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The European Commission promised on Friday to ramp up its response to hybrid threats such as hacking and misinformation amid growing alarm about the hacking of key infrastructure, including hospitals.
The pledge, which is part of the EU executive’s new Security Union Strategy, follows a wave of reports about the hacking of hospitals and research institutions during the coronavirus pandemic.
In June, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called out China as being behind some of these attacks, saying that the EU knew their origin and that they “would not be tolerated.”
While the new security strategy does not name countries, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said that hybrid threats were “orchestrated by forces and countries that do not want to see the European Union succeed.”
As part of the strategy, the EU said it would place hybrid threats at the center of its policymaking work, tighten coordination on security, propose modernized legislation on digital and physical infrastructure, and propose two new laws to counter the exploitation of children online.
Schinas said the strategy would propose “a new house with a single roof.”
On hybrid threats, the Commission and the EU’s diplomatic arm, the European External Action Service, will create a “restricted online platform” that will allow countries to coordinate their responses.
The bloc also called for the creation of a “Joint Cyber Unit” that would allow capitals to coordinate how they respond to cyber threats. The Commission has launched consultations on the project, with an eye to starting work on the unit by the end of 2020.
Too many cooks?
Critics of Europe’s approach to security underscore that most of the authority lies with member countries, and that the current Commission has no high-ranking official solely concentrated on security matters.
This marks a change from the previous Commission, when Julian King was in charge of security. Currently, competence for security matters broadly speaking is split between eight commissioners.
On the first score, Schinas said the strategy would propose “a new house with a single roof.”
The strategy “goes well beyond the DGs, ministries, departments … which are traditionally in charge of security” to encompass the entire Commission and involve countries in a “whole of society” effort to bolster security.
On the second point, Schinas admitted that many commissioners had been involved in drawing up the Security Union Strategy,
“This is a new setup,” he said. He added that besides foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and him, other commissioners working on the file are Ylva Johansson, responsible for home affairs, Margrethe Vestager for digitalization, Thierry Breton for cybersecurity as well as Věra Jourová and Didier Reynders for disinformation, and Kadri Simson and Adina Vălean for critical infrastructure.
“I’m particularly happy with the method,” he added.
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