Countering radicalisation: European perspectives

invitation only · Auditorium of the Parliament of Finland · 27.02.2014 09:00 - 11:00
  • invitation only

invitation only

Long lasting conflicts tend to have spillover effects regarding radical activism. For example, Syrian civil
war has lured many European volunteers to fight in the ranks of very radical organizations. At the same
time hundreds of thousands of people have escaped the horrors of war to Europe. Amongst them there
are also people who are willing to support the radical groupings. As many previous examples of conflicts
and their repercussions have shown, diaspora communities offer a potential growing ground for different
types of radicalism even decades after settling down, blurring the line between “internal” and “external”
This seminar offers the perspectives and experiences of the British and their PREVENT strategy, which
is one of the most followed example of policies against radicalization, and the French policies in the
European near neighbourhood, mostly from the Sahel region and the Middle East. Is it possible to build
a bridge from local experiences to global work on countering radicalization? What is the role of the
European Union and are the policies of internal and external security coherent?
Teija Tiilikainen, Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
‘Prevent’ in the UK and practical experiences of Countering Radicalisation
Superintendent Stephen Pemberton and Inspector Andrea Bradbury, the Serious and Organised Crime Unit and the Counter Terrorism
Branch in Lancashire Constabulary 
Acting against the external terrorist threat : a French perspective
Alexandre Garcia, the Head of the Service of Transversal Threats, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Building bridges: Preventive policies in wider perspective
Magnus Ranstorp, Research Director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies (CATS), the Swedish
National Defence College
Teemu Sinkkonen, Senior Research Fellow, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Summary of the seminar
The seminar dealt with practical as well as theoretical perspectives on how to counter radicalisation tendencies affecting European countries on an internal and external level. In her opening remarks Dr. Teija Tiilikainen emphasized that even though radicalism can be traced back to a wide range of different roots, sharing policy experiences – especially in practical terms – about how to address this challenge is of major importance in order to improve counteraction. The seminar which was organised in cooperation with the British and the French embassy aimed to offer, through its international set of speakers, insights from different European countries, namely Great Britain, France, Finland and Sweden.
Superintendent Stephen Pemberton and Inspector Andrea Bradbury presented in their contribution the British “Prevent” strategy which is based around four work streams known as the four ‘P’s: ‘Prevent’ refers to strategies to stop people from becoming or supporting terrorists, while ‘pursue’ relates to prosecuting and impeding actual plans. ‘Protect’ intends to identify possible threats and reduce vulnerabilities. ‘Prepare’ is meant to mitigate the impact of attacks that could not be obstructed in advance. The fundamental character of these streams is that the motives and intentions of radicalism have to be examined and understood. This is due to the fact that there is no single profile of terrorists, but their actions might rather derive from different reasons like an identity crisis, peer pressures or grievance.
The British strategy, which was first established in 2008 and revised in 2011, constitutes a national counter terrorism policy that aims at regional coordination and localized action. In these terms the identification of possible spots for recruitment, like schools or mosques as well as key figures of high social influence in the local communities, are very important. Nowadays pressure or appeals set up through social media platforms and inspiring magazines with radicalising content have also a major impact. The British strategy to counter these developments comprises that localized action mainly aims at understanding the cultural needs and motives of the risk category. A deliberate and prudent use of language is in these regards inevitable in order to achieve positive results. Through a special focus on families, not only individuals are safeguarded from becoming a terrorist, but also cycles of reproduction of radical thoughts and action are broken.
Mr Pemberton and Mrs Bradbury concluded that the ‘prevent’ strategy is challenging and also has been challenged. However it has received very good feedback from the local communities due to the values based on trust, empathy and intercultural understanding.
While the presented British perspective focused on the internal dimension of counterterrorist action, the French contribution made by Alexandre Garcia rather concentrated on the external dimension of radicalisation. According to his remarks, the world is nowadays facing a turning point in international terrorism. A new generation of terrorists coming from all over the globe, trained in camps located for instance in Libya and Syria, plays a more and more important role in crisis regions. To validate this claim Mr Garcia examined the situation in Syria, Mali and Libya.
In Syria the main area of terrorist influence lies in the north of the country. Thereby it is striking that the regime of Bashar al-Assad actually supports radical opposition forces like Al-Qa’ida in attempt to weaken the credibility of moderate forces. The conflict attracts young foreign fighters worldwide, thus also becoming a growing threat for European countries in terms of their national security. The case of Mali illustrates how a military intervention can help to stop terrorist forces. The concise action of the French army and troops from other African countries led to an at least temporary ceasefire and made it possible to hold legitimate presidential elections in 2013. The ultimate aim is to enable the Malian leadership so that it is capable of governing its own territory. Nevertheless the objective has been challenged through recent renewed terrorist attacks in January 2014. In addition Libya turns out to be a “Heaven for terrorists”. The country is a base for coordinating activities, sharing information and training new terrorist who are a potential threat for European countries.
All in all, Mr Garcia admitted that France does not a have such perfected strategy as the British ‘prevent’ model to encounter the external challenges on an internal basis. However, commonly used practices are strengthening legislation in terms of prosecution and freezing assets. In terms of enhancing counterterrorism through pooling capacities and knowledge, he identified the EU as the most adequate framework to take action against radicalisation on an internal and external dimension.
In her comments on the British and the French perspective Tiina Jortikka-Laitinen, former Finnish Ambassador to Tunisia and currently Ambassador for Global Issues picked up the suggestion of coordinated European action. Finland’s strategy is based on a national action plan, focusing on the middle ground of counterterrorism. Nevertheless major problems do exist such as counteraction is taken too slowly and the key factors like the impact of young people getting radicalised are often underestimated. The last few years are identified as a missed opportunity for the EU in terms of preventing the emergence of radical groups. Therefore there is an urgent need to communalize information and actions, which enables a dialogue with extremist groups of any kind and focuses especially on the consequences of economic downturn, disillusions the young generation. Furthermore soft tools should be fully exhausted before counterterrorist actions turn violent.
Finally Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, who comes from an academic perspective, gave an insight on counter-radicalisation policies on the EU level, claiming the contextual complexity of following issues: while problems are easy to point out, tackling them is very complicated, due to their multiple dimensions and dynamics. With regard to concrete policies it is of great importance to meet an appropriate balance between freedom and security in theory and to find influential contacts to engage with in practice. Thereby the role of families and women was especially emphasized.
The corresponding EU strategy leans on the British model, consisting of the streams ‘prevent’, ‘protect’, ‘pursuit’ and ‘respond’. According to Dr. Ranstorp, the EU should prioritize to strengthen the creation of national strategies and capabilities as well as the search for and collection of good practices. One main approach therefore is the establishment of the EU-wide Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) which focuses on deconstructing extremist narratives, facilitating exchange of experiences and contacts as well regional and local support for families and women. Departing from that, Dr. Ranstorp ended his remarks with an insight on how local action is pursued in the Swedish city Göteborg.
At the end of the seminar the floor was opened for questions and comments from the audience. These were dealing for instance with the importance of religious motives for radicalisation as well as the prospects for further EU cooperation and European security in a world, increasingly threatened by terrorist actions.