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Common action to counter hybrid threats

Hybrid threats refer to a mixture of coercive and multidimensional activity and conventional and unconventional methods that can be of diplomatic, military, economic or technological nature. The definition is flexible to respond to the evolving nature of hybrid threats.

State or non-state actors engaging in hybrid threats use various methods in a coordinated manner to achieve specific objectives while remaining below the threshold of formally declared warfare. There is usually an emphasis on exploiting the vulnerabilities of the target and on generating ambiguity to hinder decision-making processes.

Hybrid activities include cyber attacks, election interference and disinformation campaigns. Social media can be used to control the political narrative or to radicalise, recruit and direct proxy actors.

Rapidly evolving hybrid threats are a challenge to security in Europe. They often target wider areas than a single member state and can undermine the unity of the EU.

Finland wants to build awareness, improve coordination and increase cooperation with partners

During its Presidency, Finland wants the EU and its member states to strengthen their capacities to prevent and respond to hybrid threats.

Finland strives to build member states’ awareness of hybrid threats and of the existing EU instruments and policies to counter them. Although member states themselves bear prime responsibility for countering hybrid threats, many of them face common threats that can be addressed more effectively through coordinated response at EU level.

In hybrid threats, the internal and external security are closely linked, and effective response often requires preparedness from all actors in society. Finland wants to foster coordinated and comprehensive response to hybrid threats across administrative boundaries.

The goal is to integrate the actions and cooperation the EU institutions and member states have already started in different policy fields over the past three years. To coordinate this cooperation, a Horizontal Working Party on Enhancing Resilience and Countering Hybrid Threats was established at the initiative of Finland, Romania and Croatia. The working party convened for the first time in July. Its tasks include horizontal issues relevant for the capacities of the EU and its member states to counter and respond to hybrid threats and supporting measures to strengthen societal resilience. The objective of the working party is to facilitate coordination within the Council and foster cooperation with other EU institutions, services and agencies.

Finland will propose that Council conclusions be adopted at the General Affairs Council in December. The objective of the Council conclusions is to define guidelines for the next steps in countering hybrid threats based on progress made in recent years and on the new strategic agenda adopted by the Heads of State or Government at the June European Council.

Working with partners is essential in EU cooperation. During its Presidency, Finland wants to highlight the important cooperation between the EU and NATO in countering hybrid threats. The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki works closely with the EU and NATO and plays a significant role in countering hybrid threats. Its membership is open to all EU and NATO member states.

Protecting critical infrastructure and countering CBRN threats

Critical infrastructure in member states is a potential target for hybrid interference. Examples of critical infrastructure include power plants and financial and payment systems. Finland aims to advance the discussions on protecting critical infrastructure.

As the holder of the Presidency of the Council of the EU, Finland aims to focus attention at the political level on new threats on the financial market and their prevention. The EU finance ministers and the governors of the central banks of member states will discussed the topic on Finland’s initiative during their informal ECOFIN meeting in Helsinki on 13–14 September.

During its Presidency, Finland also wants the EU and its member states to strengthen their response to threats involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) agents. CBRN threats can also include hybrid methods. Finland’s objective is to identify existing capability gaps and needs relating to the prevention of CBRN threats.

Countering disinformation

Disinformation campaigns and fake news, orchestrated by state and non-state actors, are spreading on social media across Europe. The campaigns make use of network structures and the new media environment in an effort to create an alternative reality.

In the EU, a number of actors are cooperating to reduce any negative effects of deliberate and intentional spreading of false information in connection with elections, among other targets. The EU has also adopted an action plan against disinformation.

Finland’s Presidency will highlight the importance of fact-based official communications to prevent the spread of disinformation, hate speech and threats and to mitigate their harmful effects. Hybrid threats and disinformation will be on the agenda when certain ministers and working parties meet in Helsinki.

Hybrid exercises

During Finland’s Presidency, ministers and working parties have conducted scenario-based policy discussions on the basis of fictitious threats. The aim of the discussions is find ways to strengthen resilience and build awareness of hybrid threats in the EU.

The first discussions took place as part of the informal meetings of EU political directors and defence policy directors on 8–9 July. EU foreign and defence ministers continued the discussions in their informal meeting on 29 August.

EU home affairs ministers had scenario-based policy discussions during their informal meeting in Helsinki on 18 July to build their awareness of how the use of hybrid methods can threaten internal security. Another objective was to strengthen the EU’s ability to make decisions when internal security actors are facing acute hybrid threats.

Finance ministers held scenario-based discussions during their informal meeting in Helsinki on 13–14 September. The focus was on preparing for hybrid threats in the financial sector.

Finland received good feedback on the discussions and on their organisation. Finland has summarised the discussions in a report that will be discussed in the Council’s Horizontal Working Party on Enhancing Resilience and Countering Hybrid Threats in September and October. The aim is to submit the report to the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) for information.

Defence

The defence sector plays an important role in countering hybrid threats, because it is responsible for using military force. It also supports other authorities. Member states should organise their hybrid response based on horizontal collaboration across sectors. During its Presidency, Finland wants to contribute to clearer roles and positions for member states’ defence administrations as part of the EU’s overall response to hybrid threats.

Read more about EU response to hybrid threats

Joint communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats – a European Union response (April 2016)
Joint report from the European Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the implementation of the Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats – a European Union response (July 2017)
Joint communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: Increasing resilience and bolstering capabilities to address hybrid threats (June 2018) 
European External Action Service: Action Plan against Disinformation 
European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats 

Inquiries

Outi Hyvärinen, Counsellor, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, tel. +358 295 350 035, outi.hyvarinen(at)formin.fi
Tiina Ferm, Head of Countering Hybrid Threats, Ministry of the Interior, tel. +358 50 4560 055 tiina.ferm(at)intermin.fi
Pentti Olin, Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Defence, tel. +358 295 140 013, pentti.olin(at)defmin.fi
Jaakko Weuro, Senior Specialist (financial services), Permanent Representation of Finland to the EU, tel. +32 472 900 550, jaakko.weuro(at)formin.fi