Ensuring security and preventing radicalisation, a key task of local communities  

While the number of terrorist attacks in Europe has been decreasing, security remains a top concern for European citizens. During a conference organised by the CIVEX commission of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE) in Athens on 21 September, Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos shared the CoR's view that the global nature of security threats requires cooperation at all levels of government, from Europe to local level. Participants also discussed how the find right balance between the security of the state and the freedoms of individuals.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, said: "Organized crime and terrorism know no borders. That is why we have adopted the European Security Agenda and are deepening cooperation with all Member States' security authorities. However, the first victims of insecurity are the inhabitants of cities, towns and villages. Here is where success or the failure of our policies is judged. Therefore local communities need operational, political, institutional and economic support to be able to deal with their responsibilities effectively."

According to the CIVEX chair Barbara Duden (DE/PES), local authorities are working to create a secure environment for citizens, but this must not happen at the expense of the fundamental rights. "Digital space is a growing area of concern as it is an increasingly used tool for radicalisation. Media literacy and awareness campaigns have proven helpful but we must also work to prevent the spread of radical materials online. Improved methods of communication between local networks could be vital in preventing more violent attacks in the future. However, we cannot allow for the rights and freedoms of citizens to be infringed upon, which is why we must also be very careful with the use of technological solutions such as facial recognition and CCTV images."

"Mayors are in the frontline when it comes to developing urban infrastructure, ensuring security in public space and public events and strengthening the citizens' feeling of safety", said Jean-Michel Barnier (FR/ALDE), CoR rapporteur on Action Plan to support the protection of public spaces. "The EU must actively support projects at local level by mobilising funds from the Fund for Internal Security, from FEDER and from the Horizon 2020 section on security-related research", he continued.

A Eurobarometer study conducted in June 2017 shows considerable disparities in the perception of security at local, national and European level. While 90% of all participants agreed that their city, town or village was a secure place to live in, only 68% shared this view regarding the whole EU. This can be explained by the fact that people can rely on their personal experience to assess the level of security of their neighbourhood but it is much harder to evaluate security at the European level. Hence, citizens primarily rely on the media to make sense of such issues.

In this regard, the Greek ombudsman Andreas I. Pottakis pointed out that in public speech the threat of terrorism is often exaggerated in relation to other urban hazards. The same point can be made on migration which has been steadily decreasing over the last year and a half, whilst citizens have a completely different perception fostered by hate speech and propaganda. There are also big differences between Member States: in Finland, Malta and Portugal, 97% considered their country a secure place to live in, while the lowest figures – around 70% – were recorded in Italy, France, the UK and Belgium.

Georgios Patoulis (EL/EPP), Mayor of Maroussi and President of the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece who hosted the meeting, concluded: "It is crucial to strengthen the sense of security of citizens without, however, affecting their individual rights and personal freedoms. We must jointly find the right balance for the benefit of the citizens."