of time before we read about the next attack on European soil.
The terrorist threat has somewhat shifted away from organised groups to individuals, who are harder to detect, and whose actions are harder to predict. To prevent further tragedies, we must adapt to meet this new challenge to our counter–terrorism capabilities. And our response must be informed by a deeper understanding of the processes that lead to radicalisation.
So far we - and here I mean both the European Commission and many EU Member States - have not done enough.
Violent extremism is not - and has never been - limited to one set of political views or ideologies. Some have been known to say that "violent extremism is not a problem in our country - we see no threat from Al Qaida."
They could not be more wrong. The potential for violent extremism exists in all countries. It may manifest itself in different forms, be it right wing or left wing extremism, separatism or religiously motivated extremism, but it is always characterised by bloodshed and the scars it leaves on society.
From now on, addressing violent extremism must be at the very heart of the EU's counter terrorism policy.
But the nature of the challenge requires a different response than the traditional police role. Instead, we need a wider, more comprehensive response involving NGOs, civil society groups, community leaders and many others.
The Danish Government's work on de-radicalisation is a good example of the comprehensive approach we should be taking. I've been really impressed by the two Danish pilot projects launched to address just this.
Under the first pilot, I understand that the Danish security services have been engaging with vulnerable individuals on the brink of radicalisation through so called 'preventive talks'.
Local authorities, NGOs, social workers have also played an important role in helping young people to leave extremist groups and reintegrating them into society.
The second pilot aims to tackle extremism in prisons. Just because prisoners are "out of sight", does not mean that they should be "out of mind". Prisoners often feel disillusioned and marginalised by society, leaving them particularly vulnerable to terrorist propaganda.
We must ensure that our prisons don't become hothouses for extremism and I welcome the work of the Danish Government to provide targeted interventions in prisons.
I am pleased that the European Commission has been able to lend its political and financial support to these initiatives and look forward to seeing the results.
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The problems of terrorism and radicalisation tend to be international, but the solutions are often local. So what can the European Commission do to support the work of Member States and practitioners?
Besides offering financial and political support for projects, the Commission launched the EU Radicalisation Awareness Network last September. Its aim is to support Member States in finding better ways to counter violent extremism.
Some countries have a large amount of experience in tackling these threats, other countries have been less exposed. But the shadow of terrorism looms large over all of us and we must help each other to prevent the worst from happening.
The EU Radicalisation Awareness Network is an EU-wide umbrella network of practitioners and others involved in countering violent extremism. And I'm glad to see that several of those participating in the network are here today.
The Network will piece together a jigsaw of local knowledge into a European-wide picture. It will use this knowledge to help us answer some of the big questions about radicalisation – why do people decide to attack the society that raised them? How can we prevent people from straying onto the path of extremism?
The network is less than a year old and right now we are in the process of identifying the most pressing issues to focus on and setting up working groups to address these challenges.
The theme of this conference – de-radicalisation and disengagement - is one of the Network's main focus areas.
Another important area is the role of victims' – it is important to spread their testimonies to highlight the tragic consequences of terrorist acts.
We will also develop tools to counter one of the main sources of terrorist propaganda – the internet. The increasingly sophisticated use of the internet and social media adds an additional layer to our security challenges.
The Radicalisation Awareness Network will work to support those who denounce terrorism and make their voices heard. But this message must be credible. Terrorists will shut themselves off if the message comes from the 'enemy state' they have been primed to despise.
As we have heard just now from C:NTACT, we will use personal stories of extremism to debunk the myth that terrorism is exciting, glamorous or glorious. These messages are powerful and may influence that lonely, disenfranchised young man sitting in a basement, building his view of the world through the internet.
The Network is already off to a good start, thanks to the excellent people we have on board, but as the British say, "the proof is in the pudding". It is all very well identifying problems and setting up working groups, but ultimately the network will be judged on the results and policy recommendations we hope and expect it will deliver.
While a truly European response is crucial, we must not forget the importance of our international partners.
I am pleased to report that the EU and the U.S. have agreed to step up our cooperation to counter violent extremism. We share many of the same problems and we need to pool our resources to tackle the threat.
Exactly a week ago I was in Washington discussing this with Attorney General Eric Holder and Christopher Schroeder. They told me about a plot they had just dismantled where some anarchists tried to blow up a bridge in Cleveland and kill innocent people.
This example – and there are many others - shows once again that we cannot afford to be complacent if we are to stem the diverse and growing threat from violent extremism.
Let me end by wishing you all a successful conference and I'm convinced it will provide the forum for many stimulating and thought-provoking discussions.