Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos:
Today's security environment is more complex, less predictable and more quickly evolving than at any time in recent memory. Threats come from a great variety of sources, and manifest themselves in ways which challenge our security frameworks, our institutions and our democracies themselves:
- Electoral interference and disinformation campaigns from hostile foreign actors;
- Destabilising hybrid operations targeting economies and social structures;
Those coming from outside intending to cause harm, and the “lone wolves” that are radicalised almost overnight on the internet, and resort to do-it-yourself terrorism with knives and trucks. And while we have not had an organised, major terrorist attack since Barcelona in August 2017, we cannot be complacent.
Several attacks have been prevented by our Member States, but too many low-tech attacks were still committed. It is this last threat that is probably the toughest to defend ourselves against. In order to tackle the home-grown, self-radicalised terrorist, we are fighting the battle for ideas. A battle which is much less easy to define, grasp or predict. Where the threat is not perceptible in most cases, until it is too late. But that doesn't mean we cannot prevent them. Information is at the centre of all these challenges – but also our efforts.
First, by eliminating from the web the terrorist content which inspires people to violent extremism, glorifies atrocities or gives advice how to attack us. This is why we have proposed legislation to detect and remove terrorist content online within one hour, and to establish a clear and harmonised legal framework across the EU to prevent the misuse of the internet.
Today, we call on the Council and the Parliament, to urgently move forward on this proposal. In parallel, we will continue to work with internet companies within the voluntary framework of our EU Internet Forum to further reduce terrorist content online.
Secondly: we need the right information at any moment and any place about a potential suspect, including at our external borders. Here we have made enormous progress over the past years, and all the relevant pieces of legislation are either already being prepared for implementation, or waiting to be agreed on and adopted.
Yesterday for example, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System entered into force, paving the way towards full operationalisation in 2021. In parallel, the Entry-Exit System is also being prepared to be operational in 2020. The Schengen Information System (SIS), which has become the most used security database in Europe, will soon be strengthened further when our proposed reforms. It will include the immediate obligation to insert alerts on terrorism, and is expected to be adopted next month.
What is paramount in all these migration, border and security systems is that they talk to each other. I count on the European Parliament and Council to finish their work on interoperability by the end of this year: we have no time to lose, and interoperability can be a game changer for the security of our citizens.
Thirdly: Information is not only crucial in order to prevent threats or attacks against our security, but also to investigate and prosecute. Our proposal to improve the gathering of electronic evidence across borders will also make it easier and quicker to obtain evidence from service providers in other countries, in order to investigate and prosecute crime, including terrorism or cybercrime, in an effective manner.
Here too, we call on the European Parliament and the Council to work on this priority legislative initiative as a matter of urgency.
The grand sum of all these actions is not a reaction to a crisis. It is a paradigm shift. The Security Union we are building is about building trust, sharing resources, and facing threats together. The sheer breadth and depth of the initiatives you see in today's Security Union report is testament to the added value of the European Union for the security of our citizens.
As we get closer to the European elections, this added value needs to be shown and communicated to our citizens. But most importantly: it needs to be adopted and translated into action. I therefore close by reiterating our call to the European Parliament and Council that we have no time to waste, and we need to deliver on the initiatives that will make a real difference to the security of our citizens. Our report today is also a contribution to the discussions on internal security at the European Council next week.
Remarks by Commissioner King:
Over the last couple years we have seen terrorists determined to attack us and our way of life. We have seen chemical attacks on our streets. We have seen the rise of pernicious cyber and cyber-enabled threats, from state and non-state actors alike.
In the face of these challenges, the Commission has worked hard to develop the Security Union, to help and support Member States, who are in the front line when it comes to keeping their citizens safe.
There is a lot we can do, working collectively. Today's Security Union Progress Report, the sixteenth, gives an overview of the initiatives we have proposed, those that have been agreed, those which we still need to get over the line – and those that are not yet being fully implemented.
And this is what we want to underline today: there is a window now ahead of next May's European elections to get on and deliver, and to make sure we do what we've agreed to do in this crucial area. Those trying to harm us aren't standing still – nor should we.
Over the last few months we've agreed on the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, ETIAS, and on the strengthening of the Schengen Information System, and of eu-LISA.
But, other important proposals remain on the table. First, we need to further our work to close down the space in which terrorists operate, by cracking down on their ability to travel to and within the EU, access weapons such as explosives, and obtain funding.
So, we need to make rapid progress on our proposals on the interoperability of our information systems – crucial in enabling national authorities to detect the use of multiple identities and identity fraud. We shouldn't forget the Berlin Christmas market attacker was circulating with no less than 14 fake identities. We simply cannot afford to allow terrorists and other criminals to be recorded in different databases under different fake identities.
We also call on the co-legislators to make progress on strengthening the restrictions on explosive precursors, which can be used to make the kinds of home-made bombs used frequently in recent attacks in Europe, on facilitating law enforcement access to financial information and on the enhancement of ID card and residence document security.
We all agree that prevention is better than cure, so we are also working to counter radicalisation, both on- and offline.
President Juncker announced in his State of the Union speech a key proposal to tackle terrorist content online. This will see the creation of removal orders, issued by Member State authorities and requiring internet platforms to take down such content within one hour, while ensuring the protection of fundamental rights.
Terrorist content online has been linked to every single attack in Europe in the past two years whether through incitement, instruction or glorification. It is crucial we make rapid progress on this. Platforms have simply not acted quickly enough or indeed done enough in the face of this serious threat.
Second, we need to strengthen our resilience in the face of cyber and cyber-enabled threats – and for anybody who is still in any doubt about whether these threats are real, we've seen the four Russian GRU agents caught red -handed hacking the OPCW - without a Cathedral in sight.
Cyber is a weapon of choice not only of organised crime, but also state and hostile actors who are looking to manipulate public opinion to subvert our democracies.
The Commission has argued for some time that we need to be better prepared: more resilient, better defended and with real and effective deterrence against would-be cyber attackers. That was why we put forward a package last year based around these three pillars – we now need the Council and Parliament to reach agreement on a key element of that – the Cybersecurity Act – by the end of the year. To create a genuine EU Cybersecurity Agency to help set standards and coordinate the response to large scale incidents.
And when it comes to deterrence, the recent Commission proposals aiming at improving the cross-border gathering of electronic evidence for criminal proceedings will significantly enhance the ability of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute cybercrime. They also need to be adopted as soon as possible.
As well as these "classic" cyber threats, we have also taken action against a growing and more insidious kind of cyber threat- interference in our elections. That means not only protecting our electoral systems and data against malware, disruption and distortion, but also tackling the tools of on-line, cyber-enabled manipulation like hacks and leaks, fake news and psychometric targeting using mined personality trait data.
President Juncker announced last month a package on election security including changes to party funding rules, which need to be fast- tracked to be in place in time for the 2019 elections to the European Parliament. And we're organising a Conference bringing all of the key actors together next week.
Finally, we need to ensure that measures, which have been adopted, and have entered into force, are properly implemented. Any failure to do so risks becoming a weak link in the chain of European security. We have seen progress in some areas, with the implementation of the EU PNR Directive, for example; a vital tool for tracking the movements of terrorists and serious criminals. There are now only 8 Member States who still haven't completed their transposition of the Directive.
But, a further effort is needed in other areas, notably the Data Protection Law Enforcement Directive, the NIS Directive, the Directive on Combatting Terrorism and Directive on the control of the acquisition and possession of weapons.
And on CBRN, as Salisbury shows, this is a real threat so the Action Plan we have set out needs to be rolled out.
It is vital we see the measures that we have all agreed effectively implemented. The Commission will continue to work with and support the Member States with implementation. But this needs to get done and we will not, therefore, hesitate to use our enforcement powers.