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Changing security landscape

Changing security landscape

Security threats to Europe come from state and non-state, foreign and domestic individuals and groups. New technologies, cyber space and social media add a new dimension to this landscape, posing new challenges in terms of security.

Key risk drivers

Security threats to Europe come from state and non-state, foreign and domestic individuals and groups. New technologies, cyber space and social media add a new dimension to this landscape, posing new challenges in terms of security.

Conflicts in different regions of the world are a major driver of terrorist activity, which is a serious threat to Europe – not only because it poses a direct danger of attack to the public, infrastructure and sites/artefacts of cultural heritage, but also because it has wider repercussions. Radicalism creates a feeling of insecurity, fuels distrust among different groups in society and towards the government, feeds prejudices and extremist views, and erodes the sense of community.

Alongside conflict in different regions of the world, research into the root causes of radicalisation in Europe identifies the root causes of radicalisation, which requires strengthening resilience, fostering social inclusion, enhancing mutual understanding and tolerance, tackling inequalities, and preventing marginalisation and stigmatisation of groups or communities. It also highlights the importance of the crime-terrorism nexus, and the role prisons play in radicalising individuals.

The risk from terrorism is aggravated by technological development. For example, the barrier for gaining knowledge on the use of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials has lowered. The internet facilitates access to know-how and substances, and some chemical materials have dual-use and are readily available.

Technological development has also fostered increased risk of disinformation, which, alongside growing polarisation in Europe, provides an enabling environment for influencing campaigns on topics such as elections, migration, and vaccinations. The recent COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how adversaries can use crisis situations and related public anxiety as an opportunity to spread false or misleading information online in order to create confusion and undermine an effective response.

Terrorism

Armed conflicts and escalating political instability have had a big impact on the terrorist threat globally and in Europe.

As well as in Europe and the Middle East, terrorist organisations and threats persist in Afghanistan and parts of Africa and South-East Asia. Terrorist organisations using CBRN materials inside and outside the EU is a concern. and EU law enforcement authorities have disrupted several terrorist plots involving chemicals.

More about European Disaster Risk Terrorism here.

Hybrid threat

Hybrid threats aim to weaken and destabilise society by inflicting economic damage, corrupting decision-making processes, creating confusion, amplifying divisions and undermining public trust in government institutions, mainstream media and democratic processes. They are not a new phenomenon; many of the influencing techniques have existed for a very long time. However, the threats are evolving in line with changing geopolitical, technological and social trends.

Cyber threat

The digital transformation of the EU’s economy and society, and increasing reliance on information systems, cloud computing, big data, internet of things, automation of industrial processes and 5G technology, open new opportunities for exploitation by malevolent individuals and groups. In cyberspace, hostile and illicit operations can be carried out at a distance and with a high level of anonymity. They require limited investment, but the impact can be immense.

States can spread disinformation with the help of online troll farms, bots, real and fake accounts. Rapidly advancing machine learning techniques (such as deep fakes) are likely to bring disinformation campaigns to the next level by enabling malicious individuals and groups to create alternative realities using fabricated images, audios and videos that humans cannot distinguish from authentic ones. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help to detect malicious activities, but it can also help to craft and disguise more sophisticated attacks.

Addressing the risk: Policy framework

On 24 July 2020, the European Commission adopted a new EU Security Union Strategy for 2020 to 2025. The strategy lays out tools and measures to be developed over the next five years to ensure security in the EU’s physical and digital environment, from combatting terrorism and organised crime, preventing and detecting hybrid threats, and increasing the resilience of critical infrastructure, to promoting cybersecurity, and fostering research and innovation.

One of the four priorities of the EU Security Union Strategy is ‘Protecting Europeans from terrorism and organised crime’. The Strategy announced the adoption of a Counter Terrorism Agenda for the EU, together with renewed action to prevent and counter radicalisation.

The new EU Cybersecurity Strategy aims to ensure a global and open Internet with strong safeguards where there are risks to security and the fundamental rights of people in Europe. Following the progress achieved under the previous strategies, it contains concrete proposals for deploying three principal instruments. These three instruments are regulatory, investment and policy initiatives. They will address three areas of EU action: resilience, technological sovereignty and leadership; operational capacity to prevent, deter and respond; cooperation to advance a global and open cyberspace.

The complexity of these challenges calls for a comprehensive response (based on cooperation across sectoral and territorial boundaries) and a whole-of-society approach. While malicious threats may be unavoidable, their impact is dependent on the resilience of European societies.

Important aspects to this response include:

  • Building the resilience of critical infrastructure and supply chains;
  • Building the resilience of society against radicalisation, violent extremism and disinformation;
  • Building preparedness for nuclear and chemical accidents (irrespective of their cause);
  • Action to promote conflict resolution and stability abroad.

In December 2019, the European Council adopted the Conclusions on complementary efforts to enhance resilience and counter hybrid threats, which explicitly noted the need to strengthen the role of and support for the Hybrid Fusion Cell of the EU Intelligence and Situation Centre (EU INTCEN). The EU Hybrid Fusion Cell (within the European External Action Service) offers a single focus for the analysis of external aspects of hybrid threats. The Fusion Cell receives, analyses and shares 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.

The Commission’s ‘Action plan to enhance preparedness against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security risks’ aims to reduce the accessibility of CBRN materials, ensure a more robust preparedness for and response to CBRN security incidents, build stronger internal-external links in CBRN security with key regional and international EU partners, and enhance knowledge of CBRN risks.

 

EU policy and legislative context

Relevant stakeholders and instruments

Additional information

European Agenda on Security

Europol

EU terrorism situation and trend report (TE-SAT 2018)

EU Security Union Strategy

European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange (ECURIE)

Russia’s war on Ukraine: The digital dimension

4th report on the implementation of the EU Security Union (2022)

 

Operational Data Portal

Counter Terrorism Agenda

 

Europol Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2019 (TE-SAT)

EU Cybersecurity Strategy

 

A Europe that protects: EU reports on progress in fighting disinformation 

Critical infrastructure resilience

 

The impact of disinformation campaigns about migrants and minority groups 

Council Decision (87/600/Euratom) on Community arrangements for the early excha…

 

RAN Responses to returnees: Foreign terrorist fighters and their families

Action plan to enhance preparedness against chemical, biological, radiological …

 

FAQ: Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats

Securing dangerous material policy

 

Foreign Affairs Council, 24 January 2022

Directive on security of network and information systems (the NIS Directive)

 

Radicalisation in prisons, rehabilitation and reintegration

Council Directive 2014/87/Euratom establishing a Community framework

 

Member States United in Supporting Ukraine and Strengthening the EU’s 

Council Directive 2013/59/Euratom laying 

 

How a European Cyber Resilience Act will help protect Europe

Communication on delivering the European Agenda on Security 

  

Joint framework on countering hybrid threats: a European Union response 

  

Action plan to support the protection of public spaces - COM/2017/0612 final

  

Resilience, Deterrence and Defence: Building strong cybersecurity for the EU

  

JOINT COMMUNICATION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL, THE COUNC…

  

COM(2018) 236 final: Tackling online disinformation: a European Approach

  

Proposal for a Regulation on European Production and Preservation Orders 

  

Proposal for a Directive laying down harmonised rules

  

Commission Recommendation (EU) 2019/553 on cybersecurity in the energy sector

  

Commission Impact Assessment (SWD/2018/403 final) 

  

Cybersecurity Industrial, Technology and Research Competence Centre

  

Conclusions on complementary efforts to enhance resilience and counter hybrid 

  

‘Action plan to enhance preparedness against chemical, biological, radiologica…

  
Last updated: 23/08/2023