The European Union's executive arm is proposing new measures fight extremism in Europe, from racism and xenophobia to the threat of radical Islam. They come amid concerns about the growing clout of far-right European parties as well as the exodus of people joining militant movements overseas.
European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said hundreds of Europeans have left to train and fight in countries like Syria, Sudan and Somalia -- an exodus she said was influenced by extremist propaganda and recruiters.
"We estimate that more than 1,200 Europeans have left so far, and the number is growing," she said. "Some of these young men have joined groups with terrorist agendas, they have been trained and hardened in war, and could pose a threat to our security upon their return from a conflict zone."
Malmstrom spoke at a press conference in Brussels Wednesday, in which she unveiled a 10-point "toolbox" against extremism. She said not enough European Union countries are facing up to the threat. The focus, she said, should be on prevention -- through education as well as cooperating with countries outside the EU to identify fighters heading to training camps.
"All EU countries should provide de-radicalization or exit programs to make it easier to leave extremist groups," Malmstrom said. "We know what a positive impact such programs have in those countries that have this, but not all have this knowledge yet, and that needs to change."
Malmstrom specifically singled out France, where French President Francois Hollande estimated Tuesday that some 700 people had left the country to join the fighting in Syria. Hollande described the trend as worrying.
The French president said it was critical to crack down against terrorist networks and places that shelter extremists.
Malmstrom also warned against the spread of propaganda by those supporting xenophobic, violent and racist views. Far-right parties are on the rise across Europe, and the commissioner has previously expressed alarm about their growing influence ahead of European Parliament elections in May.