A handful of property damages in Italy could lead to left-wing activism being pursued more closely by police and secret services across the European Union. The initiative bears the hallmarks of the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Meanwhile, a package of measures against “violent right-wing extremism and terrorism” has petered out.
In the Terrorism Annual Report for 2020 (TESAT), Europol recently counted 24 left-wing and anarchist terrorist attacks. According to the report, the incidents all took place in Italy, with none of them resulting in human casualties. Most of the attacks were on mobile phone masts and other telecommunications infrastructure, such as relays or cables. Meanwhile, the same report counts only one right-wing terrorist attack, Hanau (Germany), which left nine dead, and six jihadist attacks that killed 12 people.
Each country can determine for itself whether the incidents mentioned in the TESAT are classified as “extremist” or “terrorist”. It is obvious that the high figures for “left-wing terrorism” are due to the special counting method of Italian authorities. Nevertheless, the EU anti-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove has now presented a paper proposing initiatives against a “left-wing terrorism”.
Weak against right-wing
De Kerchove also writes that some member states prosecute crimes as “terrorism” that would not be considered as such in others. At the same time, he attributes numerous left-wing issues and campaigns to “left-wing and anarchist violent extremists”, including struggles against repression, militarism, colonialism and fascism, as well as animal rights, “environmental causes” and state migration policies.
The document is addressed to the Council Working Group on Terrorism, to which each EU member state sends a representative. It takes directional decisions for future action, which are then set out in documents such as the “EU Counter-Terrorism Agenda”. The Commission, EU agencies and member state authorities are then responsible for their implementation.
In his submission, de Kerchove remains vague about the actual danger of the incidents described. However, in the event that the Council working group concludes to pay greater attention to “left-wing and anarchist violent extremism and terrorism”, he suggests “a number of specific actions”.
Findings of the EU Intelligence Analysis Centre
The proposals follow on from four areas of action decided by the Council two years ago against “violent right-wing extremism and terrorism”. However, the EU Commission, which was entrusted with this task, has dragged its feet on implementation. Neither has it presented the required mapping of right-wing terrorist groups, nor have there been serious attempts to combat right-wing activities.
Now the instruments are to be used against the left. De Kerchove bases his proposals, among other things, on findings of the EU Intelligence Analysis Centre (INTCEN). The domestic intelligence services gathered there could be asked to intensify their exchange on the “attack strategies and methodologies used by left-wing and anarchist violent extremists” and to continue “sharing assessments on the threat they pose”. From Germany, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) is represented in the INTCEN.
Member states could also be “encouraged” to ask Europol’s “European Counter-Terrorism Centre” (ECTC), which has existed since 2016, for more support in investigations into “violent left-wing and anarchist extremism and terrorism”. Europol could also include the phenomenon in its annual work programme, according to the paper. Eurojust, the EU agency for judicial cooperation in criminal matters, would then assist member states in prosecutions.
Removal of “hate speech”
Among other things, the Internet Content Reporting Unit at Europol (EU IRU) could prosecute “violent left-wing extremism”. The unit had been set up in 2016 against jihadist terrorism, its remit was expanded in 2019 to include violent right-wing extremism. De Kerchove suggests that the internet should now be searched for left-wing “hate speech” and that the providers concerned should be asked to remove it.
According to de Kerchove, leftists also use the internet for so-called doxing, i.e. collecting and publishing personal data of right-wing extremist activists or politicians. Within the framework of the EU Internet Forum, the EU IRU could develop measures against this with the internet companies represented there. The companies should prohibit doxing in their terms and conditions and remove such postings immediately.
The anti-terrorism coordinator attests to leftists’ “somewhat old-fashioned” use of the internet and compares this to right-wing extremists who instead “coded language and in-group memes”. In this way, he says, they have managed to “managed to appropriate entire, previously politically neutral, web fora”. “Left-wing and anarchist violent extremists”, on the other hand, often “often encourage security awareness among their supporters” in order not to be monitored by the authorities.
Input from the German secret service
It is unclear what de Kerchove intends with his paper. His 14-year term of office is now considered too long, and he is soon to be replaced by a successor. The scope of his duties will then be considerably expanded, and the already high-ranking staff will presumably be increased as well. There are rumours that the Federal Ministry of the Interior is proposing a person from Germany for the post.
The paper mentions initiatives from Germany in several places, and the BfV has provided figures and information. For example, the German service observes “increasing attempts among left-wing violent extremists to radicalise and instrumentalise non-violent left-wing movements”, including for example “groups militating against increases in rent and global warming”. Special mention is made of the protests in Hambacher Forst and the shutting down of the Indymedia Linksunten website.
At the end, de Kerchove recommends that the Commission support member states in exchanges on “left-wing extremism” prevention and exit programmes. He refers to an eleven-year-old project from Germany, which the European Youth Education Centre in Weimar carried out at the time on behalf of the Ministry of Family Affairs with 500 young people. Its director, however, could not see any danger to democracy in “left-wing extremism”.
Instead, he stated at the end of the project: “Democracy is endangered here from another side, the problematic mainstream is clearly right-wing.”
Image: Nine people have died in Hanau as a result of a right-wing terrorist attack. But the EU is to prosecute more “left-wing terrorism” (IL Frankfurt).