30th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities – 22 to 24 March 2016

Rising to the challenges of creating intercultural societies at local level

Leen Verbeek (Netherland, SOC), Vice-President of the Congress      

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Dear colleagues,

It has been a year since we adopted our Strategy to combat radicalisation and, as thematic spokesperson of the Congress on radicalisation issues, I would like to give you a short review of what we have done and what we plan to do. The terrorist attacks carried out in 2015 in Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen and the recent attacks in Ankara and other cities are reminders of the terrible devastation that a refusal to understand and accept others can cause. They also highlight the need for cities to do more in order to effectively tackle radicalisation and to rise to the challenges of creating intercultural societies.

Terrorism in our societies is first and foremost a security issue.

However, the growing radicalisation of young people that we are seeing is best tackled at the local level, by prevention initiatives, intercultural and interreligious dialogue and the reintegration into society of individuals who have become radicalised.

This is why, in February 2015, the Bureau of the Congress adopted a strategy to combat radicalisation at grassroots level, with proposals for activities to be carried out in the short, medium and long term, which was followed up with Resolution 381 on “Combatting radicalisation at grassroots level:”, where we committed ourselves to:

-          establishing guidelines for local and regional authorities on preventing radicalisation and manifestations of hate at grass-roots level;

-          creating a toolkit for use by local elected representatives for intercultural and inter-faith activities;

-          compiling and updating the relevant texts of the Congress ; and

-          building on existing co-operation with relevant networks such as the European Forum for Urban Security (EFUS).

Some of these activities and initiatives have already been successfully carried out.

At our last session in October 2015, we adopted Guidelines on preventing radicalisation. In these guidelines, we highlight several points.

First, that combatting radicalisation requires our local and regional leaders take balanced and well-designed rational measures.

Second, we believe that, in the long run, prevention is more rational and cost-effective than combatting symptoms and last-minute crises.

Prevention and de-radicalisation activities – rather than repressive ones – are the type of action that corresponds best to our competences. Municipalities and regional councils have a key role to play here, since radicalisation can be best contained at a level closest to the vulnerable individuals.

Third, local and regional authorities should support exit programs for individuals willing to leave extremism, especially religious oriented extremism.

Fourth, we emphasise the vital role that schools play in building resilience to radicalisation.

And finally we need to raise awareness among local authorities about existing good practice.

With this last aspect of the guidelines in mind, the Congress and EFUS co-organised a Conference “Towards an alliance of European cities against violent extremism”, on 18 November 2015 in Aarhus, Denmark. This conference, which brought together mayors and representatives of cities and regions from 22 European countries, was an excellent starting point to raise awareness and to provide a space to exchange experiences and information on promising practices, existing programmes and tools.

At the end of the conference, the participants adopted a declaration, highlighting the importance of this network which, through its members’ knowledge of their area and population, can contribute to an early warning system for any drift towards radicalisation.

The participants also endorsed the proposal to launch an alliance of cities for the prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism and it is our intent to launch this alliance at the European Summit of mayors that the Congress will co-organise with EFUS on 9 November 2016 in Rotterdam.

In the meantime, we shall also be able to present you, at our next session, the final report foreseen in the Congress Strategy to combat radicalisation. This report, which is being prepared jointly by the Current Affairs and Governance Committees, will be a reflection document on the follow-up of the strategy, notably with a view to compiling and updating the relevant texts of the Congress which promote citizen participation, living together in diversity, social inclusion and cohesion, intercultural and interfaith dialogue.

Dear colleagues,

In the guidelines we adopted at the last session we stressed the importance of urban security in the fight against radicalisation, highlighting that security and safety were fundamental rights.

We also underlined that it is critical, for the respect of human rights, to strike a balance with the safety and security of our citizens, weighing the necessity and proportionality of each action. When introducing any measures that might compromise individual rights, public authorities must ensure that their actions are guided not only by the rule of law but also by the strategic aim of building an inclusive society.

As we progress, we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of this goal of building an inclusive society. We have to promote efforts and activities aimed at making our societies more inclusive in order to avoid social fragmentation, conflict and the risk of undermining fundamental rights and freedoms. We have to rise to the challenges of creating intercultural societies.

The report that will be debated today, on the promotion of intercultural and interreligious dialogue as a means to prevent radicalisation, outlines this dimension. 

Thank you for your attention.