BRIDGE project on the prevention of polarisation: conclusion of the three last audit visits

polarisationParis, France, February 2020 – As part of the Efus-led BRIDGE European project on “Building resilience to reduce polarisation and growing extremism”, three audit visits were conducted in January, respectively in the department of Val d’Oise (FR) and the towns of Leuven (BE) and Vaulx-en-Velin (FR). These visits were the last to be conducted as part of the project’s audit phase, during which the partners mapped out phenomena of polarisation at play in their localities thanks to bespoke indicators created by the project experts.

Val d’Oise
> Tensions between the police and young people

The polarisation audit conducted in the department of Val d’Oise identified tensions between the police and some local youngsters as an important polarisation factor that needs to be addressed.

During the audit visit, which was attended by representatives of the Departmental Council of Val d’Oise and the Argenteuil Town Hall, the expert Tim Chapman, visiting lecturer in sociology and applied social studies at Ulster University (Northern Ireland), highlighted the benefits of using methods inspired by restorative justice to reduce tensions between conflicting social groups. Such methods were notably used when working with Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland.

Also chair of the European Forum for Restorative Justice – a network with which Efus has long been a partner, notably through previous European projects on the prevention of reoffending –, Tim Chapman is a leading world expert in this field.

> A pilot project focused on cultural activities

The department of Val d’Oise is now preparing its local project with the support of Efus, which will be focused on reducing tensions between the police and youngsters. The Val d’Oise representatives want to first raise awareness between both these groups and encourage them to open a dialogue within a “safe and secure space” where all participants would be free to express themselves. They also suggested focusing the project on cultural activities for young people, as suggested by the experts.

> Social relationships and citizen participation

So far, the audit in Vaulx-en-Velin has not identified any polarisation phenomenon as such although it did detect tensions between social groups in some neighbourhoods and a lack of motivation for democratic and civic participation.

The audit visit, which was notably attended by local elected officials, representatives of the municipality’s Directorate for Crime Prevention and Urban Security, and the local chief of police, started with a presentation by the expert Markus Pausch, professor in social innovation at the University of Applied Sciences of Salzburg. He described the different forms of polarisation, in particular “pernicious polarisation” when people with opposite views go as far as advocating violence to impose their ideas.

> Pilot project: an in-depth diagnostic

At the end of the visit, the representatives of the municipality of Vaulx-en-Velin decided to deepen the local polarisation diagnostic in order to better prevent them and invest before they even appear. This will be the purpose of the pilot project to be carried out in the months to come with the support of Efus.

> No significant phenomenon of polarisation

The polarisation audit carried out by the town of Leuven showed that even though there are sometimes tensions between certain groups of population, there is no phenomenon of polarisation as such.

The audit visit gathered representatives of different municipal services (Youth, Discrimination, Interculturalism, Crime Prevention) and of several local associations, as well as the expert Tim Chapman and Efus.

It concluded with a meeting with Leuven’s Mayor, Mohamed Ridouani, who supports the project and suggested organising an awareness session on polarisation for all municipal departments.

> Pilot project: supporting existing schemes

The expert proposed that Leuven’s pilot project seek to consolidate the work already conducted by the municipality and its partners to preserve and strengthen social cohesion and bring public institutions closer to citizens.

The municipality has implemented a number of schemes to prevent discrimination, extremism and polarisation that could be strengthened and made more sustainable through the BRIDGE project.

About the BRIDGE project

Started in January 2019 for a duration of 24 months, the BRIDGE project seeks to “raise awareness among local actors and strengthen their capacity to reduce individual and collective vulnerability to radicalisation while at the same time mitigating the phenomenon of polarisation.”

Led by Efus, it gathers 13 local and regional authorities* from seven European countries as well as the German Ufuq association and the Real Instituto Elcano from Spain.

After the audit phase, which is now concluding, the 13 partner local authorities will develop pilot projects and exchange on their progress and results. The end of the year will be devoted to preparing the project’s final publication as well as a webinar for local authorities.

* Brussels (BE), Departmental council of Val d’Oise (FR), Düsseldorf (DE), Government of Catalonia (ES), Genk (BE), Igoumenitsa (GR), Leuven (BE), Reggio Emilia (IT), Region of Umbria (IT), Rotterdam (NL), Terrassa (ES), Stuttgart (DE), Vaulx-en-Velin (FR)