Sat. Oct 1st, 2022

Brussels, 21 September 2022

Check against delivery! 

Excellencies, President [of Niger, Mohamed] Bazoum, President [of the Swiss Confederation, Ignazio] Cassis, dear Tony [Blair].

Thank you to all of you for inviting me to participate in this meeting. 

I am very happy to join you for this very important event, because preventing and fighting against violent extremism is certainly a priority for the European Union and for all of us – sure, for all of us it is a priority, maybe it is not for other people. 

Regions that were already suffering from conflict and instability, like the Sahel, are seeing a severe deterioration of their security and a growing terrorist threat. That is a fact of life, unfortunately it is like this. Many armed groups are seeking local Da’esh or al-Qaida brands, thereby sustaining and changing the nature of long-standing conflicts. In the Sahel, you know a lot about it.

Elsewhere, we see deep social and economic inequalities, which erode trust between citizens and governments. We see an unprecedented level of polarisation – even in many of our countries, polarisation is a fact of political life. There has been a rise of extremist rhetoric, hate speech and xenophobia. And the pandemic and now Russia’s war against Ukraine have created an explosion of disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories, about vaccines and about who is guilty for the famine and the high prices on energy and food, for example. 

Of course, manipulating information and conspiracy theories are not new per se. It has been happening since the beginning of the times. What is new is the pace at which they spread. This is a consequence of the digital revolution. What is frightening is that they normalise the use of violence. They are banalising the use of violence. What is tragic is that if you banalise violence, at the end, it kills. It kills even in the most civilised countries around the world. This is a global trend. We need to stay alert and adjust to this new reality. 

The question is: are we doing all we can in order to counter it? This is a question that has to be answered honestly by all of us. 

At the European Union level, us Europeans, for years we have been investing heavily in combatting violent extremism. And we know that we need multilateral efforts in order to do so and to make it in an efficient way. 

This is why the fund we are here for today, this Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), is so important. It rightly follows a “whole of society” approach and does a great work in supporting the “hard-to-reach” vulnerable communities. Because there are communities who are vulnerable and additionally, they are very difficult to reach. And there is where we have to concentrate our efforts. 

Eight years after its establishment, the Fund [GCERF] has developed an extensive network with more than 200 local partners and grant-recipients at the grassroots level.  

Through the Fund, we have addressed the drivers of youth extremism in Kenya, supported returnees from Syria and Iraq and their families – in the Western Balkans too. We have empowered women in Tunisia and strengthened local actors to counter radicalising ideologies.  

In Somalia – I was in Somalia last week, and I could take stock of what is happening there – the Fund works on empowering youth and women. I visited Mogadishu, a few days ago, and saw the importance of the European Union’s security engagement in the region first hand. We do a lot, but certainly we do not do enough. The same is true in Mozambique, where I witnessed how clearly the fight against terrorism in Cabo Delgado is linked to the security back home. Because people in Europe and in the United States could consider that Mozambique and Somalia: “Oh my god, they are very far away. Why should I care about what is happening there?” Well, because security starts very far away from our borders. It is not just by securing our borders that we can become a safe community. Security has to be looked for around the world, because if we do not create peaceful conditions everywhere, nobody will be sure of living in peace. What we said about the pandemic, “nobody will be safe until everyone will be safe”, can be said with the word safe in another declination. “Nobody will be safe until everybody will be safe” – not only in front of pandemics, but also in front of the terrorist threat. 

From the Philippines to Mauritania, the Fund has made concrete progress in terms of impact, scale, and influence and is becoming a key actor in the field of preventing and countering violent extremism. 

I want to specifically highlight the work it is doing to support female-led start-ups, in Tunisia for example – allow me to mention one case, the Carol Bellamy Fellowship. 

So, it is my pleasure to announce that the European Union will contribute with €12 million in the coming weeks, supporting the Fund. This will double our total financial support since the creation of the organisation. And additionally, we are securing an additional €6 million next year, in 2023. This will bring our overall pledge today to €18 million for 2022 and 2023. 

I think this makes the European Union the biggest donor overall. I am very proud of being so, and I am very happy and very supportive of the activities of the Fund, because the Fund has proven its worth and impact. And its work is certainly needed in the months and years ahead that look very challenging, staying close to grassroots communities and making sure the work on the ground continues.  

That is why we participate, and we call on our partners to join us to continue supporting the Fund [GCERF]. 

Yes, initiatives like this are very important in order to make us at home and the international community a safe place. Because yes, certainly we can say exactly the same thing in front of the terrorism threat that we have said about the pandemics – that it is a global endeavour and that nobody will be safe until everybody is safe. 

Thank you. 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-230233  

Source – EEAS