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EU Member States test their cybersecurity preparedness for fair and free 2019 EU elections

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Today the European Parliament, the EU Member States, the European Commission and the EU Agency for cybersecurity (ENISA) organised an exercise to test the EU’s response to and crisis plans for potential cybersecurity incidents affecting the EU elections.

The objective of the exercise, which took place today in the European Parliament, was to test how effective EU Member States and the EU’s response practices and crisis plans are and to identify ways to prevent, detect and mitigate cybersecurity incidents that may affect the upcoming EU elections. This exercise is part of the measures being implemented by the European Union to ensure free and fair elections in May 2019.

Vice-President of the European Commission, for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, said:”We must protect our free and fair elections. This is the cornerstone of our democracy. To secure our democratic processes from manipulation or malicious cyber activities by private interests or third countries, the European Commission proposed in September 2018 a set of actions. Together with the EU Member States, and other EU Institutions we are implementing these actions. We also decided to test our cybersecurity vigilance and readiness towards secure, fair and free EU elections 2019 by organising the first in its kind EU exercise on elections. I believe that this is an important step forward for more resilient EU elections in a connected society.”

Vice-President of the European Parliament, Rainer Wieland, said: ”Cyber-attacks are a recent but very real threat to the stability of the European Union and its Member States. A cyber-attack on elections could dramatically undermine the legitimacy of our institutions. The legitimacy of elections is based on the understanding that we can trust in their results. This very trust has come under pressure from cyber-attacks and other new types of election fraud in the Digital Age, and we must respond! With the upcoming European elections in 2019, we have to take responsibility and build up the necessary means to strengthen our electoral cyber security. This responsibility is a common one, shared by European and Member State institutions. Together we need to safeguard the integrity of the elections.”

More than 80 representatives from EU Member States, together with observers from the European Parliament, the European Commission and the EU Agency for cybersecurity, participated in this first EU table-top exercise (with the code name EU ELEx19) on the resilience of the upcoming European Parliament elections. The main responsibility for protecting the integrity of the elections lies with the Member States, and the overall objective of the exercise was to test and further strengthen their preparedness – especially their election and cybersecurity authorities – in the face of hybrid cyber-enabled threats, and to assess their ability to swiftly develop and maintain situational awareness at national and EU level if a serious cybersecurity incident which could impact on the integrity of the 2019 EU elections were to occur. 

Based on various scenarios featuring cyber-enabled threats and incidents, the exercise allowed participants to:

Acquire an overview of the level of resilience (in terms of policies adopted, available capabilities and skills) of election systems across the EU, including an assessment of the level of awareness among other stakeholders (e.g. political parties, electoral campaign organisations and suppliers of relevant IT equipment);

Enhance cooperation between relevant authorities at national level (including elections authorities and other relevant bodies and agencies, such as cybersecurity authorities, Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs), the Data protections Authority (DPA), authorities dealing with disinformation issues, cybercrime units, etc.);

Verify EU Member States’ capacity to adequately assess the risks related to the cybersecurity of European elections, promptly develop situational awareness and co-ordinate communication to the public;

Test existing crisis management plans as well as relevant procedures to prevent, detect, manage and respond to cybersecurity attacks and hybrid threats, including disinformation campaigns;

Improve cross-border cooperation and strengthen the link with relevant cooperation groups at EU level (e.g. Election Cooperation Network, NIS Cooperation Group, CSIRTs Network) in order to improve the capacity to respond in a coordinated manner in the event of cross-border cybersecurity incidents;

Identify all other potential gaps as well as adequate risk mitigation measures which should be implemented ahead of the European Parliament elections.

Background

On 12 September 2018 the European Commission announced a  set  of  concrete  measures to address potential threats to elections, including a recommendation of the European Commission on election cooperation networks, online transparency, fighting disinformation campaigns and protection against cybersecurity incidents.

In line with this European Commission recommendation, a European Cooperation Network on elections has been established. This network has already met three times in Brussels to discuss necessary actions to address potential threats to the elections and thereby strengthen the resilience of the European Union’s democratic systems. One of the actions that this network decided to pursue was the organisation of a table-top exercise to test EU’s cybersecurity preparedness to ensure secure, free and fair EU elections 2019.

Today’s cybersecurity test also goes hand-in-hand with the Action Plan against disinformation that the European Union adopted last December to build up capabilities and strengthen cooperation between Member States and EU institutions to proactively address the threats posed by disinformation.

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EU Politics

Rwanda: EU provides €10.3 million for life-saving refugee support measures

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During his visit to Rwanda, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica has announced a €10.3 million support package to the UNHCR’s Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Rwanda, which provides a life-saving avenue out of Libya for people in need of international protection, with a view to their further resettlement. The funding is provided through the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. This initiative builds on the example of the ETM Niger, through which more than 2,900 refugees and asylum seekers have been evacuated out of Libya since 2017.

High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini said: “The Emergency Transit Mechanism in Rwanda is a vital life-saving measure to bring people in need of international protection out of Libya. It is an important sign of African solidarity and of partnership with the European Union. It broadens the support to the most vulnerable people held in Libyan detention centres that need to be closed urgently.”

Commissioner Mimica said: “This project will support efforts of the Government of Rwanda to receive and provide protection to about 1,500 refugees and asylum-seekers who are currently being held in detention centres in Libya. Such a remarkable and powerful proof of African solidarity should be further encouraged, replicated and supported.”

Background 

The UNHCR has evacuated more than 4,250 refugees and asylum-seekers out of Libya to other countries since 2017.

However, around 4,700 people are currently estimated to be held in dire conditions inside detention centres in the country. They urgently need to be moved to safety and to be provided with protection, lifesaving assistance, and durable solutions.

Following the escalation in and around Tripoli, namely the July air strike on a migrant detention centre, the EU continues to support the vital work of the Gathering and Departure Facility on location.

The EU is also supporting the UNHCR’s increased efforts to transfer to Tripoli the most vulnerable people in need of international protection from conflict areas where they are at risk, pending their evacuation outside of Libya.

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Africa-Europe Alliance: Two new financial guarantees under the EU External Investment Plan

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Today in the margins of the 2019 Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa, the European Commission signed two guarantee agreements with two Member States’ development finance institution: the Dutch ‘Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden N.V’ (FMO) and the Italian ‘Cassa Depositi e Prestiti’ (CDP). These guarantee agreements are part of the implementation of the EU External Investment Plan, the financial arm of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs.

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica said: “The agreements signed today, worth €70 million, will help us to unlock more than €500 million in new investment in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood. These guarantees aim at mitigating and sharing the risk with other private investors in countries where otherwise these investments would not be as attractive. They will help to boost access to finance for small businesses, notably in the tech sector – and create up to 175,000 jobs directly and indirectly.”

Two guarantees, one goal: more investment in partner countries

The two guarantees will significantly boost investment and access to finance for small businesses (MSMEs), especially in the technology sector, in the countries covered by the Plan.

FMO Ventures Programme
This €40 million guarantee agreement is a partnership with FMO, the Dutch development bank. It targets Sub-Saharan Africa and the EU Neighbourhood. It will guarantee venture capital provided by FMO to start-up companies, in particular led by young entrepreneurs. The companies will use technology to lower the costs of making or supplying products and services that were previously unaffordable to many people. The guarantee will target companies offering digital solutions in a wide range of areas, from agriculture, access to energy and financial services to education, healthcare, transport and logistics. It will support up to 125,000 new jobs, directly and indirectly.

Archipelagos One4A – One Platform for Africa
The €30 million Archipelagos guarantee agreement is a partnership with Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), the Italian Development Bank, and the African Development Bank (AfDB). It will support access to finance across Africa for high potential small businesses. In order to help their growth, the programme supported by the guarantee will provide financing through innovative capital markets solutions. It will also enable financing partners to share the risk of investing in projects. By doing so it will generate up to 50,000 jobs, many for young people, and benefit about 1,500 small businesses in 10 African countries.

These guarantees are part of the External Investment Plan, which, by investing €4.5 billion, is set to leverage €44 billion in total investment. Out of the total budget, the EU has already allocated €4.2 billion.

Background

The EU External Investment Plan is using €4.5 billion in public funds to leverage €44 billion by 2020 in public and private investment for development in countries neighbouring the EU and in Africa.

The plan has three pillars. The first is finance. Through financial guarantees, the EU mitigates the risk in countries with difficult environments so that private investors and development banks will lend to entrepreneurs or finance development projects.

The plan’s second part is technical assistance. This funds experts who help develop new projects, to the benefit of will authorities, investors and companies. Technical assistance may include, for example, market intelligence and investment climate analysis, targeted legislative and regulatory advice, support to partner countries in implementing reforms, chains and identification, preparation, and help to carry out necessary investments.

The third part is investment climate support. The EU works closely with governments in partner countries to help them improve the conditions which investors consider when making their decisions. These include the business environment and a country’s political and economic stability. The EU also brings together governments and business to discuss investment challenges.

The External Investment Plan is a key part of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, launched by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in September 2018. The Alliance aims to boost investment which creates jobs and promotes sustainable development.

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EU delivers on stronger European Border and Coast Guard to support Member States

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Today, the Council has officially adopted the Commission’s proposal to reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency will have a standing corps of 10,000 border guards, a stronger mandate on returns and will also be able to cooperate more closely with non-EU countries, including those beyond the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. This will give the Agency the right level of ambition to respond to the challenges facing Europe in managing migration and its external borders.

Welcoming today’s final adoption, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner for Home Affairs, Migration and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said:

“Today the European Union has achieved an ambitious task of transforming the EU border agency, Frontex, into a fully-fledged European Border and Coast Guard. This Agency will be equipped to offer tangible support to Member States to manage the EU’s external border – wherever and whenever needed.

From less than 300 border guards on the ground in 2014, the European Border and Coast Guard is now deploying around 1,300 officers and will soon have a 10,000-strong standing corps available for deployment. This is a collective achievement, which would not have been possible without strong political support for a common approach.

The European Border and Coast Guard is now stronger than ever. While Member States will remain responsible for the management of external borders, the standing corps will provide unprecedented operational support on the ground. Its officers will be able to assist national border guards in conducting identity and document checks, with border surveillance and return operations.

The Agency will also provide support beyond the EU’s borders. With European Border and Coast Guard officers already deployed in Albania and soon in other Western Balkan countries also, the Agency will be able to cooperate with third countries beyond the EU’s immediate neighbourhood.

We have spared no effort to make sure that Member States have the necessary tools to protect their borders and ensure the security of European citizens.

But our work is not yet done. The Commission will now provide its full support to help the Agency quickly take up its new tasks and ensure the standing corps swiftly reaches its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.”

Next steps

The European Parliament and the Council will now jointly sign the final text. The text will then be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and the European Border and Coast Guard’s reinforced mandate will enter into force 20 days later. The new European Border and Coast Guard standing corps will be ready for deployment from 2021, and will then gradually reach its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.

Background

The European Border and Coast Guard consists of Member States’ authorities responsible for border management and return, and of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. It was established in 2016, building on the existing structures of Frontex, to meet the new challenges and political realities faced by the EU, both as regards migration and internal security. The reliance on voluntary contributions of staff and equipment by Member States has however resulted in persistent gaps affecting the efficiency of the support the European Border and Coast Guard Agency could offer.

In his 2018 State of the Union Address President Juncker announced that the Commission will reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard even further. The objective of this upgrade was to equip the Agency with a standing corps of 10,000 border guards and to provide the agency with its own equipment to allow it to respond to challenges as they arise. The European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the Commission’s proposal on 28 March 2019. With the last step completed in the Council today, both institutions have now formally adopted the text.

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