LIBE Committee joint debate on counter-terrorism, deradicalisation and foreign fighters

Address by FRA Director Morten Kjaerum to the European Parliament LIBE Committee joint debate on counter-terrorism, deradicalisation and foreign fighters, 27 January 2015.

Mr Chairman, Members of LIBE,

Allow me first of all to thank your for the invitation to this important event to discuss the difficult and complex issues that Europe is confronted with. Today’s commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day gives this issue special significance.

The horrific attacks in Paris have challenged our sense of safety. In response,  Europe raised its security alert levels – but at the same time we need to raise our ‘fundamental rights alert’ level, in order to ensure our security responses respect precisely those values and freedoms that were so viciously attacked.

And indeed, instruments that may increase our security in the short-term cannot be seen as a panacea, but will need to be a part of a broader strategy to counter radicalisation. First and foremost, any such measures need to be proportionate to their intended goal and include built-in legal safeguards – fundamental rights by design so to speak.

With reference to calls for a European PNR, the issue of proportionality and necessity continues to be of importance, as it has strong parallels to the Data Retention legislation, which was eventually invalidated by the Court of Justice. Some fundamental rights risks are inherent to any PNR system, and their proportionality and necessity would need to be carefully examined by the EU legislator. As the Agency’s guidance to EU Member States on setting up PNR systems states, introducing clear and strict limitations on purpose, enhanced personal data safeguards or increased transparency of the system towards passengers should be among the minimum requirements. 

In the past weeks, we have also heard calls for increased monitoring of those who might have undergone violent radicalisation. But while monitoring of individuals suspected of criminal activity is a legitimate preventive instrument, surveillance of entire groups or profiling based solely on ethnicity or religion is not.

Any measures that aim to detect radicalised individuals become counterproductive if they are seen to be targeting an entire community, as they further alienate them and undermine their trust in the authorities. We have evidence of this: FRA’s EU Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS) showed clearly that this trust is an issue, with 40% of Muslim respondents who had previously been stopped by the police believing this was specifically due to their immigrant or minority background. This lack of trust in key authorities is a driver towards radicalisation. The Agency is now in the course of repeating this survey, allowing us to identify trends over a longer period.

It is therefore clear that anyresponse to radicalisation and its consequences needs to be comprehensive and include issues of stregthening social inclusion as well as law enforcement tools. Mr Chairman, I fully agree with your statement that a new counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation roadmap would need to be based on a combination of not only detection and repression, but also prevention and protection.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, FRA has collected early reactions by Muslim and Jewish communities, as well as policy responses by the authorities and civil society around the EU. Two points emerge:

  1. Fear is now affecting both Muslim and Jewish communities: Jewish schools are closing temporarily and mosques are receiving police protection. There are calls from both communities to receive a higher level of protection.
  2. Community and religious leaders united in condemning the attacks and highlighting their barbarity. For example in Germany, representatives of 13 Muslim and migrant umbrella organisations held a joint press conference that called for unity in the face of terrorism and violence. This is an opportunity for policymakers to use the momentum and support initiatives that both tackle radicalisation and build strong bonds between different communities.

To conclude: I believe that improving participation in society, which is our main tool against radicalisation, is impossible without mutual understanding and mutual respect on the part of all communities. After all, the vast majority of migrants and religious minorities living in Europe share the core values as expressed in the treaty. And as First Vice-President Timmermans said just last week, no matter whether you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian or atheist, you have a place in European society. For me, this is the key to the solution, but there is still a long way to go.

Thank you.