Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism in Europe: Expert Views on Contemporary Challenges 

Preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) has become a label summarising an array of initiatives united by the very goal it describes. Yet such initiatives take on varying forms in different European countries. The measures deemed effective, the specific threats targeted, and the stakeholders involved can differ greatly from one nation to another (cf. Maniscalco and Rosato 2019). How countries in Europe currently differ in their P/CVE efforts and in the production and management of knowledge about it and why lies at the centre of Lotta Rahlf’s country-comparative VORTEX dissertation project. Specific approaches, such as multi-agency arrangements, seem to work very well in some contexts, for example in the Nordic countries, where they have already been established for general crime prevention and are embedded in close-knit societies (cf. Sivenbring and Malmros 2019). In other countries, a clear division of roles between public and civil society actors can be observed (cf. Hardy 2019). Despite these differences and context dependencies, similarities can be identified when experts are asked what they perceive as problematic or challenging about their P/CVE landscape. This is precisely what the researcher did as part of an expert survey in which 41 experts from 20 European countries had taken part by the time of the analysis. This blogpost summarises the most frequently mentioned tensions, offering a snapshot of current tensions facing P/CVE efforts in Europe.

A first look at the responses suggests that tensions are always identified when a variety of different actors are engaged in P/CVE initiatives in a given country. In nations where P/CVE efforts are primarily or exclusively managed by public or state authorities, such as Belgium, Austria, Greece, and Slovakia, this approach is often viewed as insufficient. Experts argue that violent extremism cannot be effectively countered with predominantly repressive measures, as these do not target individuals who have not yet committed offenses. In addition, many countries face unclear delineation of competencies among various state actors, and this is not limited to federally organised nations. In federal or decentralised states, such as Austria or Spain, ambiguity often arises between local, regional, and national authorities, affecting both steering and planning responsibilities as well as policing duties. In centralised and unitary states, the division of labour between intelligence services and the police, such as in Norway, or among different police authorities, as seen in Portugal, remains unclear.

Where civil society actors carry out P/CVE initiatives alongside security authorities, the tensions and challenges described by the experts are similar in many European countries. The most frequently cited issue by experts is the clash of different logics between these groups. This divergence not only complicates cooperation but also exacerbates structural problems, such as the financial insecurity faced by many civil society P/CVE actors. What logic does preventing and countering violent extremism follow? Should it aim to prevent individuals from posing a risk to society, or should it seek to strengthen resilience against extremist recruitment attempts? Security and law enforcement agencies typically favour the former approach, aligning with their mandate to protect society and prosecute criminal offenses. In contrast, civil society organisations, which do not have such a mandate, adopt a care logic. Their focus is on supporting individuals to become more resilient to extremist narratives and to fulfil their needs in ways other than joining extremist organisations. In several European countries, these different logics conflict with each other, sometimes to such an extent that they hinder effective cooperation, for example in Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, or Germany. As one participant from the Netherlands observed, actors ‘don’t always speak the same language or have the same objectives or visions related to P/CVE’. 

Experts from various countries also highlight issues with implementing an ‘inter-agency’ or ‘multi-agency’ approach to P/CVE in their countries (e.g., Bulgaria, Slovakia). One significant problem is the inability or unwillingness of different actors to share confidential data and information with each other. Social services and counselling organisations, for instance, prioritise protecting their clients’ privacy, which is crucial for their effectiveness and trustworthiness. Meanwhile, security authorities often withhold information referring to security concerns (e.g., Denmark, Norway, Austria). Another challenge lies in standardising information while ensuring it is communicated in a situation-specific manner without data loss, as an Austrian respondent noted. Lastly, mutual mistrust stemming from past negative experiences can hinder cooperation among stakeholders (e.g., Romania). Despite these challenges, some countries have made notable progress. In Denmark, for example, coordination between the state, research institutions, and practice has improved significantly over the past decade. Furthermore, despite all the tensions, the added value of such multi-agency collaborations remained emphasised.

Another problem identified by the experts in several countries concerns the insecure financial footing of P/CVE measures. This structural problem often ties back to the conflicting logics between different actors. Experts from some countries, e.g. Belgium, emphasise that repressive measures are generally allocated more funds by security authorities than P/CVE measures, that tend to follow a care logic. In other countries, however, there appears to be a fundamental lack of funding for P/CVE, without the experts specifying what type of P/CVE is concerned (e.g. Austria, Spain). Temporary funding is seen as problematic. It forces projects to continuously prove their worth to funders, hindering their ability to build on experience and develop long-term strategies. This challenge is evident both in countries where P/CVE projects are generally state-funded (e.g., Germany) and in those where the EU also acts as a funding body (e.g., Greece).

Overall, despite the varied P/CVE landscapes across Europe, experts identified tensions or problems in almost every country surveyed, with many countries experiencing similar issues. In some countries, P/CVE remains the sole responsibility of state authorities, a situation often deemed insufficient and leading to uncertainty about who is accountable. In countries where civil society actors are also involved, conflicting logics—particularly care versus control—create significant tensions. Additionally, ongoing uncertainties and reservations about cooperation between different actors exacerbate these issues and project-based funding hinders meaningful development of the field. However, none of these challenges are new. They have been extensively identified and discussed in existing literature (e.g. Davies 2015; Mattson and Säljö 2017; Hardyns et al. 2022). The experts’ responses in the current survey reaffirm that these problems persist, offering fresh insights into the shared challenges across different countries. Nevertheless, these challenges do not necessarily mean that some approaches should be avoided. On the contrary, the multi-agency approach, for example, or the development of a strong civil society P/CVE practice can work very well in certain contexts – but there seem to be certain implementation hurdles that could be overcome in order to maximise the potential of specifically structured P/CVE landscapes.

Further reading:

As part of the German PrEval project (Evaluation and Quality Management in Extremism Prevention, Democracy Promotion and Civic Education: Analysis, Monitoring, Dialogue), the Global Public Policy Institute will soon publish a report, analysing an international survey on P/CVE practice and evaluation:


Davies, Lynn. 2015. “Security, Extremism and Education: Safeguarding or Surveillance?” British Journal of Educational Studies 64 (1): 1–19. .

Hardy, Keiran. 2019. ‘Countering Right-Wing Extremism: Lessons from Germany and Norway’. Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism 14 (3): 262–79. .

Hardyns, Wim, Noel Klima, and Lieven Pauwels. 2022. Evaluation and Mentoring of the Multi-Agency Approach to Violent Radicalisation. Vol. 4. IDC Impact Series. Antwerpen: Maklu Publishers.

Maniscalco, Maria Luisa, and Valeria Rosato. 2019. Preventing Radicalisation and Terrorism in Europe. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publisher.

Mattsson, Christer, and Roger Säljö. 2017. “Violent Extremism, National Security and Prevention. Institutional Discourses and Their Implications for Schooling.” British Journal of Educational Studies 66 (1): 109–25. .

Sivenbring, Jennie, and Robin Andersson Malmros. n.d. ‘Organizational Structures’. In Mixing Logics: Multiagency Approaches for Countering Violent Extremism, 49–76. Göteborg: Segerstedinstitutet, Göteborgs Universitet.