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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Opening speech: Empowering local actors to prevent violent extremism
Opening speech at the High Level Conference "Empowering local actors to prevent violent extremism"/Brussels
29 January 2013
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank you all for coming to Brussels today. We have Ministers and experts from all over Europe here to share their experiences.
With such a distinguished group of people, I must admit I have high expectations. For me, the best outcome of today's event would be if we not only discuss the challenges ahead of us, but also how we can face these challenges and better counter violent extremism.
I want to start by reading a few lines from the Swedish Nobel Prize Laureate Tomas Tranströmer.
"The truth is on the ground, but no one dares to claim it. The truth is on the street, and no one makes it his".
It is about time we recognise the truth about the growing trends of extremism in Europe, which makes it one of the main – if not the main – security challenge to Europe.
Violent extremism is more than the threat from extreme islamist groups such as Al Qaida. Violent extremism can arise within any ideology, and the threat today mainly comes from within our own societies, as we saw in the cases of Norway and France.
The growing populist, nationalist and xenophobic movements across Europe are a concern to all of us. Extremists are not as easily identifiable as they perhaps once were. Now they also reveal themselves amongst us – they permeate our online environments and to a growing extent even European politics.
These extremist groups and political movements often act as a breeding ground for ideology-motivated violence. I am not saying that these movements are directly responsible for terrorist attacks, but we must acknowledge that they provide oxygen - and increasing acceptance - for extremist views.
We will not be able to counter violent extremism if we don't counter the propaganda of those who support extreme, xenophobic and racist views.
Some countries have come a long way in their efforts to counter violent extremism. Others have not yet fully recognised that the challenge of extremism also concerns them.
We therefore need to involve more countries in our work, and let those with less experience take advantage of the lessons learned in the countries that have come the furthest. But we all can learn from each other.
I think we all agree that most of the work towards violent extremism will have to be done at local or national level. Those closest to the people at risk of becoming radicalised, are also the ones who are best place to detect negative developments and put in place tailored preventive measures.
This work must be done with the cooperation of many actors, and not be regarded as a security or law enforcement issue alone. When the core values of our democratic societies are threatened, society as a whole – including schools, health services and NGO's - will have to take action.
Although central parts of the preventive work must be done locally and nationally, we also need to be creative to see how we at the EU level can support the Member States. In September 2011, the European Commission launched the Radicalisation Awareness Network to help sharpen EU and Member States tools to counter violent extremism.
In this room today we have over 100 Members of the Network. And to you I would like to thank those of you here for your commitment and the work you are doing. We have already set up 8 working groups within the RAN to look at particular challenges. And we are of course ready to address new issues as they occur.
While the Members of the Network are not invited by nationality, I regret that we do not yet have experts from all Member States represented. But I hope this is something we can change over the coming year.
We should also cooperate more with our friends from the external side to prevent violent extremism. This goes for everything from making synergies with global efforts, funding of specific projects to exchanging best and worst practises with actors around the world.
Finally, by having gathered many experts, from RAN practitioners and researchers, to ministers and policy makers from across Europe we have set the table for a great discussion.
The 15 policy proposals from RAN that have been presented in our discussion paper will serve as food-for-thought. But we should of course not limit ourselves to these suggestions. Today we have a unique opportunity to create new ideas for action and together come up with practical suggestions about the way forward.
And let's be clear about one thing. With each growing threat, the EU and its Member States must become better at countering violent extremism. We have to stay ahead of the curve. The conference today is a step in that direction and I'm dedicated to working with the Member States, RAN and all other actors to jointly develop a better toolbox for the EU by the end of 2013.
May it be a thought-provoking and rewarding day for all!