Turo Mattila: EU cooperation complements national efforts to counter hybrid threats
One of the main objectives of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union has been to improve the EU’s capabilities to counter hybrid threats and enhance resilience to ever-evolving security threats.
Hybrid threats refer to coordinated use of different kinds of unconventional methods to undermine the functioning and decision-making capabilities of the target. While the EU member states have sole responsibility in matters of national security, the amount of information influence activities, cyberattacks and hostile intelligence activities against a number of Member States in recent years calls for closer cooperation in the EU.
Our security environment has become more unstable in the 2010s, and those using hybrid methods are getting better at covering their tracks. Our growing dependence on modern communications technologies and our need to protect functions vital to society have brought member states closer: We face the same threats and, when they materialise, we feel their effects across borders – that is why we need common tools to counter hybrid threats.
More concrete and coordinated cooperation during Finland’s Presidency
At the start of the Finnish Presidency, the Council of the European Union founded a permanent working party on countering hybrid threats, bringing together the needs and expertise of different policy sectors. In addition, scenario-based discussions were organised in four different configurations of ministers to test the Member States’ functional and decision-making capabilities to counter hybrid threats.
The work done during Finland’s Presidency reached its final goal at the General Affairs Council in December when the EU ministers adopted Council conclusions on complementary efforts to enhance resilience and counter hybrid threats.
The Conclusions call for a comprehensive approach to security. Countering hybrid threats and addressing potential vulnerabilities require close cooperation between different authorities and recognition of the importance of the private sector and civil society.
The Conclusions identify protecting national and European critical infrastructures as a key priority, taking into account the security of financial services and recognising the need to revise the existing EU legislation on critical infrastructure. EU cooperation in situational awareness and intelligence analysis will be enhanced to ensure better detection of hybrid threats.
The Conclusions call on the EU institutions to enhance the security of EU information and communication networks and decision-making processes. The EU’s credibility as a foreign and security policy actor would suffer if it were an easy target for malicious activities, such as espionage. Safeguarding the fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens should always be at the heart of countering hybrid threats.
Democratic institutions and citizens’ trust are the best safeguards of society
Countering hybrid threats is not only about identifying and preventing malicious activities, it is also about safeguarding the functioning of our democratic institutions and about maintaining citizens’ trust in them. The best safeguard of any society is that it is widely regarded as worthy of defence. This minimises the opportunities for external interference.
Citizens expect the EU to take on a greater role in building security. EU cooperation does not replace national measures, but it can support and supplement them. That is why one of the goals of Finland’s Presidency was to instil into the EU a comprehensive approach on security. This approach highlights the need to engage all relevant public authorities and other actors to cooperate and contribute to the security of our citizens and ensure their rights and freedoms against different kinds of unconventional threats.
Reinforcing the security of our citizens is a test for the EU’s credibility within and beyond our borders.