Europe has been facing a growing and evolving set of security challenges in recent years.
At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that these challenges – whether terrorism, cyber attacks, disinformation or the security of our digital critical infrastructure – are shared threats, best tackled by working together.
National authorities remain responsible for internal security. But no country can deal with these issues alone. That is why the European Union has been working in close conjunction with its Member States to better protect our citizens.
Appointing a Commissioner dedicated to security was, according to MEP Claude Moraes, former Chair of the LIBE Committee, “an important step in recognising the priority of this portfolio and responding to calls from the European Parliament for further action”.
Since I took office in 2016, we have indeed made important progress towards an effective and genuine Security Union – reaching agreement on 16 out of 22 legislative proposals.
As a Centre for European Reform report put it, “the EU managed to achieve more on security in two years than it had in the previous decade”.
We began by focusing on terrorism, as the recent wave of terrorist attacks both highlighted the importance of, and gave extra impetus to, our work on closing down the space in which terrorists operate, on building our resilience to attacks and to tackling the radicalisation and online terrorist content that fuels extremism.
We are making it harder for terrorists to travel and to gain access to money, firearms and explosives, while bolstering security at the external borders and reinforcing the ability of our EU Agencies, including Europol, to support Member States in the fight against terrorism and serious crime.
In addition, we are providing funding to help cities and local authorities protect public spaces without changing their open character.
We are building our collective resilience by strengthening our EU information systems; our Interoperability Regulations, adopted by the Council in May, will lead to faster, more systematic access to information for those on the front line who need it the most.
As Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers, one of the Rapporteurs for the file said, “With the interoperability package, we managed to take a big and important step towards closing blind spots in our EU security policy.”
Prevention is, of course, better than cure, so we are working to tackle radicalisation both online and offline. We are supporting grassroots projects aimed at spotting and countering radicalisation, working with practitioners in communities, including through the Radicalisation Awareness Network.
Online, we have proposed measures that would oblige internet platforms to take down terrorist content within one hour of being notified and to prevent it from being reuploaded, with clear rules and safeguards. The work to find agreement on this proposal is ongoing.
“Cooperation at all levels is central to ensuring our work on all these security challenges is effective. As threats evolve, so we need to deepen and strengthen our joint efforts to help keep Europe safe”
We next looked at cyber and cyber-enabled threats, first focusing on ‘classic’ threats targeting systems and data, developing a new EU cybersecurity strategy to build our resilience, strengthen our deterrence and support Member States in cyber defence.
We have a cyber diplomacy toolbox, a set of measures for a joint EU diplomatic response to malicious cyber activities. We have also taken steps on deterrence, including proposing measures to improve law enforcement access to electronic evidence.
We then turned our attention to cyber-enabled threats, including disinformation and the manipulation of data and behaviour, particularly in terms of election security.
The European Commission worked with the European Parliament, Member States, civil society and the private sector to put in place countermeasures, including setting up a Rapid Alert System and pressing the big internet platforms into adopting a Code of Practice on Disinformation.
While we did not see any big leaks or hacks during the recent European Parliament election campaign, there are plenty of reports of disinformation, in particular activity by bots and fake accounts. We shouldn’t accept this as the new normal, and work in this area will continue.
We also have been raising awareness of a key area of potential vulnerability – our critical digital infrastructure, especially the roll out of 5G networks.
We have put in place a European approach, which includes a hard-headed look at potential vulnerabilities around 5G and what we can do to mitigate them, with a process to work through the different risks and look at possible militating measures that will run to the end of the year.
But we have been clear from the outset that such measures could include identifying products, services or suppliers that are considered potentially not secure. Our work towards the Security Union has borne much fruit, but important files remain on the table.
We look forward to continuing our close cooperation with the European Parliament during the new session, particularly on the issue of terrorist content online. We will also push for rapid implementation by Member States of the measures which have been passed.
I believe that cooperation at all levels is central to ensuring our work on all these security challenges is effective. As threats evolve, so we need to deepen and strengthen our joint efforts to help keep Europe safe.