French President Emmanuel Macron said European Union leaders agreed to take decisive action against Islamic radicalism, after a series of jihadist attacks in France and Austria that pushed terrorism back up the bloc’s agenda.
“All our capitals have been hit” by terrorism, Macron said. It’s “a European reality that we need to respond to, that’s why we need a common, coordinated and rapid response, as acted today.”
He was speaking alongside Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Paris, with European Union leaders Charles Michel and Ursula Von Der Leyen, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel joining via video conference.
“This will be followed by methodical work in the next few weeks,” Macron said.
The French leader has rallied European governments around his fight against radical Islam, despite anti-France protests in some Muslim countries and calls for a boycott of French products led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who accuses him of religious persecution.
But whereas Macron has used tough words in laying out his own plans to fight extremism — he described Islam as a religion “in crisis” in a key speech last month — his EU counterparts are opting for softer language.
The latest version of a draft ministeria statement seen by Bloomberg that once referenced ‘Islamist’ threats nine times now only mentions the word once, and it includes just one mention of ‘Islam,’ and that’s only to reassure that EU’s “fight against terrorism is not directed against Islam, but against fanatical and violent extremism.”
An explicit call to streamline the education of imams, which existed in the previous draft, has been removed as well. The statement, which is subject to further drafting, is due to be approved by home-affairs ministers later this week.
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Travelling to Paris despite the coronavirus epidemic, Kurz joined Macron’s call for a common position on also fighting political Islam, finding ways to better protect EU borders and deal with foreign fighters who fought for Islamic State in Middle Eastern war zones.
Rutte joined the call on the back of heightened concerns in the Netherlands over the fate of a teacher who went into hiding after the French beheading because he’s been displaying a cartoon depicting a jihadist in his classroom.
The European leaders also discussed tools to moderate on-line content that promote hatred, the EU’s proposal for a new pact on asylum and migration, and the reform of the Schengen visa-free zone to increase police coordination, according to a French government official.
— With assistance by Nikos Chrysoloras
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