Improvements in maritime security in the European Union

In October, the European Council approved the European Union’s Maritime Security Strategy and Action Plan to address security challenges at sea.

The aim of these improvements is to ensure that the EU has a variety of effective tools to address evolving security threats and new challenges, such as the increasing strategic competition for power and resources in the Union’s sea basins and beyond, environmental degradation, and hybrid and cyber-attacks against maritime infrastructures.

The Strategy provides a framework for the EU to adopt new measures to defend its interests at sea and protect its citizens, its values and its economy. The list of the six strategic objectives that have been translated into more than 150 concrete actions in the Action Plan is as follows:

  • Intensify activities at sea. The EU plans to organize annual maritime security exercises, carried out by coastguards and armed forces of the Member States.

One of the key actions is to intensify the fight against illegal and illicit activities at sea, such as piracy and armed robbery; organised crime, including smuggling of migrants; and irregular, unreported and unregulated fishing. It is also intended to strengthen safety inspections in the Union’s seaports.

  • Cooperate with partners. It is planned to intensify partnerships with like-minded countries and with regional and international organisations, promoting dialogue and best practices and defending the maritime order.
  • Take the lead in maritime downtime awareness. This includes improving the collection and exchange of information.
  • Manage risks and threats. Improve the collective resilience and preparedness of the EU in order to protect critical maritime infrastructures such as pipelines, submarine cables, ports, gas terminals, etc.
  • Improve capabilities. Develop common techniques for surface and underwater defence technologies, as well as create interoperable unmanned systems to monitor critical maritime infrastructures.
  • Educate and train. Another aim of the Strategy is to achieve a high level of specialised education, skills and training, which is essential for the EU to deal with present and future maritime security challenges.

Some of the key actions in this area are centred around the skills required to deal with hybrid and cyber threats and the implementation of specific training programs open to non-EU partners.

The implementation of the Strategy will be assessed in three years, in a joint progress report to be prepared by the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.


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Interpol supports gender diversity in policing

Adapted tactical equipment. Mentoring programmes. Police stations staffed only by women. For decades, police agencies have innovated and evolved to ensure that their police forces keep up with the needs of communities.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Interpol, the organisation’s Directorate of Capacity Building and Training has published a compendium entitled Policing with a Gender Perspective: Law enforcement initiatives from around the world, which includes global initiatives aimed at achieving gender inclusivity.

Thanks to contributions from nearly 50 countries, regional organisations and the Interpol General Secretariat, the compendium analyses how police forces are performing today:

– working to increase the number of women in all areas of policing,

– creating institutional mechanisms for reform,

– mentoring and supporting future generations of police leaders,

– taking into account the gender dynamics of crime.

The initiatives in the compendium are a true reflection of the countries that make up Interpol and demonstrate the wide range of efforts being made to bring about lasting institutional change. From specific training courses to inclusion in rapid response teams, awareness campaigns and programmes against gender-based violence, countries have proven that there is no single solution to achieving representation.

The shift towards greater representation and equality is an ongoing task, and Interpol is determined to achieve this goal, both within the organisation and in its 195 member countries. Men now occupy the majority of senior positions in police agencies, making them unquestionably key agents of change. With this in mind, the compendium puts emphasis on the idea that men can also contribute to making gender equality the new normal.

Police officers play a crucial role in society. They are responsible for maintaining law and order, deterring and investigating crime, and protecting individuals and communities. The police are dynamic and must constantly adapt to a changing criminal landscape, emerging technologies and social changes in order to carry out the tasks entrusted to them effectively.  

Gender diversity is a prerequisite for ensuring this adaptability. Only with this diversity will it be possible to make the strategic decisions necessary to protect and serve all communities.

A diverse police service has a deeper understanding of the needs of their community and can build stronger relationships, thus facilitating more effective policing.


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European Council conclusions adopted to address cyber threats

With cyberspace as a field of strategic competition, the risks to the security and defence of the European Union are increasing at a time of rising geopolitical tensions and heavy reliance on digital technologies.

In this vein, the European Council has approved conclusions on cyber defence that underline the need for the Union and its member states to further strengthen their resilience in dealing with cyber threats and enhance common cybersecurity and cyber defence against malicious behaviour and acts of aggression in cyberspace.

The conclusions welcome the Joint Communication of the European Commission and the High Representative on EU policy on cyber defence and underline the importance of investing substantially, both individually and collaboratively, in improved resilience and the deployment of defensive cyber defence capabilities. EU cooperation frameworks and financial incentives can play a key role in this sense.

In accordance with the strategic compass, the conclusions invite member states and other relevant actors to act together for a more robust cyber defence, by boosting cooperation and coordination within the EU, between the military and civilian cyber communities and between the public sector and a trusted private ecosystem. The Council welcomes the proposal for an EU cyber defence coordination centre to improve the coordination and situational awareness, in particular, of EU mission and operational commanders and to strengthen the Union’s wider command and control architecture.

The Council encourages Member States to protect the Union’s defence ecosystem by further enhancing their own capabilities to carry out cyber defence operations, including, when applicable, proactive defensive measures to protect, detect, defend against and deter cyber attacks. The EU and its member states should minimise their strategic dependencies through capabilities and supply chains, on top of developing and mastering cutting-edge cyber defence technologies. This includes strengthening the European defence technological and industrial base.

Moreover, the European Council urges Member States to invest in interoperable cyber defence capabilities, including by developing a set of voluntary commitments for the development of national cyber defence capabilities, and by making the best use of collaborative research opportunities at the Union level. The Council also acknowledges the direct benefit of collaborative projects at the EU level to promote the development of national cyber defence capabilities.

In addition, the Council welcomes member states to address the significant cybersecurity skills gap, leveraging synergies between military, civilian and law enforcement initiatives.

Finally, the Council stresses the key importance of partnership in addressing common challenges. It requests the High Representative and the Commission to explore mutually beneficial and tailored partnerships on cyber defence policies, including building cyber defence capabilities through the European Peace Facility (EPF). To this end, cyber defence should be added as an item to EU dialogues and consultations on cyber defence and to the general security and defence consultations with partners.


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Secure connectivity programme: European Council gives final approval

The European Council adopted a regulation on the European Union’s secure connectivity programme for the period 2023-2027. This is the last step in the decision-making process.

The programme sets targets for the European Union to deploy an EU satellite constellation called IRIS (Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite). IRIS will provide ultra-fast and highly secure communication services by 2027. The security of these communications will be based on advanced encryption technologies. This includes quantum cryptography, a method that uses the properties of quantum mechanics to secure and transmit data in a way that cannot be hacked.

This space-based communication system will benefit Governments for services such as critical infrastructure protection, surveillance, external action support or crisis management, which will help improve EU resilience and sovereignty.

The programme contributes to the EU’s digital transition and global gateway strategy, as it can provide secure connectivity in geographic areas of strategic interest beyond European borders, such as the Arctic region or Africa.

Having a satellite-based communications system can also guarantee fast and secure communication services, even when terrestrial communication networks have been disrupted, for example, by natural disasters, terrorism or cyber-attacks.

The system includes new infrastructure to be built through the awarding of contracts. Concessionaires should also provide the resources for commercial services, thus ensuring that technological advances and their use by governments are one of the drivers of innovation and wider commercialisation in the Union.

The programme strengthens the competitiveness of EU satellite communications services through an innovative project led by the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) and involving a number of partners, such as member states, the European Space Agency (ESA) and private companies.

On 15 February 2022, the Commission presented the proposed regulations establishing the programme. Following interinstitutional negotiations, the European Parliament and the Council reached a provisional political agreement on November 17, 2022.

This programme is especially important for low orbits. Today, low orbits are increasingly occupied by mega-constellations from third countries, and EU operators face challenges due to the capital-intensive nature of these projects.

This new project will promote synergies with the other components of the EU space programme, such as Galileo (satellite navigation) and Copernicus (Earth observation), and with space situational awareness capabilities. It is based on the European Union’s government satellite communications (GOVSATCOM), which is also a component of the EU space programme.

The programme has a budget of €2.4 billion, part of which comes from different envelopes, such as the EU space programme, Horizon Europe and the Neighbourhood Development and International Cooperation Instrument – Global Europe (NDICI).


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Conclusions of the European Council on women, peace and security

Gender equality and human rights are at the heart of universal values and comprise stand-alone priorities integrated into all European Union policies. The European Council recalls that its Conclusions on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) of 10 December 2018 reiterate the validity of the EU’s strategic approach to WPS, and commits to fully implement the EU Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2019-2024.

The Council highlights the importance of the WPS agenda in a political context and welcomes its inclusion in different EU policies and action plans since the adoption of the 2018 Council conclusions. In this vein, the European Commission has adopted an EU Strategy for Gender Equality 2020-2025 and an EU Gender Action Plan (GAP) III, “An Ambitious Agenda for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in EU External Action” 2021-2025, welcomed through the Presidency Conclusions of 16 December 2020.

The disproportionate impact that armed conflict continues to have on women and girls around the world, as well as the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, are a concern for the Council.

The Council stresses that the EU will implement a coordinated approach to risk mitigation and prevention of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and will make sure that responses are victim/survivor-centred and trauma-sensitive. This includes access to reproductive health care services, as well as mental health and psychological support. The Council reaffirms its strong commitment to uphold international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and to put an end to impunity for international crimes, especially when rape is used as a weapon of war.

The Union remains committed to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and to the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the outcomes of its review conferences. It also keeps its commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in that context.

The WPS agenda is crucial for contemporary challenges in the realm of global peace and security. In this regard, the Council stresses that armed conflicts, as well as emerging and increasingly complex new security challenges such as climate change, food insecurity, scarcity of water and other natural resources, pandemics, including the impact of COVID-19, energy challenges, terrorism, organised crime, migration and forced displacement, human trafficking, risks associated with emerging and disruptive technologies, and hybrid threats, including cyber-attacks and disinformation, affect women and girls disproportionately. These effects have resulted in a general deterioration in the position of women with adverse consequences for the full enjoyment of women’s and girls’ human rights across the world. The EU and its Member States are committed to seeking understanding and acting on the gender dimensions of security risks to avoid increasing vulnerabilities, but also to discovering new entry points to move forward with gender equality, improve resilience and keep peace. It is fundamental to ensure that any response is based on:

  • A gender analysis of the causes, consequences and policy implications, using gender statistics based on data disaggregated by sex, age and disability, to guarantee a more effective, inclusive and sustainable response.
  • The full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all stages of the conflict cycle.
  • The prevention of and protection against gender-based violence.
  • Inclusive and gender-sensitive global leadership in politics and security decision-making in general.


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Agreement on transparency in the transfer of cryptographic assets and against money laundering

The European Union is making it harder for criminals to misuse cryptocurrencies for criminal purposes. Negotiators from the presidency of the Council and the European Parliament have come to an agreement on the proposal to update the rules on information accompanying transfers of funds, extending the scope of application of these rules to transfers of cryptoassets.

The introduction of this new regulation will guarantee financial transparency in crypto-asset exchanges and provide the EU with a robust and proportional framework that complies with the highest international standards on crypto-asset exchanges, in particular recommendations 15 and 16 of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global watchdog on money laundering and terrorist financing. This is particularly appropriate in the current geopolitical context.

The objective of this reform is to introduce the obligation for crypto-asset service providers to collect and make accessible certain information on the origin and beneficiary of the transfers of cryptoassets they operate. This is what payment service providers are currently doing for bank transfers, which ensure traceability of crypto-asset transfers to better identify and block potentially suspicious transactions.

The new agreement will allow the EU to address the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing involved in the use of these new technologies, while reconciling competitiveness, consumer and investor protection, and the protection of the financial integrity of the internal market.

The new agreement requires the full set of originator information to travel with the transfer of cryptoassets, regardless of the amount of cryptoassets being transacted.

In terms of data protection, legislators agreed that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is still applicable to fund transfers and that no separate data protection rules will be established.

Improved traceability of crypto-asset transfers will also make it more difficult for persons and entities subject to restrictive measures to attempt to circumvent them. Furthermore, crypto-asset service providers will be required to put in place adequate internal policies, procedures and controls to mitigate the risks of evasion of national and Union restrictive measures.

More generally, the totality of sanctions already applies to all natural and legal persons, including those operating in the cryptocurrency sector.

In due course, Member States will have to make sure that all crypto-asset service providers qualify as obliged entities under the fourth AML directive. This will allow the EU to align itself with the FATF recommendations and level the playing field between Member States, which have so far developed different approaches in this regard.

Legislators also agreed on the urgency of ensuring the traceability of crypto-asset transfers and opted to align the implementation schedule of this regulation with that of the regulation of crypto-asset markets (MiCA).

This proposal is part of a package of legislative proposals to strengthen EU rules against money laundering and the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) presented by the Commission on 20 July 2021. The package also includes a proposal to create a new EU authority to combat money laundering.


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The UNDP Supports Honduras in its Bid to Strengthen Citizen Security Policies

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has signed an agreement with Honduras to support the strengthening of the Comprehensive Policy for Coexistence and Citizen Security with a gender and human rights approach.

According to a press release from the Secretary of Security of the Central American country, the agreement was signed by the Honduran Minister of Security, Ramón Sabillón, and the UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Honduras, Rose Diegues.

The agreement’s goal is to strengthen the actions of the Honduran State within the framework of the Coexistence and Citizen Security Policy and address the risk factors associated with violence and coexistence, as well as to promote the prevention of violence and reinforce peaceful coexistence.

It is worth mentioning that Honduras recorded an average of 41.59 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021, a very high rate for a country not experiencing an internal war.

One of the main problems in Honduras, a country belonging to the region used for the passage of drugs coming from South America to the United States, is the violence caused by organised crime and drug trafficking.

Therefore, the agreement establishes the review and update of the Comprehensive Policy for Coexistence and Citizen Security 2023-2032 with a gender perspective, as well as the design of the Honduran National Prevention Strategy 2023-2027 with a gender perspective. In this way, a commitment is made to provide an effective response to society’s demands in terms of citizen security in the provision of services, decision-making and a prior process of analysis and assessment of these needs.

The process of verifying and updating the public policy on citizen security should be an instrument for encouraging proactive dialogue to prevent violence, foster peaceful coexistence and promote sustainable human development that will lead to better institutional development as a way to improve democratic governance and citizen security.

The UNDP has been supporting the processes of elaboration and strengthening of national public policies on citizen security with the use of its own tools developed to assist countries in these processes. This organisation also promotes the exchange of knowledge and the implementation of participatory methodologies to work on the design, validation, implementation, and evaluation of these policies.

Likewise, the UNDP seeks to improve citizen security from a perspective of violence prevention and attention, in order to create the social conditions that allow better quality of life for the population and access to an effective justice system, on both a national and local scale.


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Schengen Borders Code: The European Council Adopts a New Approach

The European Council has adopted a new general approach on the reform of the Schengen borders code. This was carried out as part of the French presidency’s bid to reform and strengthen the Schengen area in the face of new challenges.

This reform:

  • Offers new tools for combating the instrumentalisation of migrant flows and establishes a new legal framework for external borders measures in the event of a health crisis, based on the experience of recent events to do with the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Updates the legal framework for the reintroduction of internal border controls in order to safeguard free movement, while responding to persistent threats;
  • Introduces alternative control actions.

The definition of instrumentalisation of migrants given in the text is as follows: a situation in which a third country or non-state actor encourages or facilitates the movement of third-country nationals to the external borders of the EU or to a member state with the aim of destabilising them. The reform introduces new measures to combat this phenomenon, such as limiting the number of crossing points at the external border and/or their opening hours, and increasing border control.

External border measures in case of a health crisis

The text provides for binding minimum standards on temporary travel restrictions at external borders to be rapidly put in place if public health is at risk. This will compliment tools currently available which were applied during the COVID-19 pandemic, and which are based on non-binding recommendations.

The binding implementing regulation to be adopted by the European Council in these situations will include minimum restrictions. Member States will have the possibility to apply stricter restrictions, if deemed necessary.

Reintroduction of internal border controls

The text establishes more structured procedures for the reintroduction of internal border controls, with greater guarantees. It acknowledges a recent ruling of the EU Court of Justice which confirmed the principle of freedom of movement within the Schengen area, while specifying the conditions for the reintroduction of internal border controls. In this sense, it offers possible actions against persistent threats in public policy and internal security.

If internal border controls remain necessary beyond two years and six months, the Member State concerned must notify the Commission of its intention to further prolong internal border controls. The notification must include a justification for the need, and specify the date on which it expects to lift the controls. The Commission will then issue a recommendation regarding the date and the principles of necessity and proportionality, which the Member State shall take into account.

Promotion of alternative measures

The text updates the Schengen borders code by providing alternative measures to internal border controls, specifically by proposing a more effective framework for police checks in the border regions of member states.

The text also introduces a new procedure for dealing with unauthorised movements of irregular migrants within the EU. In the context of a bilateral cooperation framework based on voluntary action by the member states concerned, this procedure will allow a member state to return third-country nationals apprehended in the border area and illegally present on its territory to the member state from which they originated, in the context of operational cross-border police cooperation.


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Europe steps up the fight against cross-border crime

To step up the fight against cross-border crime, the European Council has adopted negotiating mandates on a proposal on the exchange of digital information in terrorism cases and a proposal to create a collaboration platform for joint investigation teams. These proposals are part of ongoing work to modernise and digitalise cross-border judicial cooperation to facilitate the exchange of information for prosecutors and judges and bring to justice the growing number of criminals and terrorists operating across borders.

Currently, member states share information with Eurojust on terrorism-related cases through various channels. This information is then included in the European Judicial Counter-Terrorism Register, a technically obsolete system that does not allow for adequate cross-checking of information.

The proposal aims to correct these shortcomings and enable Eurojust to play a stronger and more proactive role in supporting coordination and cooperation between national authorities responsible for investigating and prosecuting terrorist offences.

The proposal includes:

  • Creating a modern, digital case management system that stores this information and allows it to be cross-checked.
  • Empowering Eurojust to better detect links between transnational investigations and prosecutions in the field of terrorism and to proactively inform member states of links found.
  • Creating a secure digital communication channel between Member States and Eurojust.
  • Simplifying cooperation with third countries by granting liaison prosecutors appointed at Eurojust access to the case management system.

Ministers will also seek to adopt a general guideline on the draft Regulation establishing a collaborative platform for joint investigation teams (JITs). These teams are created to develop specific criminal investigations for a set period of time. They are set up by the competent authorities of two or more Member States, with the possible participation of third countries concerned, to jointly manage cross-border investigations. The JIT framework allows team members to exchange evidence directly, without the need for traditional judicial cooperation procedures.

The proposed platform will facilitate the day-to-day coordination and management of JITs, ensure the exchange and temporary storage of operational information and evidence, and ensure secure communication and traceability of evidence. It must be accessible through a secure internet connection and shall include a centralised information system and a connection between this system and the relevant IT tools used by the JITs. Use of the platform will be encouraged but will remain voluntary.


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European Council intensifies fight against illegal drugs

In order to step up the fight against illegal drugs, the European Council adopted, in early June this year, a negotiating mandate on the proposal on the European Union Drugs Agency, aimed at turning the current European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction into a full-fledged agency and, above all, at strengthening its role.

The new Regulation will provide the Agency with the means to respond more effectively to the new public health and safety challenges posed by illegal drugs, provide better support to Member States and contribute to improving the international situation.

Data collection, analysis and dissemination will continue to be the Agency’s main task, but under the strengthened mandate it will also be able to:

  • Develop general health and safety threat assessment capabilities to rapidly detect new threats and develop regular foresight exercises to detect future challenges.
  • Specifically cover poly-substance use, which is the use of drugs in combination with other licit or illicit substances and which is becoming more and more common.
  • Increase its cooperation with the national focal points, whose position would be strengthened, enabling them to provide the Agency with relevant data on the national drug and drug addiction situation.
  • Establish a network of laboratories to enable the Agency to access forensic and toxicological information.
  • Develop evidence-based interventions to raise awareness and issue alerts when particularly hazardous substances appear on the market.

The Regulation will also clarify the Agency’s role in the field of international cooperation, so that it can fully participate in this type of activities and respond to requests from third countries and international organisations.

Negotiations with the European Parliament should begin once the latter has adopted its position.

It is worth noting that the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction was established in 1993 in Lisbon. It aims to provide the European Union and the Member States with factual and comparable information on drugs, drug addiction and their consequences, to serve as a basis for policy development, and to guide anti-drug initiatives. Its operation has greatly improved the availability of information on drugs and drug addiction throughout the EU and internationally.


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