In the 21st century decision makers are confronted with an increasingly complex environment and subsequently the demands on institutions such as Europol have grown exponentially: the body must keep up.
Europol publishes an annual report (TE-SAT: EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report) on terrorism activity in Europe which has shown that since 2007 there has been a continued decline of terrorist activity in the continent. The 2012 report however suffers from flaws: Firstly, the definition of the Andreas Breivik attack as explicitly not right wing and secondly, the questionable outlook and trends that it provides. This piece will briefly look at both of these aspects in turn.
The report fails to identify the Breivik attack for what it was: a right wing attack. Separating it from other incidents, such as recent right wing attacks in Germany, creates the illusion of continued low levels of right wing violence in line with historical attitudes of governments in Europe that have tended to underestimate this issue. The report is also inconsistent: In its key judgments the report states that right wing extremism has reached new levels in Europe and should not be underestimated. It is assessed to most likely come from lone actors or underground groups making an implicit link to Breivik. This is, however, surprising because when ignoring Breivik, right wing terrorism is only responsible for a single attack in the EU in 2011. When later discussing the case it is explicitly said that Breivik ‘established his own ideology from various influences and without clear affiliation, presenting himself as a “cultural conservative”’. The formulation here is puzzling as well: “His ideology is assessed as opposing multiculturalism and more specifically Islamism”. It can be assumed that Europol does not believe Islamism to be a form of multiculturalism, but this might be another indication for the somewhat disorientated approach that Europol has taken to this specific case. In addition we can be quite sure that for Breivik a difference between Islam and Islamism does not exist; he opposes Islam per se, making him an enemy of a part of society based on its religious believes. Signifying that he is indeed right-wing.
The contradiction here is obvious; When it comes to the political spectrum: “cultural conservatism” can easily be fitted on the right side of the scale. In addition the use of “conservatism” in this context is a stark euphemism. Taking up weapons with the will to smite the perceived “traitor” is clearly outside the realm of classical “conservatism”.
Even worse: the notion that Breivik has constructed his ideology without connection to a wider ideological movement ignores the obvious facts to the contrary. His manifesto is a copy & paste work. It is not an original piece of work, but incooperates the work of Islamophobes “cultural conservatists” from all over Europe. Europol ignores recent developments on the right side of the political spectrum and the fact that Breivik is embedded in a much larger movement.
Trends and outlook
The trends and outlooks that conclude the report concentrate almost exclusively on Jihadist oriented threats despite that fact that Europe has seen only one such attack in 2011 (the shooting of two US airmen in Frankfurt, Germany). Other than that the report registers 110 separatist motivated plots that either failed, were foiled or were completed, and 37 leftwing oriented. Even when it comes to arrests separatist terrorism still beats religious oriented. A possible bias is also showing itself when discussing the Olympics. Despite fears by experts that Irish republican dissident groups might use the event for attacks, the only variant discussed is al-Qaida inspired terrorism.
To improve future reports in this regard is crucial especially when Europol states that: “The TE-SAT aims to provide law enforcement officials, policymakers and the general public with facts and figures regarding terrorism in the EU, while also seeking to identify trends in the development of this phenomenon”. If this report is supposed to inform decision makers than it will have to improve its assessments. In the 21st century decision makers are confronted with an increasingly complex environment and subsequently the demands on institutions such as Europol have grown exponentially: the body must keep up.