Voicing concern about the growing trends of extremism across Europe, the EC proposed various preventive measures for the EU member states.
By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times -- 04/02/13
Students protest against neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn in Athens. [AFP]
Extremism in Europe has risen to a level unseen since World War II, the European Commission (EC) said on Tuesday (January 29th).
"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," EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom said at a conference in Brussels.
"Violent extremism can arise within any ideology, and the threat today mainly comes from within our own societies," she added. "The growing populist, nationalist and xenophobic movements across Europe are a concern to all of us," Malmstrom said, noting that extremists "permeate our online environments and to a growing extent even European politics."
The general elections held in Greece last year after months of deepening economic crisis also showed the grown influence of the country's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which rose from the margins to win 18 out of all 300 seats in the national parliament.
Hundreds of Greeks and immigrants joined a protest against the party in Athens on January 19th, three days after a 27-year-old Pakistani worker was attacked and stabbed to death by two men, in what police have described as a racial murder. The perpetrators were suspected to be Golden Dawn members or supporters.
Those radical groups and movements often serve as hotbeds for ideologically motivated violence, according to Malmstrom.
"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," she stressed. "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."
The participants in Tuesday's conference discussed a set of 15 specific steps for preventing violent extremism. The measures have been drawn up by the Radicalisation Awareness Network launched in September 2011 by the EC, which co-operates and facilitates the activities of those involved in it.
The proposals are based on the understanding that the bulk of the work for preventing violent extremism needs to be done at the local or national level with the participation of various actors, including teachers, community police, health specialists, youth workers and other practitioners.
Borislav Tsekov, head of the Sofia-based Institute for Modern Politics think-tank, viewed the proposals as both timely, as well as needed.
"Hate speech and intolerance have reached extremely high levels in the EU," he told SETimes. "One needs to just take a look at social media to see that. In the case of Bulgaria in particular, the social media abound in groups calling for violence, segregation or discrimination against specific ethnic or religious groups; crime is tolerated and certain criminal acts are even praised. Different variants of this, whether it is directed against specific religions or the multi-cultural model in general, can be seen in many EU countries."
However, he added, it is critical that the proposed measures "do not turn into yet another bureaucratic instrument, as has been the case with many other EU acts and policies, but to stay on both the EC agenda, as well as that of member states' governments."
Professor Georgi Bahchevanov of the National and International Security Department at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia noted that the proposed measures build upon and are in line with the EU internal security strategy adopted in March 2010.
"The systems for early warning, prevention and multilateral co-operation are key elements in the prevention of radicalisation towards violent extremism and the local actors are the ones best placed to take the needed actions in this field," he told SETimes.