Young People and Radicalisation in Europe: not just victims, but changemakers

  • November 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Young People and Radicalisation in Europe

Source: Pixabay

The youth of Europe are not just passive victims of radicalisation; they also hold the solution to preventing it

In early 2015, CCTV footage of the three ‘Bethnal Green girls’ – Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase, and Shamima Begum – spread around the world. Three teenagers, having been groomed online by female members of ISIS, became the symbolic faces of radicalisation leading to violent extremism. National and international leaders grew increasingly concerned about the potential for young people to fall victim to radicalisation.


The European Commission sets out a difference between radicalisation, and radicalisation leading to violent extremism. The former involves a process of accepting, pursuing and supporting far-reaching change in society against the existing order. The latter involves accepting the use of violence to achieve political, ideological, or religious goals. Wanting to change the world is common among young people, even wanting to radically reshape it. Young people can be a positive force for change.


Extremist recruiters often take advantage of their desire for change and channel it towards violence and terrorism. The United Kingdom has a referral programme – Prevent – for people at risk of being drawn into terrorism. 27% of referrals from April 2017 to March 2018 were for young people under 15, with a further 29% aged 15 to 20.


There are many complex reasons why young people may become drawn to violent extremism. Online recruitment to violent extremism is a form of online grooming, and there are some similarities between Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and radicalisation processes: both can involve online and offline manipulation, flattery and befriending of isolated young people who struggle with their identity and seek belonging, acceptance and status.


Concerning radicalisation, the Bethnal Green girls were straight-A students and close friends. People who are radicalised online may not show the signs of being groomed, but it may be clearer from their social media pages.


It is not just religious-based radicalisation that professionals struggle to detect. Far-right extremists have developed a strategy of targeting young people online, particularly through gaming. Online far-right messages are often spread through memes and presented as jokes to discredit accusations of hate speech or promoting extremism.


This is where young people have a unique role to play in Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). The EU’s Radicalisation Awareness Network has recognised this, establishing a working group (RAN Young) for 18-25-year-olds to exchange ideas and make recommendations to front-line professionals and policymakers. RAN Young identified four areas of CVE policy that young people could best assist with: prevention, social inclusion, the internet and education.


For these young people, representation is a key issue. Their peers who feel frustrated and excluded from the system are at risk of choosing to act outside it and should be assisted and encouraged to take part in mainstream politics. Finland was mentioned as a good example. There, young Muslims have a seat at the table on the National Action Plan for the Prevention of Violent Radicalisation and Extremism, participating on equal terms with policymakers and other stakeholders. Inclusion of young people is at the core of their recommendations. In technology and internet-related policy, they highlighted the importance of including young people from development to testing. They know how technology works, as well as the languages young people use online, and can use that to innovate and to counter extremist propaganda. An example of this is ‘Dare to be Grey’, a Dutch youth initiative that promotes personal stories to challenge black-and-white thinking.


In line with that role, they support improving prevention over increasing security capacity. Critical thinking education and dialogue are crucial. The UK’s Prevent duty has been controversial in civil liberties terms but comes recommended by RAN Young participants in the UK. It allows professionals from various fields, such as education and youth work, who are familiar with young people at risk to recommend them for targeted intervention.


Technological innovation has led to advancements in CVE work. Just as young people can both be radicalised and prevent radicalisation, games have been used to radicalise young people but also to help them protect themselves. Maryam and Joe: Behind Closed Doors, an interactive social-media style simulation, allows young people to examine fictional social media posts from two young people at risk of Islamist and far-right radicalisation. It also allows them to build their critical thinking and media analysis skills. In line with the idea that young people are well-placed to detect and stop radicalisation, both characters have one friend who is a ‘voice of reason’ and questions their more worrying actions.


Peer education – where young people teach other young people – is commonly used in other areas of personal and social education. As RAN Youth suggests, lessons can be learned from those projects and applied to the CVE field, and successful projects from developing countries could be applied in Europe.



Young people are not just passively at risk of radicalisation. They are active agents with worries and views, and they sit on the frontlines of radicalisation – where they can see it in their friends and stop it. With the right critical thinking education, and with full respect and inclusion, they can and should be key actors at the table with policymakers and practitioners across Europe.

A Beautiful Summer? : the European-Mediterranean relationship

  • November 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

A Beautiful Summer

Source: Pixabay

The Euro-Mediterranean is often the neglected region of EU Neighbourhood policy. Its potential should not be overlooked.


In the European Union’s neighbourhood, most policymakers’ attention of late has been on the Eastern Partnership – not without good reason. However, what do we think of when we hear the phrase ‘Southern Mediterranean’? To many people, that likely calls to mind a migration route. It is so much more than that. At a recent Centre for European Policy Studies event, former Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean, Fathallah Sijilmassi, discussed his (French-language) book L’Avenir de l’Europe est au Sud (The Future of Europe is in the South).



The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), as explained in the book, began in 1995 with the Barcelona Process which was designed to facilitate relations between Europe and the Southern Mediterranean. The UfM was founded in its current form in 2008. It brought together the 28 EU Member States, as well as 15 Southern Mediterranean countries: Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Montenegro, Morocco, Palestine, Syria (suspended in 2011), Tunisia and Turkey. Libya is an observer member. The astute will notice that this is one of few forums where Israel and Palestine sit around the same table.


The configuration of the Mediterranean varies. There was debate about whether to include all the EU Member States, on the grounds that it naturally matters more to Spain and France than, say, Estonia and Sweden. In the interests of a common European foreign policy, it was agreed that they should all participate. There is an informal dialogue between the ‘core’ participants, known as the ‘5+5 Dialogue’, which was the instigator of wider Euro-Mediterranean cooperation (despite being on hold for a number of years post-Lockerbie.) It involves Spain, Italy, France, Malta, Portugal, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.


Sijilmassi, in his book, sets out the challenges facing the Southern Mediterranean. The region remains one of the least-integrated in the world. He cites figures from the UfM: 90% of Euro-Mediterranean regional trade is between the EU Member States, 9% between the North and South Mediterranean, and only 1% between Southern Mediterranean countries. That in mind, he also states that (translation my own) “[t]he Mediterranean cannot continue to be presented solely as a graveyard for undocumented migrants. It is one of the most beautiful seas in the world. It is no coincidence that it is the leading tourist destination worldwide […] The challenges in the Mediterranean cannot be limited to the fight against religious radicalism and terrorism, with the conflation of issues that gives rise to suspicion and mistrust between peoples. There are 800 million people, a large majority of them young, who share a common space and a collective reality on a day to day basis.”


The solutions, according to Sijilmassi, lie with harnessing the talents and potential of young people across the region. Europe may be an aging region, with older people to make up 28.5% of the EU population by 2050, but the Southern Mediterranean is not. There, older people are less than 10% of the population in all countries bar Israel. Between 24.7% and 38.9% of the population (depending on the country) are under 15. In the EU-28, 15.6% of the population was under 15 in 2017.



One of the many examples of regional youth activism he highlights is 1Youth1Sea. This refers to a group of young people from across both sides of the Mediterranean who took the initiative to form their own media source, writing articles about what mattered to them. In their 2017 follow-up [FR] to their initial 2014 appeal [EN], they highlight a variety of projects relating to job creation. The piece also calls for reforms favouring Small and Medium Enterprises, innovation, and improving education.


These priorities are broadly shared by youth in both Europe and the Arab world, and also reinforce Sijilmassi’s call to move beyond the security dimension to a more positive strategy which also centres socio-economic issues. In Europe’s recent elections, we saw a youth surge underpinning the turnout increase. That Eurobarometer also found that the top three issues for citizens more generally were the economy, climate change, and human rights and democracy. Migration languished in 5th place. Those findings chime with a special youth Eurobarometer from 2017. When asked to name three topics they thought should be a priority for the EU, young people’s top three priorities were education and skills, protecting the environment and combatting climate change, and employment – migration coming a close fourth.


In the Arab world, young people have similar opinions. The Arab Youth Survey 2019, covering 18-24 year olds in the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories, asked them about a variety of issues facing the Middle East and North Africa. The top concerns among young Arabs about the Middle East are the rising cost of living, unemployment, lack of Arab unity and slow economic growth. The threat of terrorism was the 3rd top concern in 2018 and is now the 7th. On education, the youth of North Africa and the Levant (which generally overlap with the Southern Mediterranean) are far less satisfied that their education systems prepare them for the jobs of the future than Gulf Cooperation Council youth. 80% of GCC youth are satisfied, compared with 47% of North African youth and 27% of Levant youth.


Overall, therefore, the youth on both sides of the Mediterranean have shared concerns. At a time where the EU is restructuring its external action funds, and considering a Marshall Plan for Africa, it should also reassess its external action policies. Young people on both sides of the Mediterranean have a new, positive vision for their region which transcends a narrow focus on migration, security and defence. The European Union should support them, with a more holistic approach and a genuine partnership which centres the concerns of youth, not the concerns of populists.

Our Sisters: Serbia, Kosovo and UN Resolution 1325

  • November 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Our Sisters: Serbia, Kosovo and UN Resolution 1325

Women’s voices are not being heard in the Belgrade-Pristina normalisation dialogue

Source: Pixabay

In Kosovo and Serbia, gender inequality is highly persistent in the political sphere. The 2018 Kosovo team selected to negotiate the normalisation of relations with Serbia was all-male, despite the Minister of European Integration being a woman at that time. Women are also underrepresented in Serbia’s negotiation and reconciliation processes: all three Vice Directors of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija are men, and only two of the eight directors’ assistants are women.


Last week in Brussels, the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office held a roundtable discussion on women’s activism in Kosovo and Serbia. It became clear that, although women were highly active in civil society peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts, they had been excluded from official dialogues.


The UN’s Resolution 1325, adopted some 19 years ago, was designed to end such inequalities in peacebuilding. Its aims include women’s participation in conflict prevention and resolution, considering gender issues in peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions, and ensuring women are protected in areas of armed conflict. Women’s rights activists have mobilised around Resolution 1325 to ensure that all peacebuilding actions assess what impact they will have on people of different genders: also known as gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming helps secure women’s rights, but it is not only about women. Instead, it encourages states and international organisations to end gender-blindness and adjust their policies to take account of how they may affect people differently, based on their gender.


Both Kosovo and Serbia have produced National Action Plans on the Resolution. Kosovo’s already expired in 2015 and is not available in English. Lack of availability of up-to-date information is one of the key issues in analysing gender equality in peacebuilding across the Western Balkans. Serbia’s Action Plan, however, is available via the OSCE. It does have a goal to include more women in the information process and the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. However, Serbia does not plan to invest its own state funds in this, despite seeking to involve partners from the civil society. Independent women’s movements the world over generally struggle with funding, while Serbian political parties’ Women’s Forums lack influence and are judged by what they can do for the party rather than for women as a whole.


On the ground, the stories of local activists surrounding Resolution 1325 are particularly revealing. Exclusion is not just a national practice, but an international practice. In the early 2000s, women had to consistently battle to meet UNMIK delegation leaders. Where they succeeded in doing so, it was often as an afterthought. The leaders also attempted to pigeonhole the women into focusing on ‘women’s issues’. ¬†Women on both sides wanted to be heard on the final status of Kosovo, and cited Resolution 1325 as giving them the right to be heard.


When they are included, women are often seen as a ticket to peace. Due to their role in raising families, they become cast as the mothers of the nation. They are seen as inherently peaceful by nature of their gender. This, of course, is not the case. Women can be as guilty of perpetrating atrocities as men. Inclusion of women is not a box to be ticked in a recipe for peace. It is a necessary condition – women forming roughly half the population of any country – but it is not a sufficient condition.


What needs to happen in Kosovo and Serbia – and in all other peacebuilding missions – is not merely increasing the presence of women. Indeed, the 30% gender quota in Kosovar local and national parliaments has not improved the situation much. It has got women into politics, but they continue to face a glass ceiling in terms of accessing real decision-making power. For true improvements in gender equality, Kosovar, Serbian and international actors have to be fundamentally committed to the principles of gender mainstreaming in all contexts.


In conflict situations, gender-blindness tends to resurge in an effort to fix an immediate crisis. Solutions are found, but they are solutions found among men. If they do not work for all the constituencies, including women and relevant minority groups, they will not be sustainable. ‘Hard’ issues such as democratisation, security, and Europeanisation cannot and should not be detached from gender. That is why women’s civil society needs to be involved in all stages of peacebuilding processes. Not because they are uniquely peaceful, but because they have unique perspectives.

Scotland’s Story: here’s what you missed at our panel discussion

  • November 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

The CFEP held a well-attended panel discussion on the Wednesday 6th November at the Press Club Brussels on the topic of Scotland and independence: out of the frying pan and into the fire? If you weren’t able to attend, here’s a brief summary of what you missed.

Sheila Ritchie MEP began the event with a passionate defence of Scotland remaining in the UK. She cited her party’s preamble, stating that “Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries.” The Liberal Democrats oppose another independence referendum and support a referendum on Brexit. This is often challenged for inconsistency, but for Mrs Ritchie, it is about ending existing chaos and preventing additional chaos. She explained that the difficulties of undoing a 46-year old partnership between the UK and the EU would only be amplified in undoing a 416-year-old partnership between Scotland and England. For people new to Scottish politics, Mrs Ritchie provided an insight into what it was like to campaign against independence in 2014. She described it as the worst experience of her political life and the beginning of post-truth politics. Economics does matter, and she noted that Scotland’s deficit is above the 3% target required for EU members under the Stability and Growth Pact. People, however, matter the most: Mrs Ritchie highlighted that a lot of Scots are married to people from other parts of the UK, and raised concerns about building divides between those communities. Her party wants a “reformed, federal, and fair union”. She conceded there would be little chance of this under a Boris Johnson government, but noted that this was another reason why they were fighting to stop him in the December 12 General Election.


Christian Allard MEP naturally disagreed with Sheila, but the two MEPs had a good-natured debate. For Mr Allard, his identity as a French Scot demonstrates the openness of the independence movement for people from everywhere. It was important to him that people’s ideas were not castigated, but that people were given respect and space to talk about their ideas. He believes most people are not hardcore supporters of either side and they make their decisions on polling, noting that he knew people who voted for their chosen side and would have been content with the result either way. Indeed, he sought to oppose the notion of two camps as simplistic: there were people in Scotland who voted Yes and Remain, Yes and Leave, No and Leave, and No and Remain. Overall, what matters for Mr Allard is the future. He explained that the future that people want is what really counts, and they should have the democratic and legal chance to vote on it. He acknowledged it would have been easier to become independent in 2014 because back then both Scotland and the UK were fully aligned to and participating in the EU. That is what united the two MEPs: they differ on independence but are fighting to keep the whole UK in the EU.

Schams El Ghoneimi spoke next, mentioning his time at the European Parliament. Part of his role involved assessing what an independent Scotland’s foreign policy would look like. Would it be like Denmark? Would it have opposed the Iraq War, if that happened today? Would it agree to host migrants from Italy and Greece, and then follow through on those commitments like many other states did not? His aim during his interventions on our panel was to look at the nuances of the issue: there were obstacles, but also things that had changed since 2014. For example, Josep Borrell stated that Spain would not block Scotland from joining the EU.

Mr El Ghoneimi added that this is a totally unprecedented situation, and so the EU would likely find a way over the political hurdles. The economic ones may be more complex to deal with. He noted, however, that there are real economic hurdles and that the Scottish independence campaign has work to do to win over those who voted No in 2014. He added that the EU would enjoy a strong message that joining is still desirable – and another net contributor to the budget. Scotland has an inclusive vision of what it means to be Scottish, but its pro-Europeanness is not perfect. Neither Lib Dem or SNP MEPs supported harmonising corporation tax rates or transnational lists. Opposition to the Euro persists, due to Scottish integration in the UK currency union. The most important consideration for Mr El Ghoneimi is where the most pro-European dynamic lies: it would be unlikely for the UK to remain in the EU, but that would be good for the world. If it did not, Scotland could be tempted away in favour of the EU.


Finally, Larissa Brunner rounded off the panel with the EU’s perspective on an independent Scotland. She agreed that Scottish membership would give the EU a PR boost. Furthermore, Scottish participation in the Common Fisheries Policy really matters for the other Member States. The only way to guarantee that it will continue to take part is remaining in the EU. Spain, particularly, does a lot of fishing in Scottish waters. She also agreed it would not veto Scottish independence: it sees the Catalan and Scottish cases as distinct based on legality and cooperation with the central government. It is also politically costly to veto, and Member States are unlikely to expend political capital to do so.

She described Scotland’s potential EU role as being part of the group of small Northern European liberal Member States that do not have the Euro. Such states used to hide behind the UK so they would not have to voice their own concerns but will need to speak up for themselves after Brexit. There is the danger of being marginalised by the Franco-German concentration of power, but these countries will all still have a vote and a Commissioner. She disagreed with commentators who suggest there is a ‘queue’ for membership but noted that Scotland will still have to go through the steps (albeit that this will be a short process.) Ms Brunner suggested EFTA could be a good holding place for it: Scotland being ‘small and humble’ enough to accept being a rule-taker and paying into the EU budget.

Audience questions were varied, discussing everything from the state of the Scottish border after independence to the nature of democracy as we know it. At the CFEP, we aim to facilitate discussion about the future of Europe and help people in the Brussels bubble learn more about the stories they see in the news. Our audience asked some insightful questions about the details of devolution in Scotland and federalism, and our panellists used some terms you might not have come across before.

Scotland has a system of devolved and reserved powers. This gets complex. The Scottish Parliament has an infographic summarising which issues are decided there and which are retained at Westminster. How does this relate to the EU, you might be asking? As Mr El Ghoneimi mentioned, Scottish Government representatives participate in EU meetings in their areas of expertise. As set out in this guide for Scottish Government officials, it is almost assumed that they would want to attend Council Working Parties on environmental, agricultural and fisheries issues. Mrs Ritchie sought to explain Henry VIII powers: the issue with Brexit is that the EU Withdrawal Act allows the UK Government to use these powers to copy EU law into UK law without having to consult Parliament. One question our audience members asked relates to the internal debate about these competencies – once they are regained from the EU, there is a controversy about when they will be devolved to the Scottish government.


Finally, we ended our event by imagining the future. If Scotland became independent, in its first Council Presidency, our panel generally agreed it can and should prioritise leading on climate change. Mr Allard added that he wanted to refocus Scotland and Europe on wellbeing, plugging Nicola Sturgeon’s TED Talk on the topic, and Mrs Ritchie wanted Scotland to take advantage of the EU’s tools to assist its smaller, more remote regions.


We hope you enjoyed our event, and that you learned something about Scotland and its potential futures. Watch this space for our next discussion event in December!

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