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Monitoring radicalisation risks in Central and Southeast Europe: Shaping diagnostic tools for EU policymakers
The rise of Islamist and right-wing radicalisation processes among disaffected young people is pushing some to acts of terrorism and is a growing concern. Many EU Member States have been proactive in countering this phenomenon and have acquired substantial experience in developing prevention and de-radicalisation policies and programmes. However, many European national authorities have followed a ‘trial-and-error’ approach, adopting untried and untested measures in the face of an immediate threat and in response to public concerns.

A variety of diagnostic tools and mechanisms, designed to identify potentially dangerous, radicalising individuals and groups, have already been deployed in a number of EU Member States. For countries in Central and Southeast Europe, in particular, radicalisation presents a new policy priority. Reliable diagnostic tools, designed to identify individuals and groups who might pose a threat, or are vulnerable to radicalisation, are needed, along with an accurate assessment of trends in extremist and terrorist activity and actors, not least in order to guide effective policy action, both in those countries and across Europe more generally.

What is the extent of the radicalisation risks in Central and Southeast Europe? What knowledge and methodology gaps exist in monitoring the radicalisation phenomenon in those regions? How can the EU better support Member States in identifying, monitoring and countering the Islamist and right-wing radicalisation in Europe, and how can the research community and EU policymakers work better together to address this threat? These were the main questions discussed during an expert round table on 23 February 2017, organised by the Center for the Study of Democracy in cooperation with the European Policy Centre and held in Brussels.

Andrea Frontini, Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre (EPC), delivered welcome remarks and provided some background on the rise of both right-wing and Islamist radicalisation across Europe, enumerating some of its root causes and the challenges these posed for European governments and societies, and for the European Union (EU) as such.

Günther Sablatting, Adviser, Office of the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, highlighted that while the number of foreign fighters (FFs) leaving Europe to join ISIS/Daesh in the Middle East had been decreasing in the past few months, the issue of returnees was expected to become more prominent in the near future, including when it came to FFs’ accompanying family members such as women and children. He also hinted at the migration-radicalisation nexus as an emerging policy topic, but also one marked by a high degree of (toxic) politicisation. He also presented EU’s multi-dimensional approach to radicalisation as one combining repressive, preventive and domestic and external engagement measures, and insisted in particular on information and data-sharing among EU Member States as a crucial pillar of that approach. The need to tackle current and future returnees, the improvement of conditions in prisons to prevent their role as radicalisation ‘hotbeds’, and the importance of engaging with Islamic moderate voices, were also pointed out.

Rositsa Dzhekova, Coordinator, Security Program, Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD), provided a first overview of the main findings of the two Reports produced by CSD and other partners on, respectively, “Monitoring Radicalisation: A Framework for Risk Indicators” and “Situational Assessment of Extremist Trends”, tackling in particular the theme of working methods in monitoring radicalisation risks in Central and Southeast Europe. She highlighted the need for tailored solutions for that region, since radicalisation-related lessons learnt and best practice from Western Europe did not always seem to apply there. She pointed to home-grown radicalisation as a worrying trend in Central and Southeast Europe, and presented a ‘monitoring toolkit model’ based on situational assessment of local extremist trends and a tested methodology being applied to Bulgaria, Greece and the Czech Republic, among others. She concluded by presenting a number of main conclusions and recommendations, including on the need for a unified institutional mechanism to provide effective public policies against radicalisation.

Mila Mancheva, Senior Analyst, Sociological Program, Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD), complemented the first report presentation by focussing on risk indicators of radicalisation trends in those regions. She first presented a series of behavioural and cognitive indicator categories, and then zoomed on national case studies in the countries concerned, insisting in particular on radicalisation trends in a local Roma community in Bulgaria. She noted that factors such as a charismatic (radicalising) leader, the community’s high mobility, societal circumstances, and contacts with radical mosques in Western Europe, all played a role in triggering the phenomenon. Looking at recommendations for the policymakers concerned by anti/counter-radicalisation measures, she highlighted, among others, the need to develop appropriate institutional structures, provide effective mechanisms for practitioners, and build-up targeted capacities, knowledge and expertise.

Alexander Ritzmann, Executive Director, European Foundation for Democracy (EFD) and Co-Chairman, Communication and Narratives Working Group, Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), first congratulated the reports’ authors for the work carried, noting that often times research was unable to take the essence of complexity and provide workable advice for policymakers. He then reflected on the challenges facing the ‘prevention side’ of radicalisation, marked by a small but growing expert community. He highlighted a set of priority areas to increase responsiveness by policymakers at all levels, namely focussing on Islamist radicalisation given its prominent role in this context, strengthening resilience, promoting positive role models and focusing on selected factors such as ideology, recruiters and hotbeds. He also stressed the circumstance-specific patterns of radicalisation, encompassing motives as diverse as petty crime pedigrees, discrimination, mental illness but also intellectual sophistication and foreign policy grievances. He then pointed to the ‘ideology factor’ as one deserving further investigation, and argued that empowerment of credible voices and an effective counter-narrative provided key elements of a working prevention strategy at all levels.

Alexandra Antoniadis, Head of Sector, Fight against Terrorism and Prevention of Radicalisation, Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME), European Commission, first stressed that prevention was key, along with tackling fundamental issues like returnees and the concrete implementation of counter-terrorism/radicalisation legislation at national and EU level. She then highlighted the added value of the EU in this policy field as two-fold: on the one hand, as an ‘information multiplier’, on the other as one having a ‘convening power’, as witnessed by the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) and the ‘EU Internet Forum’, among others. She then focussed on the EU’s role in enhancing national capacities, notably via funding, support to training and sharing of best practice among EU Member States, empowerment of civil society organisations (CSOs), and wider networking with policymakers and operators at various levels. Among the emerging and foreseeable challenges for the future, she listed the ones of transferability, the need for a strategic framework/vision for Member States, the importance of a truly multi-agency model for public authorities, information-sharing among all the actors concerned, the applicability of radicalisation risk indicators, and the implementation of concrete actions on the ground.

During the following debate with the expert audience, participants discussed counter-terrorism and anti-radicalisation cooperation with third countries, how to identify and empower alternative messages and messengers, lessons learnt from UK’s PREVENT programme, how to engage with teachers and schools across Europe, the role of Salafi mosques and potential radicalisation risks in Roma communities in Bulgaria, the rise of right-wing extremism in Greece, radicalisation of individuals having a Western Balkans background in Austria, and the state of play of right-wing and Islamist radicalisation in the Czech Republic, among other topics.

Agenda (Adobe PDF, 270 KB)

Presentation 'Monitoring radicalisation risks in Central and Southeast Europe' by Rositsa Dzhekova, Coordinator, Security Program, Center for the Study of Democracy and Dr. Mila Mancheva, Senior Analyst, Sociological Program, Center for the Study of Democracy (Adobe PDF, 1.25 MB)
Presentation 'Monitoring radicalisation: A Framework for risk indicators for first line officers' by Rositsa Dzhekova, Coordinator, Security Program, Center for the Study of Democracy and Dr. Mila Mancheva, Senior Analyst, Sociological Program, Center for the Study of Democracy (Adobe PDF, 387 MB)
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