Better cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure, doubling down on tackling terrorism and organized crime, and preparing the bloc for emerging threats in “real and digital” environments, dominated the European Commission’s new EU Security Union strategy, presented on Friday (24 July).
“With the new strategy, we are connecting all the dots to build a real security ecosystem,” Margaritis Schinas, Commission VP for Promoting European Way of Life told reporters in Brussels.
Over the last four years, the EU has linked its range of security databases together and has given law enforcement agencies wider access to EU data, yet critics have pointed out the lack of coordination between departments and institutions.
“It is time to overcome the false dichotomy between online and offline, between digital and physical and between internal and external security concerns and threats,” Schinas said.
“All the proposed actions and initiatives that we are envisaging in the field of security union strategy will fully respect fundamental right and our European values. Those values are the ones that determine our European Way of Life and we will under no circumstances sacrifice them on the altar of security. Security in fact is the way to protect them,” he added.
Critical infrastructure and hybrid threats
According to the Commission, one of the four main building blocks of the new strategy will be new EU rules on the protection and resilience of independent critical infrastructure, physical and digital.
Existing legislation at the moment only covers the transport and energy sectors.
“The framework has been already there, but it didn’t keep pace with the evolving threat landscape,” Schinas said.
Asked by EURACTIV what measures the Commission is going to propose to protect critical national infrastructures, Schinas declined to discuss “sensitive details” but said it would be necessary to build up “resilience and response capacities”.
The Commission also aims to ensure stronger physical protection of public places and adequate detection systems.
According to Schinas, countering hybrid threats, which are “orchestrated by forces and countries that don’t want to see the EU succeed”, will be coordinated closely with the EU’s diplomatic service and the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell.
“We’re working very closely with the EEAS on all those threats,” Schinas told EURACTIV.
“Many of those attacks are, of course, state-sponsored and we are not naive, but we would like to reserve our capacity to assess, respond and react where it matters, I am not sure if the press room of the Commission is the place for that,” he added.
“We reiterate our determination to be very, very forceful and eager to fight this threats,” Schinas added.
Alongside the Security Union strategy, the Commission launched its first three initiatives to combat child sexual abuse online, drug and firearms trafficking on Friday.
Worried by an alarming spike in child sexual abuse in recent years and during the coronavirus pandemic, the EU executive unveiled plans to create a European centre to prevent mistreatment and introduce legislation requiring online platforms to report inappropriate material.
“Those who benefit from causing suffering and misfortune by selling illegal drugs and firearms or spreading abominable material about child sexual abuse must be stopped and brought to justice,” said Schinas.
With 700,000 pieces of material detected last year and the situation of child sexual abuse online having worsened during the pandemic, Johansson announced the Commission would propose new legislation by next year, requiring online platforms for platforms to detect, report and remove illegal content and refer it to appropriate authorities.
Furthermore, the Commission put forward a new EU Agenda on Drugs, which according to Europol are the biggest source of money for organised crime groups in Europe.
In Europe, an estimated €30 billion are spent on drugs each year, while according to Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, the EU is developing from a consumer region to a producer region.
Synthetic drugs are produced on industrial scale in the EU,” she stated, adding that last year alone authorities had seized 100 tonnes of cocaine.
Johansson also presented a new EU Action Plan against firearms trafficking.
“There are 45 million illicit weapons owned by civilians in the EU, that is more than legally owned ones,” Johansson told reporters, adding that the Commission aims to review the current framework on seizing criminals’ assets.
In 2016, the EU’s firearms policy reform toughened gun control across the bloc and made it harder for EU citizens to obtain and possess certain weapons, as well as created tougher rules for licensing and registration of guns.
While the Brussels executive originally proposed a complete ban on civilian possession of semiautomatic firearms capable of firing a high number of rounds, multiple exceptions have since been included and wording on restricting online sales vague, with some security officials said the legislation was too heavily watered down.
[Edited By Samuel Stolton, Benjamin Fox]