Radicalization is a growing cross-border threat. But what is it, what are the causes and what is the EU doing to prevent it? Radicalization is not a new phenomenon, but it is increasingly a challenge, with new technologies and the growing polarisation of society making it a serious threat throughout the EU.
The terrorist attacks in Europe over the last few years, many of which were perpetrated by European citizens, highlight the persistent threat of homegrown radicalization, which is defined by the European Commission as the phenomenon of people embracing opinions, views and ideas, which could lead to acts of terrorism.
Ideology is an intrinsic part of the radicalisation process, with religious fundamentalism often at its heart.
However, radicalisation is rarely fuelled by ideology or religion alone. It often starts with individuals who are frustrated with their lives, society or the domestic and foreign policies of their governments. There is no single profile of someone who is likely to become involved in extremism, but people from marginalised communities and experiencing discrimination or loss of identity provide fertile ground for recruitment.
Western Europe’s involvement in conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Syria is also considered to have a radicalising effect, especially on migrant communities.
How and where do people become radicalized?
Radicalization processes draw on social networks for joining and staying connected. Physical and online networks provide spaces in which people can become radicalised and the more closed these spaces are, the more they can function as echo chambers where participants mutually affirm extreme beliefs without being challenged.
The internet is one of the primary channels for spreading extremist views and recruiting individuals. Social media have magnified the impact of both jihadist and far-right extremist propaganda by providing easy access to a wide target audience and giving terrorist organisations the possibility to use "narrowcasting" to target recruits or raise "troll armies" to support their propaganda. According to the 2020 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend report, over the last few years, encrypted messaging applications, such as WhatsApp or Telegram, have been widely used for co-ordination, attack planning and the preparation of campaigns.
Some extremist organisations have also been known to target schools, universities and places of worship, such as mosques.
Prisons can also be fertile ground for radicalization, due to the closed environment. Deprived of their social networks, inmates are more likely than elsewhere to explore new beliefs and associations and become radicalised, while understaffed prisons are often unable to pick up on extremist activities.
The EU’s fight to prevent radicalization
Although the main responsibility for addressing radicalization lies with the EU countries, tools have been developed to help at EU level:
- The Radicalization Awareness Network is a network of frontline practitioners from across Europe, such as teachers, policy officers and prison authorities, who work with people who have been or are vulnerable to radicalisation.
- Europol’s Internet Referral Unit scans the web for online terrorist material and refers it to host platforms. Since its creation in 2015, it has referred more than 130,000 pieces of content to internet companies (over 25,000 in 2019).
- In December 2020, the European Parliament endorsed the EU Security Union strategy 2020-2025 and the new Counter-Terrorism Agenda, which aims to prevent radicalisation by providing, for example, opportunities for young people at risk and supporting the rehabilitation of radicalized prisoners.
- At the end of 2020 Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on rules forcing online platforms to remove terrorist content within one hour. Endorsed by Parliament’s civil liberties committee, the agreement has to be formally approved by Parliament and the Council before entering into force.
Vice President Schinas and Commissioner Johansson to participate in informal videoconference of Home Affairs Ministers
Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas, and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, will take part in the informal videoconference of Home Affairs Ministers today (14 December). The meeting will start with an update by the German Presidency of the Council on the negotiations on the proposal for a Regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online, where a political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council was found yesterday. Ministers will then discuss conclusions on internal security and on the European police partnership, against the background of the Commission's Counter-Terrorism Agenda and the proposal for reinforced mandate for Europol which were presented on Wednesday.
Finally, participants will take stock of the ongoing work towards making information systems for external border management interoperable. In the afternoon, Ministers will discuss the Pact on Migration and Asylum, proposed by the Commission on 23 September, including a discussion on the EU engagement with partner countries on effective readmission and migration management. The incoming Portuguese Presidency will present its work programme. A press conference with Commissioner Johansson will take place at +/- 17.15h CET, which you can follow live on EbS.
Council presidency and European Parliament reach a provisional agreement on removing online terrorist content
The EU is working to stop terrorists from using the internet to radicalise, recruit and incite to violence. Today (10 December), the Council Presidency and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on a draft regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online.
The aim of the legislation is a swift removal of terrorist content online and to establish one common instrument for all member states to this effect. The proposed rules will apply to hosting service providers offering services in the EU, whether or not they have their main establishment in the member states. Voluntary co-operation with these companies will continue, but the legislation will provide additional tools for member states to enforce the rapid removal of terrorist content where necessary. The draft legislation provides for a clear scope and a clear uniform definition of terrorist content in order to fully respect the fundamental rights protected in the EU's legal order and notably those guaranteed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.
Competent authorities in the member states will have the power to issue removal orders to the service providers, to remove terrorist content or disable access to it in all member states. The service providers will then have to remove or disable access to the content within one hour. Competent authorities in the member states where the service provider is established receive a right to scrutiny removal orders issued by other member states.
Cooperation with the service providers will be facilitated through the establishment of points of contact to facilitate the handling of removal orders.
It will be up to member states to lay down the rules on penalties in case of non-compliance with the legislation.
Specific measures by service providers
Hosting service providers exposed to terrorist content will need to take specific measures to address the misuse of their services and to protect their services against the dissemination of terrorist content. The draft regulation is very clear that the decision as to the choice of measures remains with the hosting service provider.
Political agreement on removing online #terrorist content reached!
Terrorists use videos & live streaming of attacks as a recruitment tool.
This agreement will help National Authorities & Online Platforms limit the harm of this toxic content.https://t.co/sJkZSrLsp4#EUCO #TCO pic.twitter.com/FB0s6BmqwG
— Ylva Johansson (@YlvaJohansson) December 10, 2020
Service providers which have taken action against the dissemination of terrorist content in a given year will have to make publicly available transparency reports on the action taken during that period.
The proposed rules also ensure that the rights of ordinary users and businesses will be respected, including freedom of expression and information and freedom to conduct a business. This includes effective remedies for both users whose content has been removed and for service providers to submit a complaint.
This proposal was submitted by the European Commission on 12 September 2018, following a call by EU leaders in June of that year.
The proposal builds on the work of the EU Internet Forum, launched in December 2015 as a framework of voluntary cooperation between member states and representatives of major internet companies to detect and address online terrorist content. Cooperation through this forum has not been sufficient to tackle the problem and on 1 March 2018, the Commission adopted a recommendation on measures to effectively tackle illegal content online.
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