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Radicalization

Radicalization in the EU: What is it? How can it be prevented? 

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Radicalisation poses a threat to our society  

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.

Find out about EU measures to stop terrorism.

What is radicalization?

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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.

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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:

Defence

Vice President Schinas and Commissioner Johansson to participate in informal videoconference of Home Affairs Ministers

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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.

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Defence

Council presidency and European Parliament reach a provisional agreement on removing online terrorist content

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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.

Removal orders

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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.

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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.

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.

Background

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.

Response to the terrorist threat and recent terrorist attacks in Europe (background information)

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Crime

Security Union: A Counter-Terrorism Agenda and stronger Europol to boost the EU's resilience

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Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “The inclusive and rights-based foundations of our Union are our strongest protection against the threat of terrorism. By building inclusive societies where everyone can find their place, we reduce the appeal of extremist narratives. At the same time, the European way of life is not optional and we must do all in our power to prevent those that seek to undo it. With today's Counter-Terrorism Agenda we are putting the focus on investing in the resilience of our societies with measures to better counter radicalisation and to protect our public spaces from attacks through targeted measures.”

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Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, said: “With today's Counter-Terrorism Agenda, we are boosting experts' ability to anticipate new threats, we are helping local communities to prevent radicalisation, we are giving cities the means to protect open public spaces through good design and we are ensuring that we can respond quickly and more efficiently to attacks and attempted attacks. We are also proposing to give Europol the modern means to support EU countries in their investigations.”

Measures to anticipate, prevent, protect and respond

The recent spate of attacks on European soil have served as a sharp reminder that terrorism remains a real and present danger. As this threat evolves, so too must our cooperation to counter it.

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The Counter-Terrorism Agenda aims at:

  • Identifying vulnerabilities and building capacity to anticipate threats

To better anticipate threats as well as potential blind spots, Member States should make sure that the Intelligence and Situation Centre (EU INTCEN) can rely on high quality input to increase our situational awareness. As part of its upcoming proposal on the resilience of critical infrastructure, the Commission will set up advisory missions to support Member States in carrying out risk assessments, building on the experience of a pool of EU Protective Security Advisors. Security research will help enhance early detection of new threats, whilst investing in new technologies will help Europe's counter terrorism response stay ahead of the curve.

  • Preventing attacks by addressing radicalisation

To counter the spread of extremist ideologies online, it is important that the European Parliament and the Council adopt the rules on removing terrorist content online as a matter of urgency. The Commission will then support their application. The EU Internet Forum will develop guidance on moderation for publicly available content for extremist material online.

Promoting inclusion and providing opportunities through education, culture, youth and sports can contribute to making societies more cohesive and preventing radicalisation. The Action Plan on integration and inclusion will help build community resilience.

The Agenda also focuses on strengthening preventive action in prisons, paying specific attention to the rehabilitation and reintegration of radical inmates, including after their release. To disseminate knowledge and expertise on the prevention of radicalisation, the Commission will propose setting up an EU Knowledge Hub gathering policy makers, practitioners and researchers.

Recognizing the specific challenges raised by foreign terrorist fighters and their family members, the Commission will support training and knowledge sharing to help Member States manage their return.

  • Promoting security by design and reducing vulnerabilities to protect cities and people

Many of the recent attacks that took place in the EU targeted densely crowded or highly symbolic spaces. The EU will step up efforts to ensure physical protection of public spaces including places of worship through security by design. The Commission will propose to gather cities around an EU Pledge on Urban Security and Resilience and will make funding available to support them in reducing the vulnerabilities of public spaces. The Commission will also propose measures to make critical infrastructure - such as transport hubs, power stations or hospitals - more resilient. To step up aviation security, the Commission will explore options for a European legal framework to deploy security officers on flights.

All those entering the EU, citizens or not, must be checked against the relevant databases. The Commission will support member states in ensuring such systematic checks at borders. The Commission will also propose a system ensuring that a person who has been denied a firearm on security grounds in one member state cannot lodge a similar request in another Member State, closing an existing loophole.

  • Stepping up operational support, prosecution and victims' rights to better respond to attacks

Police cooperation and information exchange across the EU are key to respond effectively in case of attacks and bring perpetrators to justice. The Commission will propose an EU police cooperation code in 2021 to enhance cooperation between law enforcement authorities, including in the fight against terrorism.

A substantial part of investigations against crime and terrorism involve encrypted information. The Commission will work with Member States to identify possible legal, operational, and technical solutions for lawful access and promote an approach which both maintains the effectiveness of encryption in protecting privacy and security of communications, while providing an effective response to crime and terrorism. To better support investigations and prosecution, the Commission will propose to create a network of counter-terrorism financial investigators involving Europol, to help follow the money trail and identify those involved. The Commission will also further support Member States to use battlefield information to identify, detect and prosecute returning Foreign Terrorists Fighters.

The Commission will work to enhance the protection of victims of terrorist acts, including to improve access to compensation.

The work on anticipating, preventing, protecting and responding to terrorism will involve partner countries, in the EU's neighbourhood and beyond; and rely on stepped up engagement with international organisations. The Commission and the High Representative/Vice-President, as appropriate, will step up cooperation with Western Balkan partners in the area of firearms, negotiate international agreements with Southern Neighbourhood countries to exchange personal data with Europol, and enhance strategic and operational cooperation with other regions such as the Sahel region, the Horn of Africa, other African countries and key regions in Asia.

The Commission will appoint a Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, in charge of coordinating EU policy and funding in the area of counter-terrorism within the Commission, and in close cooperation with the Member States and the European Parliament.

Stronger mandate for Europol

The Commission is proposing today to strengthen the mandate of Europol, the EU Agency for law enforcement cooperation. Given that terrorists often abuse services offered by private companies to recruit followers, plan attacks, and disseminate propaganda inciting further attacks, the revised mandate will help Europol cooperate effectively with private parties, and transmit relevant evidence to Member States. For example, Europol will be able to act as a focal point in case it is not clear which Member State has jurisdiction.

The new mandate will also allow Europol to process large and complex datasets; to improve cooperation with the European Public Prosecutor's Office as well as with non-EU partner countries; and to help develop new technologies that match law enforcement needs. It will strengthen Europol's data protection framework and parliamentary oversight.

Background

Today's Agenda follows from the EU Security Union Strategy for 2020 to 2025, in which the Commission committed to focus on priority areas where the EU can bring value to support Member States in fostering security for those living in Europe.

The Counter-Terrorism Agenda builds on the measures already adopted to deny terrorists the means to carry out attacks and to strengthen resilience against the terrorist threat. That includes EU rules on combating terrorism, on addressing terrorist financing and access to firearms.

More information

Communication on a Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the EU: Anticipate, Prevent, Protect, Respond

Proposal for a Regulation strengthening Europol's mandate

Strengthening Europol's mandate – Impact assessment Part 1

and Part 2

Strengthening Europol's mandate – Executive summary of the impact assessment

A Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the EU and a stronger mandate for Europol: Questions and Answers

Press release: EU Security Union Strategy: connecting the dots in a new security ecosystem, 24 July 2020

Security Union – Commission website

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