Far-right political discourse is feeding hatred throughout the EU and could harm the European project in the upcoming 2014 European Parliament elections, says the European Commission.
Disparaging words geared towards minority groups like Roma, Muslims, Jews and immigrants are becoming more common as elected officials attempt to woo a growing number of the voting electorate rooted in populist movements.
“Not since World War II have extreme and populist forces had so much influence on the national parliaments as they have today. In some countries even neo-nazis have been elected,” said EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in Brussels on Monday (28 January).
Her words came a day after Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi praised the leadership of ex-dictator and fascist Benito Mussolini.
Mussolini had passed a raft of anti-Jewish laws before joining forces with Hitler.
Meanwhile, Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party on Monday celebrated the leadership role of Nikolaos Dertilis, a former colonel who helped put in place a dictatorial rule following a bloodless coup in 1967. The takeover threw the country into martial law where dissent was met with brutal force.
Malmstrom warned that racist and nationalistic politics could gain a stronger foothold in the European Parliament after elctions in 2014.
“We must not underestimate the importance of what this would mean for the European project,” said the commissioner.
Such political discourse may also inspire “lone wolves” to carry out indiscriminate killings as the threat of violent extremism spreads, she noted.
The commissioner said organised terrorist networks have given way to protagonists such as Anders Breivik, a Norwegian whose lone attack saw the murder of 77 people in 2011.
Tracking lone actors down is considerably more difficult and requires more concerted efforts by relatives and local authorities to spot suspects, she added.
Teachers 'spy' on students
The commission in 2011 launched its so-called Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) – an attempt to bring together community leaders and law enforcement officers.
Its own literature says prevention and awareness-raising campaigns are among the long-term solutions in EU counter-terrorism efforts.
It also says community policing is recognised as one of the best approaches for preventing crime in general and recommends that schools, local police, health care providers, municipalities, youth workers and others cooperate on a regular basis to detect potentially harmful individuals early on.
But there are fears that this kind of monitoring can be overly invasive.
British MPs in 2011 criticised a similar UK project entitled Channel for asking teachers to report on young people who spoke about violence or visited terrorist-linked websites.
Neither activity is considered a criminal offence.
The project targeted younger people and especially Muslims, creating resentment as people felt they were being spied upon by those in a position of trust “like teachers and social workers,” UK-based Professor Ted Cantle, who chairs the Home Office community cohesion review team, told this website.
“It [Channel project] made the Muslim community much more worried about authority. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Cantle.
Cantle says the lone wolf profile in the UK instead tends to be much older and is partisan to far-right anti-immigrant views.
An EU source at RAN said the project has been updated since its launch.
“It's all about caring for people who are vulnerable and who could be exploited,” said the contact.
Meanwhile, Europol, the EU police agency based in the Hague, noted that terrorist-related arrests are on the decline as a whole but that single actors will continue to pose a serious threat.
The agency in 2011 recorded 174 terrorist attacks in member states. These led to the arrest of 316 individuals on terrorism-related charges.