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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Strengthening the EU's response to violent extremism: From ideas to action
High Level conference – Strengthening the EU's response to violent extremism: from ideas to actions/Brussels
17 June 2014
Colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning and thank you all for coming to Brussels today. We have a truly impressive set of expertise here. I hope the combination of Ministers, practitioners', academics, and industry representatives from all over Europe will create the right setting for us to move from ideas to action, as the title of the conference states. And we really do need it.
Three weeks ago, in the attack at the Jewish museum in Brussels, only one kilometre from here, we were given another terrible reminder of the threat we face from violent extremism. The suspect arrested is French-born and had returned from fighting in Syria.
More and more European citizens are joining the war in Syria and elsewhere. But unfortunately upon their return to Europe, a few of them will certainly have the capacity to commit terrorist attacks.
But that is not the only worry. I am also very concerned by the growing populist and nationalist movements across Europe. Although these movements are not directly responsible for terrorist attacks, they provide oxygen and the increasing acceptance for extreme views which serves as a breeding ground for violence.
We will not be able to counter violent extremism if we don't rebut the propaganda of those who support extreme, xenophobic and racist views.
At the High Level Conference last year, I underlined the urgency in creating new ideas on how to prevent violent extremism. Eighteen months later, it is clear that there has been a lot of progress.
The Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) created in 2011, has grown into a network of considerable size and credibility. The fact that around 800 practitioners, officials and organisations across Europe show an interest in working with the RAN, speaks for itself.
And the success model goes beyond EU borders with more and more third countries seeking its expertise.
In January this year, the Commission put forward a toolbox identifying actions to strengthen the EU's response to radicalisation and violent extremism. Those actions seek to support Member States' efforts to tackle radicalisation.
Two weeks ago, thanks to the efforts of the Greek EU Presidency, a renewed EU strategy to combat radicalisation and recruitment to terrorism was adopted. This is a strategy to confront all forms of extremism and to prevent a new generation of people becoming terrorists. The work undertaken by the European Commission and the RAN contributed to the revision of this strategy.
We now have a strong political framework in place. This is good news. But that is not enough. As you all know, actions speak louder than words. So let's urgently agree on the most pressing actions we now have to take.
I hope this conference can help us move one step further.
While preventing radicalisation into terrorism is mainly the responsibility of the Member States, I believe that the European Commission and the RAN can assist in several ways. Let me mention three areas.
Firstly, we will set up a European Knowledge hub. The mission will be to continue and expand the work for which the RAN, and its well-handled secretariat, has already laid the foundation. It will focus more on the Member States and will be ready to send out expert teams to support Member States whether we are talking about training, exit programmes or family support hotlines.
It should also take full advantage of existing expertise to feed the debate on topical issues, to steer research where it is needed and to formulate policy recommendations.
I want the knowledge hub to be an operational tool for the RAN and Member States. Hopefully the hub can over time, develop into a Centre of Excellence.
For those of you interested in applying for this tender, I can say that we hope to have it out in September and then a quick process to have the knowledge hub up and running early 2015. We have allocated 16 million euros for four years to make sure that the hub will have sufficient means to do a great job.
The second area where we can support Member States is to help develop exit programmes for young people that wish to leave violent groups. Only a few countries have developed that capacity and ideally all EU countries could start providing de-radicalisation or exit programs.
We must also do more to provide support to families. A few countries are now setting up hotlines where families can contact someone if they fear that their child is about to go to Syria, or see other worrying signs of radicalisation. But more can and should be done. We will explore these issues in a dedicated session this afternoon.
The third area is to set-up a dialogue with the major IT companies to see how we can better counter radicalisation online. Internet is a wonderful innovation that has revolutionized almost every aspect of our lives and brought us closer together. But it can also be a tool for those who wish to tear us further apart.
Extremists use social media to amplify their message, recruit new generations and promote violence.
While it might seem convenient to simply just take material off the internet, this is not a viable solution. While illegal material should of course be removed, much of the content that extremist groups put online is still not illegal.
We therefore need to engage with the industry and the civil society to find other solutions to counter terrorist propaganda. It is in that spirit that I yesterday held a specific meeting with major internet companies to study opportunities for collaboration at European level.
We agreed to continue this dialogue and meet again early fall, and this time we will see how we can directly involve the Member States. Today I am pleased to see that we have Google and Twitter in the panel and that we also have representatives from Facebook in the room.
I will end by saying that while I am deeply concerned about the challenges we are confronted with, I am reassured by having so many excellent people here today. So let's use this day effectively, and make sure that we leave from here with not only new ideas, but also with the determination to turn those ideas into action.
Thank you for your attention.