EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

Back to EUR-Lex homepage

This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website

Document 52017IE2650

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Cooperation with civil society to prevent the radicalisation of young people’ (own-initiative opinion)

OJ C 129, 11.4.2018, p. 11–17 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)



Official Journal of the European Union

C 129/11

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Cooperation with civil society to prevent the radicalisation of young people’

(own-initiative opinion)

(2018/C 129/03)

Rapporteur: Christian MOOS



Legal basis

Rule 29(2), Rules of Procedure



Section responsible

Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship

Adopted in section


Adopted at plenary


Plenary session No


Outcome of vote



1.   Conclusions


Preventing the radicalisation of young people requires a long-term commitment from various players, and civil society organisations play a major role in the process. Civil society contributes to social and values-based resilience against radicalisation.


Member States and EU institutions need to be more aware of civil society players as partners instead of using them as tools in combating violent extremism. Best practices, programmes and other prevention initiatives already exist in all fields of radicalisation prevention, but they do not get enough sustainable, long-term support and are vulnerable to budget cuts.


The EESC is in favour of adopting a multiagency approach to preventing radicalisation that requires extensive capacity-building in all relevant sectors. It brings together policy-makers, national institutions such as police and prisons, social workers (especially youth workers), academia and the media, entrepreneurs and companies, as well as representatives of organised civil society, including organisations representing families and social partner organisations, and with a particular focus on youth organisations.


There is a need for more national and European support for civil society organisations, for more sustainable, long-term budgetary resources, and for EU-wide coordination, networking and policy implementation. Therefore, the ‘EU Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism’ needs to give even more consideration to involving and supporting civil society stakeholders, as politics and society do indeed share responsibility for combating radicalisation. The Civil Society Empowerment programme, launched under the EU internet Forum, could be an encouraging initiative in this context (1).


Civil society and social partner structures need to be more involved with the Radicalisation Awareness Network (2). Member States should be more proactive encouraging RAN-like structures at regional or local level.


The EU Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) and the tools made available by the Commission are a step in the right direction but need to be geared more to local civil society structures and be better staffed and resourced in order to effectively bring together experts from the public sector and organised civil society.


Member States should make full use of the EU’s instruments and programmes for preventing radicalisation, including the European Strategic Communications Network — a collaborative network of 26 Member States which shares analysis, good practice and ideas on the use of strategic communications in countering violent extremism (3).


Trade unions have an important role to play, as they represent workers in all relevant public sectors. Front-line staff in particular must be educated in the prevention of radicalisation, in close cooperation with expert civil society bodies.


The EESC welcomes the creation of the High-Level Commission Expert Group, which will assist the Commission in strengthening the response to radicalisation and violent extremism by means of better policy coordination and the involvement of all relevant stakeholders, including civil society.


Specific advice, support services and networks that help to identify signs of radicalisation, while at the same time preventing any kind of discrimination, must be made accessible not only to staff of public services such as schools, but also to families.


The EESC highlights the importance of inclusive formal and non-formal education, which is absolutely essential for active participation in a diverse society, teaching critical thinking and media literacy as well as contributing to society’s resilience against anti-democratic, xenophobic and populist tendencies that in some cases are gaining more and more influence on main stream political discourse as it adapts to xenophobic sentiments and views.


In efforts to prevent the radicalisation of young people, there is a need for particular attention to, and investment in civil society’s youth work and youth organisations providing alternative identification structures and opportunities, as well as a safe space for dialogue including active listening and personal expression.


Investment in tackling the very high rates of youth unemployment and very widespread job instability in many EU countries must also be viewed as a way of preventing radicalisation. In addition, the EESC calls for a higher priority to be given to greater investment in combating poverty and to the integration of young people into society, the education system and the labour market.


The EESC underlines the vital role played by, and the social responsibility of, religious communities in the prevention of radicalism, and calls for more strategic engagement in defending the rules and values of liberal democracy and in promoting values-based intercultural dialogue, peace and non-violence.


Active partnerships with business can contribute to the prevention of radicalisation. Social media businesses also need to get involved in countering hate speech, alternative facts and extremist narratives in their media outlet.


The EU should demonstrate its strong interest in preventing radicalisation and cooperate more closely with civil society organisations in third countries.


It is important to shut down financial flows supporting extremist structures within the EU as well as from third countries which counteract efforts by public authorities and civil society to prevent radicalisation.

2.   Background


This opinion deals with long-term, effective measures taken at an early stage to prevent the radicalisation of young people. For the purpose of this opinion, radicalisation is understood as a process through which individuals or groups become extremists (4) eventually using, promoting or advocating violence for their aims. Radicalisation leading to violent extremism is a specific process not to be confounded with political radicalism or non-violent radical ideas or actions or legitimate democratic opposition. It is inextricably linked to violent extremism, as described in the 2015 European Parliament resolution, and it can surface in different societal contexts. The opinion highlights important activities undertaken by civil society projects and cooperation between government bodies, social partners, and civil society and calls for continuing work on a coherent EU-concept, including sustainable and effective European support, funding and coordination.


The EESC would like to point out that there is a need to work on the common definitions and understanding across EU Members States and within academia of the phenomena of radicalisation, or violent, anti-democratic action, or terrorism, and the links between these concepts. Therefore, the EESC aims to continue to explore these subjects from the civil society perspective to provide further perspectives to this subject.


Violent extremism motivated by radical ideologies has many faces, but many of them are young. Often it is young people, who come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and with vastly different levels of education, who are recruited. Young women are increasingly being recruited too.


Young people vulnerable to radicalisation that can lead to violent extremism often feel excluded and marginalised by society, or confused by identity issues and change. Radical ideologies often claim to provide guidance, direction and support in daily life and compensate for feelings of inferiority due to various reasons. This is where civil society can play a major role by providing alternatives and, more generally, contribute to a sustainable social and values-based resilience against radicalisation.


The process of radicalisation can be very quick, often taking place within a few weeks or months. Social media play an important role, providing anonymous and rapid platforms for recruitment and for disseminating propaganda.

3.   General comments


Member States are primarily responsible for their domestic security. However, European coordination and implementation of appropriate measures will be made more difficult if coordination at interinstitutional level is unclear and there is no overarching approach. This is increasingly problematic given that terrorism and radicalisation are cross-border in nature, requiring greater EU-wide coordination, networking and policy implementation.


Since 2005, all EU anti-radicalisation initiatives have been implemented in accordance with the EU Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism, which was updated in 2008 and more recently in 2014. The EU strategy is also reflected in the two communications of 2014 (5) and 2016 (6), as well as in several Council Conclusions (7), the European Parliament’s report of 2015 and the Committee of the Regions’ opinion of 2016 (8). The EU strategy needs to give even more consideration to getting civil society stakeholders involved and supporting them. Politics and society have a shared responsibility to tackle the discontent that young people feel with the values of the liberal democratic system, and to combat their radicalisation.


The European Commission can take credit for recognising at a very early stage the importance of an overarching approach to preventing radicalisation. The Commission has declared its support for the EU-wide exchange of experience and best practices through RAN. In the European Agenda on Security of 28 April 2015 (9), the Commission provided for the establishment of a RAN Centre of Excellence, which was set up on 1 October 2015. Special mention should also be made of the EU internet Forum launched on 3 December 2015. The revised guidelines for the EU Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism of 24 May 2017 (10) tie in more effectively with the experiences and recommendations of RAN and, therefore, aim to increase the involvement of civil society in a multiagency approach, too.


In its Communication on the prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism (11), the European Commission announced that it would put forward a proposal for a Council Recommendation on promoting social inclusion. The EESC supports these plans and encourages the European Commission to draft and present such a proposal in the near future.


With a view to enhancing efforts to prevent and counter radicalisation leading to violent extremism and terrorism and to improving coordination and cooperation between all relevant stakeholders, the Commission has established a group of high-level experts in the field of preventing and countering radicalisation (High Level Commission Expert Group on Radicalisation). This group will advise on the further development of EU policies in the area of preventing radicalisation leading to violent extremism and terrorism, and on options for more structured cooperation in future between the various stakeholders, including practitioners and Member States, in this field.


Nonetheless, the EESC views EU and Member State initiatives to prevent radicalisation, as well as the steps taken to implement them, as still being insufficient. Many of current EU policies put too much focus on civil society organisations as tools (rather than partners) in combating violent extremism (e.g. as tools for developing counter-narratives online). It also sees them as being driven mainly by ‘crisis’ events such as the terrorist attacks over recent years, with the result that they appear to have focussed predominantly on Islamist terrorism and a short-term, punitive security policy (12) when in reality there are more extremist threats that abuse religions as justification and from extremist political groups. Instead we must invest in sustainable and long-term prevention efforts. In its opinions on ‘The EU Counter-Terrorism Policy’ (2011) (13) and on the EU Agenda 2030 (14), the EESC had already called for civil society and local stakeholders to be more involved and for them to be given further institutional support (15), as they play a major role in developing trust, social engagement and democratic inclusion locally, regionally and nationally.

4.   Specific remarks


The EESC is strongly in favour of adopting a multiagency approach to preventing radicalisation. This will require extensive capacity-building in all relevant sectors. Thus, the multiagency approach brings together policy-makers, national institutions such as law enforcement authorities and prisons, social workers, academia and the media and representatives of organised civil society, as well as social partner organisations in the field, such as police, prison and teachers’ trade unions.


The EESC underscores the role of civil society in combating radicalisation and notes that its overall contribution must not be limited by security policy considerations. The present opinion cites examples of civil society activities and projects that contribute to greater social sustainability and inclusion. This is one of a number of areas where civil society makes a major contribution that goes far beyond any conceivable security policy measures.


The EESC therefore welcomes the network of policy-makers for prevention at national level, set up by the Commission in February 2017, which is aimed at increasing the exchange of knowledge and experience in Member States and stepping up Member States’ participation in RAN’s activities. The newly created High-Level Commission Expert Group on Radicalisation is a further step towards strengthening this exchange among all relevant stakeholders.


Member States should make full use of the EU’s instruments and programmes for preventing radicalisation, and should themselves provide adequate budgetary resources, of which there is a shortage almost everywhere. If the results are to be sustainable, measures to prevent radicalisation require a long-term commitment.


Trade unions play an especially important role, as they represent among others front-line staff in all relevant sectors and can provide training and services to their members. The EESC therefore also calls for public services and social workers to be properly staffed and resourced at all levels, especially at local level. For example, increasing police presence in places at risk of crime can prevent the emergence of lawless spaces with intense levels of violence.


Inclusive formal and informal education is critical for active participation in society. It can establish tolerant and pluralistic societies by promoting an awareness of liberal and humanistic values and standards based on democracy and the rule of law. School, education and vocational training as well as youth work initiatives are key institutions which can play a role in early prevention of radicalisation if they teach critical thinking and media literacy (16) and, in combination with functioning labour markets, promote social integration by offering good prospects, particularly for young people. Good education and training systems alone cannot prevent radicalisation, but they can increase resilience against it.


Educational work must also be stepped up beyond the state school system, too, and relevant civil society initiatives must be given even more support in order to create intercultural awareness and, at the same time, a clear commitment to freedom, liberal democracy and the rule of law. An informed approach to different cultures and world regions particularly in the context of the migration crisis, but also conveying a non-negotiable understanding of our society’s values such as the role of men and women, based on equality and equal opportunities, can actively contribute to prevention.


More particularly, there should be more investment in civil society’s youth work and youth organisations that provide cultural, sporting, and other leisure time activities, with a view to providing alternative identification structures and opportunities, as well as safe spaces for dialogue and personal expression.


In addition to the state education sector, organised civil society in particular makes a major contribution to developing high-quality counter-messaging and counter-narratives to the ‘offers’ made by radical groups, as the EESC has already pointed out (17). Religious communities and, above all, witnesses, victims and survivors from conflict regions as well as those who have abandoned extremist groups, can make a valuable contribution by acting as role models. It is precisely because they have a key role to play in preventing radicalisation that education systems, civil society and local authorities need much more help, support and funding over the long term.

5.   Specific recommendations


In particular, the Committee supports the initiative to promote dialogue with policy-makers at European and national level and calls for a formal framework for regular exchanges to be set up at all levels, ensuring that RAN can provide the Member States and European institutions with practical recommendations. In addition, more systematic dissemination of its recommendations and outcomes could maximise its impact across all levels. The High-level Expert Group on radicalisation will provide recommendations in this respect.


In this connection, the EESC welcomes the idea of putting together overviews in each Member State of existing prevention and exit programmes. Such overviews could also be made available at European level for example through RAN, with a view to improving dialogue between government bodies and civil society stakeholders, creating synergies and avoiding duplication among programmes. Information about these initiatives needs to be significantly improved across the EU.


Civil society and social partner structures that are interested or already active in the prevention of radicalisation should be more involved in the RAN. Therefore, RAN-like structures at regional or local level need to be further encouraged by Member States.


Civil society stakeholders and government bodies, associations, including sports clubs and organisations representing families, schools, youth organisations and activities, religious communities, social services and the police need to work together by adopting a joined-up, interdisciplinary approach, so that strategies to prevent radicalisation can be initiated at an early stage. Therefore front-line staff in particular, in all relevant fields, need to be educated in the prevention of radicalisation, in close cooperation with expert civil society structures. In addition, relevant advisory bodies and networks must be made accessible to staff, helping to identify signs of radicalisation while at the same time preventing any kind of discrimination.


Local authorities and their administrations have a particularly important role to play in prevention, since they are able to bring together all stakeholders locally. Existing funding mechanisms at EU and national level must be strengthened and be made more accessible through lower bureaucratic barriers, and extensive sustainable fundings must be added.


The EESC calls for more investment in education, training systems, youth work and leisure time facilities that promote integration and the democratic values shared throughout the EU.


Member States do not invest nearly enough in providing excellent opportunities for young people and thus in tackling radicalisation, which can be fed by social marginalisation and a lack of opportunities, caused for example by dropping out from educational systems. Overall, measures to tackle the very high rates of youth unemployment and precarious employment conditions in many EU countries must also be viewed as way of preventing radicalisation.


Issues such as identity, gender-specific and cultural conflicts connected to roles, the scope for socioeconomic conflict and immigration as well as discrimination, social exclusion and bullying, which can be exploited in extremist propaganda and by extremist groups, should be given greater consideration in school education and the training programmes of state employees, such as those of law enforcement authorities and prisons. However, core subjects in this connection, such as civic education, are given too little consideration in the study curricula of many EU countries. It continues to be vital to develop media skills in the use of the internet and social media among young people, parents and teachers.


It is not only young people affected by poverty or unemployment who are vulnerable to radicalisation, but material deprivation and lack of opportunities and active participation may lead to social exclusion, which can in turn become a gateway for radical recruiters. In addition to greater investment to tackle poverty, the EESC (18) calls for higher priority to be given to the integration of young people into society, education systems and the labour market. The EESC reiterates its call for robust integration systems in Member States, which facilitate access to the labour market, recognition of qualifications and the provision of vocational and language training as integration tools and rejects any kind of ethnic and religious discrimination (19).


Specific advice and support services are very important for the families of young people being radicalised. Similarly, if these families detect changes in young relatives that point to radicalisation, they must have access to relevant contact persons and networking. Given their accessibility, civil society organisations and initiatives especially need support in designing programmes for dialogue and knowledge exchange with marginalised young people and their families.


Programmes to combat domestic violence help prevent radicalisation, because experiences of domestic violence can create false role models and a false understanding of roles, often encouraging criminality. They also need further institutional and financial support.


Active partnerships with business can contribute to prevention. This is especially true for the ICT sector. Innovative tools, such as those offered by social media and internet, can help disseminate counter-narratives through low-cost or ideally cost-free options. Businesses can help civil society organisations and practitioners avail of their professional communication and media skills and support development of targeted advertising and campaigns.


At the same time, online providers need to be involved in countering hate speech, alternative facts and extremist narratives in their media outlets and should be obliged to remove illegal extremist content from their sites. However, the monitoring of communications should not be developed into an instrument that can impinge on the privacy of the general public (20).


Member States are called upon in this connection to develop the communication and media skills of civil society stakeholders so that appropriate measures to counter the dissemination of radical content that incites violence can be developed and made available to other professionals and projects. One way to reach this objective would be for Member States to contribute on a sustainable basis to the Civil Society Empowerment Programme.


The EESC calls for more research funding, which the EU already makes available through its research programmes for preventing radicalisation — in connection with the RAN Centre of Excellence for example — and for more networking between academia and civil society experts in the field.


Radicalisation very often takes place within the prison system. The prison environment combines a number of risk factors such as concentration of people, personal situations of exclusion, excessive availability of time, etc. There is a need for proactive intervention to facilitate the proper training of prison workers and enable them to detect situations of risk. There are positive experiences to be found in this area, as well as good mechanisms to prevent such situations. To achieve this, prisons need to be appropriately sized and staffed with qualified personnel, and must have an appropriate ratio of prison workers to prisoners to help promote rehabilitation. The role of trade unions in this sector could be further strengthened, e.g. in organising training and disseminating lessons learned via RAN.


Public officials from the security authorities, prisons, social work and schools and other relevant state institutions which have many links with organised civil society, must adopt a multiagency approach, moving beyond punitive measures with more training on prevention and awareness-raising on the subject. To this end, expertise and resources can be made available at European level and targeted cooperation with civil society promoted.


Cooperation between governmental and non-governmental bodies on the reintegration of former prisoners needs to be stepped up in order to ensure their successful social rehabilitation. Many radicalised young people share a criminal past.


The integration of former prisoners into the labour market is made difficult by the stigma often associated with a prison sentence. It is, however, an important step towards preventing radicalisation. The social partners (mainly employers in this case) are called on to make a contribution here by offering a second, and often a first, chance to those affected.


The EU should demonstrate its strong interest in preventing radicalisation and cooperate more closely with civil society organisations in third countries that pose a high risk of radicalisation and that may be or will become hot spots for radicalisation too.


More specifically, the EU’s external action on counter-terrorism and state and societal resilience, as outlined in the EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy, stresses the need to foster intercultural and interreligious dialogue by broadening partnerships with civil society, social organisations, religious communities and the private sector in those countries. There is a high risk that civil society efforts could miss the mark, as external actors in third countries exert considerable influence, for instance by financing violent extremist movements in EU Member States and in its neighbourhood. Such financial flows must be shut down.

Brussels, 6 December 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS

(1)  The call was launched on 4 October:

(2)  The Radicalisation Awareness Network is an EU-funded project which brings together practitioners from around Europe working on the prevention of radicalisation. For more information:

(3)  The objective of the ESCN is to facilitate a Network of European Member States to share best practice and insights on the use of strategic communications in countering violent extremism and to advise Member States, by offering free, bespoke and confidential consultancy on how to apply a strategic communications approach to develop their own domestic capacity to challenge violent extremist influence at the pace and scale required.

(4)  Expression should be used carefully. It covers different phenomenon like left- and right-wing extremism or religious fundamentalism that aims at illegal or violent action. Term is prone to misinterpretation and political abuse. Extremist views can also exist in the middle of society.



(7)  For instance on criminal justice (November 2015), on youth and radicalisation (June 2016), on media literacy and critical thinking (June 2016) and on the prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism (November 2016).

(8)  OJ C 17, 18.1.2017, p. 33

(9)  COM(2015) 185 final, COM(2013) 941 final.



(12)  See also

(13)  OJ C 218, 23.7.2011, p. 91 and OJ C 211, 19.8.2008, p. 61.

(14)  OJ C 34, 2.2.2017, p. 58.

(15)  On the increased measures taken at local level, see CoR opinion on combating radicalisation and violent extremism: prevention mechanisms at local and regional level (OJ C 17, 18.1.2017, p. 33).

(16)  Paris Declaration.

(17)  OJ C 211, 19.8.2008, p. 61.

(18)  OJ C 170, 5.6.2014, p. 23.

OJ C 173, 31.5.2017, p. 15.

(19)  OJ C 125, 21.4.2017, p. 40.

(20)  OJ C 218, 23.7.2011, p. 91.