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European Commission - Fact Sheet

FAQ: Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats

Brussels, 6 April 2016

The European Commission and the High Representative adopted today a Joint Framework to counter hybrid threats and foster the resilience of the EU, its Member States and partner countries while increasing cooperation with NATO on countering these threats.

See also IP/16/1227

What are hybrid threats?

The concept of hybrid threats aims to capture the mixture of conventional and unconventional, military and non-military, overt and covert actions that can be used in a coordinated manner by state or non-state actors to achieve specific objectives while remaining below the threshold of formally declared warfare. They target critical vulnerabilities and seek to create ambiguity in order to hinder swift and effective decision-making. The range of measures applied as part of a hybrid campaign may be very wide: from cyberattacks on critical information systems, through the disruption of critical services, such as energy supplies or financial services, to undermining public trust in government institutions or exploiting social vulnerabilities. A first and crucial step on the road to achieving better protection against hybrid threats is to acquire proper situational awareness. This is why intelligence and information sharing becomes so important. In order to prevent and respond to hybrid threats effectively, it is paramount to enhance the resilience of societies and critical infrastructure. Given the nature of hybrid threats, it is essential to work across geographical borders and agency boundaries.

Why are you proposing further actions to counter hybrid threats?

In recent years, the European Union's security environment has changed dramatically. Many of the current challenges to peace, security and prosperity originate from instability in the EU's immediate neighbourhood and from changing forms of threats. These have a direct impact on the EU's internal and external security. They call for the Union to adapt and to mobilise its wide toolbox with the objective of ensuring enhanced protection of its citizens, core values and infrastructure. In his 2014 Political Guidelines, the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stressed the need “to work on a stronger Europe when it comes to security and defence” and to combine European and national instruments in a more effective way than in the past. In May 2015, the Foreign Affairs Council invited the High Representative to work with the Commission, the European Defence Agency and the Member States and present a Joint Framework with actionable proposals to help countering hybrid threats, underlining also the need to cooperate and coordinate with relevant partner organisations, including in particular NATO, as well as partner countries, as appropriate. This mandate was further reinforced by the June 2015 European Council. Responding to these requests, the Joint Framework aims to facilitate a holistic approach that will enable the EU, in coordination with Member States, to counter threats of a hybrid nature by creating synergies between different instruments and fostering close cooperation between all relevant actors.

What can the EU do to counter hybrid threats?

Insofar as countering hybrid threats relates to national security and defence, the primary responsibility lies with Member States, as most national vulnerabilities are country-specific. However, many Member States face common threats that can be more effectively addressed at the EU level. The EU can be used as a platform to boost national efforts and, through its regulatory capacity, establish common benchmarks that can help raise the level of protection and resilience across the EU. That's why the EU can play an important role in improving our collective situational awareness, in building Member States' resilience to hybrid threats, and in preventing, responding to and recovering from crisis.

What are the main elements of the Joint Framework?

The Joint Framework offers a comprehensive approach to improve the common response to the challenges posed by hybrid threats to Member States, citizens and the collective security of Europe. It brings together all relevant actors, policies and instruments to both counter and mitigate the impact of hybrid threats in a more coordinated manner. In particular, it builds on the European Agenda on Security adopted by the Commission in April 2015, as well as on sectorial strategies such as EU Cyber Security Strategy, the Energy Security Strategy and the European Union Maritime Security Strategy. Together with the upcoming European Union Global Strategy for foreign and security policy and the Defence Action Plan, and ongoing work on capacity building in support of security and development (CBSD) in third countries, the Joint Framework is part of the strategy of the Commission and the High Representative to increase the EU's capacity as a security provider.

The Joint Framework brings together existing policies and proposes twenty-two operational Actions aimed at:

  • raising awareness by establishing dedicated mechanisms for the exchange of information between Member States and by coordinating EU actions to deliver strategic communication;
  • building resilience by addressing potential strategic and critical sectors such as cybersecurity, critical infrastructures (Energy, Transport, Space), protection of the financial system from illicit use, protection of public health, and supporting efforts to counter violent extremism and radicalisation;
  • preventing, responding to crisis and recovering by defining effective procedures to follow, but also by examining the feasibility of applying the Solidarity Clause (Article 222 TFEU) and the mutual defence clause (Art. 42(7) TEU), in case a wide-ranging and serious hybrid attack occurs;
  • stepping up the cooperation and coordination between the EU and NATO as well as other partner organisations, in common efforts to counter hybrid threats, while respecting the principles of inclusiveness and autonomy of each organisation's decision making process.

The Framework is designed to provide a robust foundation to support Member States in countering hybrid threats collectively, supported by a wide range of EU instruments and initiatives.

What is proposed to build resilience?

The Joint Framework outlines proposals to build resilience in areas such as cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, protecting the financial system from illicit use and efforts to counter violent extremism and radicalisation. In each of these areas, the implementation of agreed strategies by the EU and the Member States, as well as Member States’ full implementation of existing legislation is a key first step, while some more concrete proposals have been put forward to further reinforce these efforts. The Joint Framework addresses the challenges raised by the specificities of threats of a hybrid nature, but EU action is not limited to countering hybrid threats. EU internal policies already aim at increased resilience and prevention, and at a rapid and effective response to crisis.

How would awareness be improved?

As the focus is on improving awareness, it is proposed to establish dedicated mechanisms to exchange information with Member States and to coordinate the EU’s capacity to deliver strategic communications. An EU Hybrid Fusion Cell within the EU Intelligence and Situation Centre (EU INTCEN) of the European External Action Service (EEAS) will offer a single focus for the analysis of external aspects of hybrid threats. The Fusion Cell will receive, analyse and share classified and open source information from different stakeholders within the EEAS, the Commission and Member States specifically relating to indicators and warnings concerning hybrid threats. In liaison with relevant bodies at the EU and at national level, the Fusion Cell would analyse external aspects of hybrid threats, affecting the EU and its neighbourhood, in order to rapidly analyse relevant incidents and inform the EU's strategic decision-making processes, including by providing inputs to the security risk assessments carried out at EU level. The Cell would enhance awareness and provide inputs to security risk assessment processes which support policy-making at national and EU levels.

How does the Commission promote risk assessment?

As announced in the European Agenda on Security, the Commission facilitates common assessments of security risks in a variety of policy areas like transport security (in particular aviation), anti-money laundering and terrorism financing, border control, etc.

These joint assessments at EU level provide a comprehensive analysis of the threats, consequences and vulnerabilities to support policy-making with a view to mitigate the risks. The Commission facilitates these processes with the participation of Member States’ experts and other EU services as appropriate. The assessments of hybrid threats, produced by the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell, will provide relevant inputs to feed risk assessments at the EU and national levels.

What are the sectors most vulnerable to hybrid threats?

Critical vulnerabilities may differ from Member State to Member State, as do levels of protection ensured nationally. However, there are a number of areas where dependency on critical services is high and where, as a consequence, countries and societies are particularly exposed to hybrid threats. These include energy security and supply, space infrastructure, maritime security, public health, transport (aviation, maritime, rail), cyber security, communications, and financial systems. Hybrid threats can also target vulnerabilities in societies, challenging core values and liberties, or targeting more vulnerable groups. A 'joined up' approach to countering hybrid threats can make each of these sectors more secure and resilient.

What is the Solidarity Clause?

The Solidarity Clause was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. According to Article 222(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Union and the Member States are to act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a Member State is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster. The decision to invoke the clause lies with the political authorities of the affected Member State. The Council adopted on 24 June 2014 a decision on the arrangements for the implementation of the Solidarity Clause. The Union’s response shall ensure coherence and complementarity of Union and Member State action, and build on existing instruments. Arrangements for coordination within the Council should rely on the EU Integrated Political Crisis Response (ICPR). Under these arrangements, the Commission and the High Representative (in their respective areas of competence), identify relevant Union instruments and submit proposals to the Council for decisions on exceptional measures. Article 222 also addresses situations that involve direct assistance by one or several Member States to a Member State that has experienced a terrorist attack or disaster. In such cases, the 2014 Council Decision (2014/415/EU) does not apply. Given the ambiguity associated with hybrid activities, the Commission and the High Representative (in their respective areas of competence), will assess the possibility to apply the Solidarity Clause in case an EU Member State is subject to significant hybrid threats.

What is the mutual defence clause and is it relevant in this context?

According to Article 42 (7) of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) “If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations charter”.If multiple serious hybrid threats constitute armed aggression against an EU Member State, this mutual assistance clause could be invoked to provide an appropriate and timely response. It does not require Member States to take military action but Member States are required to provide aid and assistance, providing that it shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States. The mutual assistance clause foresees Member States' action only – it provides for direct country-to-country dialogue and support. The clause signifies a high-level ambition and commitment – where the exact nature of aid and assistance is to be determined by each Member State. There are no specific provisions established for the implementation of Article 42(7), it can be adapted to the specific circumstances and needs. Given the ambiguity associated with hybrid activities, the Commission and the High Representative (in their respective areas of competence), will examine the applicability and practical implications of Articles 222 TFEU and Article 42(7) TEU in case a wide-ranging and serious hybrid attack occurs.

What are the Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) arrangements?

The IPCR arrangements were adopted by the Council of the European Union on 25 June 2013 to reinforce the EU’s ability to take rapid actions when facing major crises requiring a common response. The IPCR arrangements are flexible and scalable, enabling a tailored response and providing the necessary support from EU institutions and services in the context of a crisis and its evolution. They make full use of synergies between stakeholders and existing resources, structures and capabilities. They do not replace existing instruments and arrangements at sectorial level. The Commission and the EEAS contribute notably by producing regular Integrated Situational Awareness and Analysis (ISAA) reports to inform decision-making. IPCR has been activated by the Presidency of the Council for the first time in October 2015 to respond to the migration and refugee crisis. IPCR arrangements support the implementation of Article 222 of the Treaty on the Functioning the European Union.

How will the EU improve cooperation with third countries and partner organisations? What role might they play?

The EU will make best use of its cooperation with partner countries, including with its immediate neighbours, in countering hybrid threats. Through its external assistance, the EU will continue to strengthen its partners' national capacities in the fight against organised crime, terrorism and illegal trafficking, including in the field of border management. Further, the EU will pay specific attention to protection of critical infrastructure and develop actions to enhance cyber-resilience which would ultimately contribute to countering hybrid threats in third countries. The High Representative, in coordination with the Commission, will continue informal dialogue and enhance cooperation and coordination with NATO on situational awareness, strategic communications, cybersecurity and "crisis prevention and response" to counter hybrid threats, respecting the principles of inclusiveness and autonomy of each organisation's decision making process.

How will the actions, identified in this Framework, be put in practice?

The actions proposed require cooperation and coordination of all relevant actors at EU and national level. Some of the proposed actions come under the responsibility of Member States, others require implementation by Member States. The EU can provide support and advice as required, including through best practice. The actions proposed in the Joint Framework and their implementation will be discussed in the Council of the European Union and the European Council. The proposals will also be discussed by the European Parliament.

How have Member States been involved so far?

The Member States have already provided written contributions and attended a number of events organised at EU level. The European External Action Service (EEAS) and Commission services have drawn up these proposals in full consultation with Member States.




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