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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Commissioner Jourová on radicalisation in prisons

Brussels, 27 February 2018

Speech by Commissioner Jourová, in charge of Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, at the Conference on Radicalisation in Prisons, in Brussels, Borschette.


Ladies and gentlemen,


I want to thank you for coming here to Brussels to discuss one of the burning issues for Europe's security – radicalisation.


A vast majority of Europeans believe that fighting terrorism is important to the internal security of the EU.


Terrorists have not only killed Europeans, but they also attacked our values. Sadly, many perpetrators were themselves European citizens, born and raised in EU countries, educated in schools in Europe.


Also sadly, many EU countries today are confronted with radicalised people or people at risk of being radicalised.


To really minimise the risk of terrorist attacks we need to tackle the root of the problem. The root of the problem is the existence of radical extremist political ideology; and we should be clear to distinguish it from religion.


Radicalisation can take many forms and nobody has a "monopoly on it", whether it is Islamist extremists, or Right-wing extremists or others.

Of course there is no silver bullet that will tackle all the reasons why people turn to extremist groups and choose violence.

I don't believe that getting to the bottom of this problem can be done by governments alone. The response needs to come from all levels, national and local. Teachers, social services, prison staff, local communities can do a lot to prevent spreading the poison of radicalisation.

But the European Union can and is helping. We can do two things:

1)   Step in where the EU-wide response can be effective

2)   Mobilise the practitioners, mobilise exchange of best practices and ideas and mobilise funds; so something this conference today is about.

So, where can and should the EU step in?

  • First, we can help by improving the exchange of information sharing.

Those Europeans that are coming back from fighting in conflict areas are of particular importance and the reform of the Schengen Information System will help EU government to exchange the information faster and better.

And then there is the Internet which is used by dangerous extremists to identify vulnerable men and spread the venom of radicalisation. The Orlando attacker is the case in point, as the evidence suggests he was radicalised over the Internet and was acting alone.

To address this problem this week we will propose further recommendations on what we expect from the Internet companies in terms of removing terrorist content.

The social media have a unique power of multiplying effect, the network effect, as they call it, and unfortunately it is also used by the bad part of our societies.

So, in our proposal we will aim at to target the terrorist content and urge the social media platforms to work extremely fast.

Europeans expect that; the responsibility of the platforms for the speed of spreading radicalisation is becoming clearer. They are the part of the problem. And they must be a part of the solution.

  • Secondly, to tackle radicalisation more widely, we can help to mobilise practitioners, create platforms for exchange and mobilise funds. That is why we are supporting the Radicalisation Awareness Network Centre of Excellence, where expertise of local practitioners is connected to each other.

And we mobilised €25 million for the next 4 years to help this Network to fulfil its mission. Overall in the EU budget we have €314 million for anti-radicalisation projects until 2020 for different projects across the EU.

And there is of course the work we are trying to do here today – to fight and prevent radicalisation in prisons. While often not in the spotlight, the facts are telling that this could be one of the key elements of our response.

Recently in France, several prison officers were attacked by inmates, and some of them were possibly identified as radicalised.

The leaders of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, received their education in terror in prisons.

And stories from Europe are also worrying. Amedy Coulibaly who attacked customers in the Kosher store in Paris and Cherif Kouachi, one of the attackers on the HQ of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were radicalised in French prisons.


In 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, I felt very strongly that we need to discuss this matter at European level. There was real risk that prisons could become breeding grounds for terrorism, with implications across the European Union.

That is why we organised our first conference on Radicalisation in Prisons. This was a high-level event, attended by 16 Justice Ministers from different Member States. This event clearly confirmed the urgency to come together and improve our response to radicalisation.

I also took the decision to redirect some of our funding under the Justice programme to preventing radicalisation in prisons.

I am therefore delighted that, just over two years later we are funding 19 projects in the area of radicalisation under the Justice programme. And I am especially delighted that many of the project managers are here today to share their experience.

While prison management is a matter for Member States, there is clearly a case for exchange of practice and learning from each other on how to tackle radicalisation in prisons.

So how can we keep radicalisation from spreading in prisons?

Unfortunately, we still don't have a definitive answer. The projects we are going to discuss today will shed more light into what works and what doesn't.

That's why the EU's contribution in this area is also very vital. We have provided the necessary financial support to:

  • develop risk assessment methodologies,
  • promote alternatives to detention,
  • explore the role of probation and
  • support the training of judges, prosecutors and prison and probation staff at EU level.


And, we already have some promising results, such as a strengthened juvenile justice system in several Member States or an early warning system to detect and prevent extremist deviations among inmates.

We need to invest in de-radicalisation, disengagement and rehabilitation programmes, also to avoid that released prisoners will return to violence.


We also need tools to identify the different profiles in order to be able to provide the most appropriate criminal justice response.


Prison and probation staff should be adequately trained to carry out their work efficiently and humanely.


We are not alone in this endeavour: a large number of recommendations have been issued over the last year at European and international level, including by the Council of Europe, the UN or the Global Counter Terrorism Forum.


In the meantime, radicalisation in prisons has also been identified as one of the priority topics to be dealt with by the High-Level Expert Group on Radicalisation, which was recently set up by the Commission.


This group has made specific recommendations, such as to map the existing practices to counter radicalisation in prisons, to explore the organisation of voluntary peer reviews of existing programmes, and to increase relevant study visits throughout the EU.


It would be good if the output of this conference and the suggestions made by you could feed into the future work of the Expert Group.


We need all hands on board approach in managing the rehabilitation and reintegration of the violent extremist offenders, both whilst in prison and upon release to the community. Prison authorities must work closely with judges and prosecutors, police, security services, and other law enforcement agencies tasked with tackling extremism.

But to add to the challenge, we are operating in a highly sensitive political environment. Any response to radicalisation has to be not only effective, but also politically palatable.

Here Europe's involvement can help, too. By comparing our experiences and agreeing on wider than one country solutions we can diffuse some tensions.

And as I said at the beginning, this is also about our shared values.

We have to get collectively better at being proud and telling attractive stories what makes Europe one of the best places to live on the planet. Democracy, respect for the rule of law, equality before the law and respect for minorities are all part of the European identity.


Thank you for coming today, I want to tell you that the jobs you are doing are crucial and very timely.


I hope this conference provides you with the opportunity to get to know the different actors in this field. I encourage you to continue your exchanges at the future events to be organised in the coming months by the projects which are co-funded by the European Union.


I wish you very fruitful discussions today.


Thank you very much for your attention.


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