Every EU Member State appoints a European Commissioner, and until it finally leaves the EU, the UK is no different. For the last two years Jonathan Hill, a former Conservative politician from the UK, had been serving as Commissioner for Financial Services. He resigned within days of the Brexit referendum, and his responsibilities were passed to another Commissioner.
The UK has nominated Julian King – previously the UK Ambassador to France – as their new Commissioner. European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has appointed him to the new post of Commissioner for the Security Union. He will be confirmed in post after a European Parliament committee hearing in September.
So what will the Commissioner for the Security Union do?
The Security Union is a set of proposals published in April, following the attacks in Paris in November 2015, and Brussels in March 2016. The proposals seek to improve European cooperation in order to reduce violent extremism, organised crime and cyber-crime. The main elements include:
- Creating a ‘Centre of Excellence’ – to collect and disseminate local expertise on preventing violent radicalisation. This will build upon the Radicalisation Awareness Network, established in 2011.
- Updating the Framework Decision on Terrorism – providing a legal framework to manage those people who have gone to fight in Syria and then returned. This will include increased cooperation with countries in the Middle-East and north Africa.
- More dialogue with the IT sector to reduce the reach of websites and social media that promote violent radicalisation, and increase the access of intelligence agencies to encrypted messaging services, and,
- Strengthening the legal framework on the availability of firearms.
Julian King can expect broad support for this agenda. Recent attacks on the promenade in Nice, at a shopping centre in Munich, on a train Würzburg, and further afield in an Orlando nightclub and a Sagamihara care home – have all gained significant media attention.
After each attack, security officials are quickly challenged to explain what happened in terms of political and religious extremism, an unmet mental health need, a hate crime or something else. Political leaders then build on this explanation when seeking a visible policy response that will provide public reassurance.
Consideration of the differences and similarities between these attacks reveals something missing from the Security Union proposals. Why were all of these attacks (and most other violent extremism) committed by men – and mostly young men?
Understanding why boys and young men are particularly vulnerable to violent radicalisation is rarely discussed, but it is a necessary part of minimising the occurrence of future tragedies.
There are many different forms of masculinity and society sends subtle signals to boys from a young age about which form they should most aspire to. Researchers point to expectations that boys are taught about their role in the family and society, including the importance of competition and domination. Violence is understood as a way men prove their worth in the world. For example, Plummer and Geofroy, (2010) focus on the violent ‘rites of passage’ some notions of masculinity require for boys to become men.
Unfortunately, after violent attacks some politicians reward the attacker’s quest for self worth. Following the Brussels murders in March, the French prime minster said, “we are at war” and compared Daesh/ISIS to a traditional military adversary. The director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs replied by describing the prime minister’s words as a “fundamental mistake”, saying “We are dealing with criminals. Calling it war is giving the attackers the status they desire”.
Some parts of the French media have understood this and have said that they will not inadvertently glorify the men who commit these attacks. Le Monde and La Croix have stopped publishing images of the men, and Europe 1 radio will stop broadcasting their names. If violent extremism is no-longer a means by which marginalised men can become headline news, then the copy-cat effect should also reduce.
Violent masculinity is a cultural phenomenon, but this does not mean that it is out of reach of public policy. So, is there any space for the EU Security Union to include a gender perspective as part of a more comprehensive approach?
The composition of King’s team gives us one indication of the prioritises of his new role. Rather than lead his own department, he will be supported by a ‘task force’ of staff from different European Commission departments, under the supervision of the most senior civil servant in the home affairs department. King’s task force will be comprised of seconded staff from the following European Commission units:
- B4 Innovation and Industry for Security
- D1 Terrorism and Crisis Management
- A2 Aviation Security
- A4 Land and Maritime Security
- H1 Cyber-security
So, gender specialists do not appear to be part of his team so far. However, Julian King could choose to build a partnership with Věra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.
Demilitarising the debate
One way to reduce the space for violent masculinity is to increase the space that civil society organisations have to operate. This will deliver an inclusive and less combative debate that is more in line with EU values. This is also necessary to ensure that marginalised groups have space where they can non-violently dissent from majority views.
Consistent application of human rights standards not only reduces marginalisation, but also helps to dismantle narratives that are used for violent radicalisation. In practice this means:
- When updating the Framework Decision on Terrorism and other policy concerning ‘big data’, the Commission should ensure that effective safeguards are in place to prevent the racial profiling that we know leads to further marginalisation of young men.
- Changes at the Counter-Terrorism Centre of the EU police cooperation agency, Europol, must not undermine the commitment that no information obtained through torture is used operationally or as evidence in prosecutions.
- Work to encourage positive role models and protective social networks for boys and men at risk of radicalisation should give specific attention to the transition from childhood to adulthood.
- EU gun control legislation has already been watered-down in recent weeks by the European Parliament following extensive lobbying. The Commission and Council should not accept this as the final position and revisit this issue as soon as possible.
Healthier masculinity through peace education
As mentioned above, one aspect of the Security Union is the dissemination of local expertise on preventing radicalisation. To deliver real change Member States will need to use their competence for education policy to ensure children develop skills and behaviours needed to live in harmony with themselves and with others.
Member States that are not providing education to prepare children for a responsible life in a ‘spirit of peace’ are actually contravening Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Quakers in Britain have recently made a submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to highlight such a failing there.
Considering the gender dimension of recent attacks offers policy-makers a chance to broaden the EU’s approach to security. Proposals for a Security Union appear technical and narrow, when compared with the need to offer boys non-violent identities alongside opportunities for social and economic inclusion.