By John Chalmers and Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The EU plans to tighten its rules to combat online extremism, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday, ahead of a meeting this week between ministers under pressure to beef up security following deadly attacks in France and Austria.

Suspected Islamist militants have killed eight people in less than a month in Paris, Nice and Vienna. The attacks refocused the bloc’s attention on the threat of extremism, which had slid from the top of the agenda in Europe following the 2017 defeat of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

French President Emmanuel Macron was due to discuss proposed new security measures with von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Tuesday. EU justice and interior ministers meet on Friday.

Von der Leyen said a looming overhaul of EU rules for online platforms would include measures to combat extremist content.

“Our values need to be protected online, as well as offline,” she said. “Take illegal hate speech and terrorist propaganda. In recent weeks we have seen once again how urgent this is.”

Charles Michel, who chairs summits of EU leaders, has proposed setting up a special European institute to train imams.

A draft of a joint statement for the upcoming ministers’ meeting, seen by Reuters, includes language reinforcing EU countries’ emergency rights to temporarily suspend free movement across their borders because of security concerns.

Nearly two decades since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and five years since gunmen killed more than 130 people in Paris, there are not many fresh policy ideas left to explore. Proposals the ministers are likely to discuss have mainly been on the table for a while and proven difficult to implement.

The draft ministers’ statement calls for immigrants to “make an active effort to become integrated, while they are offered help in this regard”.

EU countries “must retain the ability to…reintroduce and prolong temporary internal border controls” if needed, it says.

(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Peter Graff)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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