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Brussels, 5 December 2018

Opening Remarks

Dear Ministers, 

Representatives of the internet companies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you all to this fourth, Ministerial EU Internet Forum.

I am proud to see that this Forum we took the initiative to create back in 2015 is still such a rich and vibrant platform for action against extremism on the internet.

It is a pleasure to see so many familiar faces, and I am happy to welcome new partners to the table. 

I am referring in particular to the representatives of Baaz and Dropbox, who join us for the first time. 

I would also like to extend a warm welcome to the Honourable Member of the European Parliament Ms Helga Stevens, the rapporteur for the Terrorist Content Online Regulation, as well as the new Director of Europol, Catherine de Bolle. 

I am delighted that we have with us also UN Assistant Secretary-General, Michèle Coninsx from the UN Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate. 

 

Dear friends,

I will be frank and direct, as always. There is one big difference between our meeting today, and the last time we met last year: 

Today we meet with a proposal for legislation on the table,  which is being discussed by our Member States and the European Parliament as a matter of top priority.  That is a big change from last year,  which we of course cannot ignore.

A proposal for legislation understandably changes dynamics, and casts voluntary cooperation in a different light.

What is the same as last year, and will be the same for the years to come, is the urgency for us here to act against terrorist content online, to proactivelly and aggressivelly pursue it, in order to protect our citizens, your users, from the harm this content can bring. 

Legislation takes time to prepare and to come into effect. 

In the meantime, this Forum, this trustful cooperation we have built, will continue to be the EU frontline against terrorist content online.

Daesh continues to dominate the jihadi online space and to openly call on their supporters to generate and disseminate their content. 

They are losing territory and infrastructure, but their supporters are stepping in to multiply the threat.

Al Qaeda and Daesh both remain committed to inspiring attacks in the West. The internet will remain their vehicle to achieve this.

As long as this is the case, the internet will be also our most important battleground against terrorism.

This is not a European issue:  it is a global problem – which has been underlined even in recent UN Security Council resolutions. 

We know for example about the preoccupation of Daesh with attacks using biological or chemical agents. In Cologne last summer, we had a foiled plot to attack with ricin.

Reports suggest, that the suspect was following online video instructions on how to use ricin, which were posted online by a jihadi terrorist group in 2016. 

Terrorist content online once again resulted in very real and very frightening threats on the street. 

And jihadism is not the only type of extremism that should worry us.

Last year, VOX-POL informed us that the right wing extremist scene was flourishing online. 

One year on, the situation has not improved. 

From the United States to the far corners of Europe, right-wing extremism is showing is ugly face in a way we have not seen in decades.

What we see Germany, Poland, Greece and many other places is only the tip of a very big iceberg.

I have always been warning that nationalism and populism can return Europe to its dark past.

We are not learning from our history.

New technologies and the socialisation of our online media, only make this backsliding faster, deeper and more dangerous.

The echo chambers the internet creates for extremism should worry all of us.

The progress we have made in this Forum together shows what can be achieved when we combine our collective determination, innovation, expertise and resources towards making the internet 

a safer place.

From Europol’s referral mechanism in 2015,  to the database of hashes in 2016, and the big leaps towards automated detection of content in 2017, we have come a long way. 

It has not been easy.  Terrorists are determined to stay one step ahead and evade our counter measures. 

We managed to improve our understanding of how terrorists operate across platforms, we have stepped up, thanks to Europol, our capacity to refer content to the companies, we have created collaborative artificial intelligence, and we have seen many companies supporting each other to stem the dissemination of extremist content. 

In parallel, our Civil Society Empowerment Programme is operational now for the past year.  Through this programme,we have already trained more than 250 practitioners across the EU to develop effective counter-narrative campaigns online.

We are now signing agreements to award more than 8 million euro in grants to 12 projects for this purpose. 4 million euro more will be committed in our second call for proposals next year. 

You will hear about these projects today – and I call on all of us, and particularly the internet companies, to support and to promote these projects on their platforms.

The strength of this Forum is precisely in the cross-cutting, horizontal and multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach it brings. 

And that is why I repeat that it is so important that this co-operative approach continues, now that legislation is on the table.

Because ALL the companies that sit here, are more than ready for their responsibilities the day the Regulation comes.

They are PREPARED to receive referrals, to take proactive measures and to remove content within one hour. 

They have good, established procedures with law enforcement and an excellent cooperation with Europol.

The reason we proposed the legislation is for the companies that are not here.

Platforms that did not respond to our calls to join this voluntary cooperation, or platforms whose response has not been sufficient.

The legislation will be discussed by Ministers tomorrow in the Justice and Home Affairs Council, and for this reason, it would not be appropriate to discuss it today. 

What is clear is that this Forum will continue to be a key part of the puzzle in life after the Regulation. 

It is through this Forum that the implementation of the Regulation will be ensured. 

And it is through this Forum that we will iron out the details of how we cooperate together in the future.

 

Ladies and gentlemen. 

Without further ado, let us now move to the agenda of this year’s EU Internet Forum. But before that, let me first pass the floor to Minister Kickl on behalf of the Austrian Presidency, 

who has made great efforts in ensuring that this topic has remained at the top of the security agenda.

 

Closing Remarks

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me now draw some conclusions on our next steps and bring today's proceedings to a close. 

I would like to thank all of you for participating so positively in today's discussion. 

I want to particularly thank the internet companies for their dedicated commitment to the Forum, and for their openness and frankness in today's discussions. 

I would like to also pay tribute  to VOX-POL for their excellent research,  and to Europol for its dedicated and proactive work.

I would also like to express my thanks to my colleagues, the Ministers and Member States’ representatives for their continued commitment to the cooperation mechanisms that we have established in this Forum but also about the continued value of sitting together, shoulder to shoulder around this oval table. 

Last but certainly not least: I would like to thank my team in DG HOME for doing everything to make today’s meeting happen; but also for their excellent work in preparing and negotiating the legislation on Terrorist Content Online.

The overriding conclusion I draw from our discussions today is our shared diagnosis: the problem of terrorist content online is not going to go away any time soon. 

Terrorists will continue to adapt their behaviour to secure their online survival. 

We are in this for the LONG-haul, and the trust and cooperation we established here, will be the compass to guide our next steps.

Europol will continue to be the nerve centre of our cooperation against terrorist content. 

We have acknowledged, by all of us today, that it has the expertise and the resources to continue playing this role – both for authorities and companies. And we will make sure that Europol continues to have all the resources it needs for this purpose. 

Terrorist content on your platform hurts all of us equally. 

It is you, the companies themselves who are best placed to determine how to prevent terrorists’ exploitation of your platforms, and to turn the tide against them.

The tools you are developing yourselves on your platforms are the most effective counter-measures we all have.

That is why I am a strong supporter of your efforts under the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism: because that is a platform created by the companies, for the companies. 

The Global Forum is also an initiative which shows that here in Europe, under THIS Forum, we got something right when we took the initiative and we established it back in 2015. 

I also note the agreement that the real game changer, will be the automated tools that detect content without flagging - always of course with human oversight to prevent errors.

I urge all of you to work together in this direction and make your automated tools stronger and better.

On the second big objective of this forum, the positive counter-speech, we did not discuss today because of time, but it remains as important in our efforts as terrorist content removal.

The Civil Society Empowerment Programme we launched here in this Forum in the year 2016 will continue. 

I am thankful to the Radicalisation Awareness Network and the European Strategic Communications Network for steering these efforts, but also for the invaluable contribution from Google, Twitter and Facebook. 

 

Dear friends, 

I would like to close our meeting with a take-away reflection point.

The platform we created here in this Forum, and the cooperation mechanisms we established, could be useful in a number of other areas.

If we think for example, in our file, of migrant smuggling?

Or if we consider the illegal online sales of firearms, explosives and drugs?

All of these issues are urgent and operationally critical for our security, and have the online dimension as a common nexus. 

Can, and should we extend the successful formula we found with terrorist online content to other forms of serious crime?

The last three years have demonstrated what we can achieve through trust and collaboration. 

Thank you again all of you for your participation. 

To those who travelled, I wish a good and safe trip back home.

And to the Ministers, I can only say, see you tomorrow morning at the Council.

Before we depart, I hope you will join me for a family photo before we enjoy a cocktail reception in the foyer. 

But first, I will pass the floor to my colleague Julian for his closing remarks.