29th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 20-22 October 2015)

The fight against radicalisation: the Congress adopts guidelines

On 20 October 2015, during its 29th Session in Strasbourg, France, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe adopted guidelines for local and regional authorities on the prevention of radicalisation and manifestations of hate at grassroots level. These guidelines adopted by the Bureau of the Congress on 2 February 2015 form part of a strategy to combat radicalisation which proposes a range of activities to be conducted at local and regional level in the short, medium and long term. Adopted virtually unanimously, they recommend that local and regional authorities devise strategies for involving civil society in their action against radicalisation and extremism in all their forms, including hate speech, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. 

The terrorist attacks perpetrated at the beginning of the year in Paris and Copenhagen and more recently in Ankara, and the threat from far-right extremism, have highlighted the fact that towns and cities should take more initiatives to effectively tackle extremism. Nowadays, many European cities have inhabitants of different nationalities and cultures. Local authorities have a responsibility towards those of their citizens who suffer the consequences of radicalisation, which can lead not only to the use of violence but also to words and acts which violate freedom of expression and religion.

The resolution adopted, which was prepared and presented by Leen Verbeek (Netherlands, SOC), stresses that individuals can become radicalised for a multitude of reasons, and the local, cultural and social context affects the radicalisation process. Tackling radicalisation requires preventive measures, which, in the long term, are much more rational and effective than combating symptoms or full-blown crises. “In the face of radicalisation and violent extremism, repression alone is not the solution. To combat these phenomena, it is essential to take preventive action. This is the area of action par excellence of local authorities”, stressed the rapporteur.

This is a view shared by Guilherme Pinto, President of the European Forum for Urban security (EFUS), who, speaking in the debate, pointed out that “it is impossible to choose between freedom and security because they are mutually dependent. It is therefore necessary to ensure both at the same time”. Noting that radicalisation is not the only form of extremism, he mentioned the example of the attack, just before the local elections, on a candidate for the office of Mayor of Cologne in Germany. Henriette Reker, who was elected Mayor of Cologne in her hospital bed, was the victim of a knife attack a few days before the election by a man with far right links, because of her policy on admitting refugees.

In the opinion of Guilherme Pinto, “local authorities are in charge of many policies which must be mobilised to prevent radicalisation. As well as involving their own services, they form a link between the other players working on the ground, social workers, youth workers, different associations, civil society, schools, the police and national governments”.  

The added value represented by local authorities was also mentioned by the President of the Val d’Oise département council in France, Arnaud Bazin. Being responsible for social welfare action, the département council assists and cares for vulnerable people, including children in danger or at risk of being in danger and people facing difficulties of all kinds. In the opinion of Arnaud Bazin, “prevention depends on essential actions such as training, knowledge, exchanges between authorities and interdisciplinarity”. Stressing the secular nature of the French Republic, he said that “the question today is to respond to the unprecedented challenge posed by a resurgence of  the expression of Islam in our secular, developed and post-colonial society, a society which has also been faced for over 30 years with serious problems of unemployment and urban ghettos”.

Jeffrey Donaldson, general rapporteur on local and regional authorities for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, referred to the Northern Ireland conflict, “where people of all ages joined the ranks of the extremists and became radicalised”, before adding that “extremist movements, whatever camp they belong to, threaten democracies and peaceful societies”.

Some ten speakers took the floor in the course of the discussion. Josef Neumann (Germany, SOC) wondered about the reasons which led people to support “anti-democratic discourse”, stressing that “extremists are very skilled at using the new media”. Irene Dourou (Greece, NI-NR) and Tracey Simpson-Laing (United Kingdom, SOC) both described the text as a “sound basis for the work to be accomplished”. However, they thought that it should go into more detail and, in particular, deal with the real causes of extremism and radicalisation.

The fight against radicalisation will undoubtedly be a lengthy process. It will be necessary to involve civil society and support de-radicalisation programmes with stable long-term financing. In this context, a first “Conference of local authorities on the prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism”, jointly organised by the Congress and EFUS, together with the cities of Aarhus (Denmark) and Rotterdam (Netherlands), will be held on 18 November 2015 in Aarhus, a city where a reintegration programme has already been put in, place for radicalised (and repentant) individuals and which is often cited as an example to be followed.