EU Borders Security:
Acting Ahead across Research, Practice and Policy” workshop: Aspects and conclusions.
Under the title “EU Borders Security: Acting Ahead across Research, Practice and Policy” and during two days last September 2023, MEDEA project (Mediterranean practitioners’ network capacity building for effective response to emerging security challenges) convened a group of experts with the aim to discuss key aspects of the challenge posed by EU Borders Security.
European Union’s borders constitute a complex critical infrastructure with multiple functions of crucial importance. While both internal and external borders should enable movement of people and goods in an efficient way, they need at the same time to continuously filter out threats and ensure safety and security. As the geopolitical environment and the threat landscape are evolving, so are the requirements for European Union’s ability to: effectively sustain its foreign and security policy, promote international cooperation and trade, strengthen its open strategic autonomy, and not least defend its fundamental values. This is an act that involves constant exchange among edge research and innovation, strategy and policy planning, and implementation, on the ground, (and, respectively), of all involved stakeholders at regional, national, and EU level.
The ambition of this two-day conference during the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union was to highlight some key aspects of that challenge, take stock of what has been achieved so far, and sketch out the way ahead.
The event was opened by the Guardia Civil General Juan Manuel Llenderrozas Valladolid of the Border and Martime and Border and Customs Police Commands after the introduction of the MEDEA project by the Project Coordinator Mr. Kokkinis (KEMEA).
This conference was organised around four expert’s panels:
This panel moderated by Patricia Romeyro, Projects Manager in the Copernicus Unit of the European Union Satellite Centre, with the participation of renowned panellists with different backgrounds and a vast expertise in the topic covered from: the Center for Security Studies (KEMEA); the Spanish Guardia Civil’s Border Management and Defence research unit; the company Engineering Ingegneria Informatica S.p.A.; the School of Communication Sciences of University Rey Juan Carlos (URJC) in Madrid; the Bulgarian Defence Institute; the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (CoE) as well as representatives of other European projects as DYNAMO and FLEXI-cross projects.
With their presentations and/or speeches regarding the concept of “hybrid threat” and “integrated border management”, those terms and definitions were linked with security aspects at the EU level. A known exhaustive list of potential hybrid threats that may be affecting the EU was compiled during their interventions, such as influence operations, military exercises, disinformation campaigns, sabotage in several environments, cyber-attacks at the border and damage to critical infrastructures.
The discussion run generating debates and also engaging the audience. According to the discussion, hybrid threats come from state and non-state actors in multitude of formats and methods, conventional and unconventional, with high impact in destabilizing or influencing a country, region or community. Aligned with one of the Thematic Community of Practitioners (TCP) of MEDEA, about migration, the “instrumentalisation of migrants” was brought to the table as a way of committing a hybrid threat attack towards one of the EU Member States (MSs) or the EU as a whole, aiming to destabilizing the EU or a MS putting in risk essential state functions, the territorial integrity maintenance of law or the national security of that MS. Countermeasures to tackle hybrid threats related to security at the EU external borders were also discussed. Moreover, communication strategies to fight against hybrid threats were highlighted.
This panel moderated by Pedro B. Água, Subdirector of Naval Research Centre of the Ministry of National Defence of Portugal, was composed by high qualified experts from the Coasts and Maritime Police Command of Spanish Guardia Civil, the Customs and Excise Department of the Directorate of Customs Surveillance of the Spanish State Agency of Public Administration, the Spanish enterprise group ETRA, representing also the EU project PERIVALLON, Finish SME Woitsch Consulting Ltd. whose representative is a Standardization expert, and KEMEA, representing also the European COURAGEOUS project.
This session started by raising the question: “What do we understand by saying Interoperability?”, followed by the short video regarding the EU proposal framework for Interoperability, which provided the context for the following debate among the panellists and the audience at large. A set of questions were placed to the panel and the audience, specifically about what the current main challenges for interoperability are, what other factors beyond technology are critical for achieving interoperability, what are the main challenges concerning information and data sharing for achieving interoperability considering it involves sharing critical information and vigilance data, what the role of standards in achieving interoperability is and what other associated challenges there might be.
Among the challenges that were pointed out are the Implementation; the integration vs. interoperability; the need to think beyond technology, taking the human factor in the loop into account and the organizational, semantic and the political dimensions of interoperability; the need for early detection; the difficulties and sometimes bureaucracies preventing a more fluid sharing of information; the need for training of human resources which may contribute for the attainment of interoperability across EU; the need for a more effective attitude toward new technologies and change in order to tackle the issues and challenges facing the implementation of interoperability. Also, some remarkable findings after this conversation were that culture is not always a facilitator in achieving interoperability, that standardization is a key enabler and the often forgotten ‘trust’ factor.
The session was an open dialogue gathering good comments and questions from the broader audience attending. The moderator ended with a sentence that somehow summarized the main conclusions from the session: “For success, attitude is equally as important as ability” (Sir Walter Scott)
This panel was moderated by Giulio Maria Mancini, Policy Officer and Area Coordinator for Border Management in the Innovation and Security Research Unit of the European Commission Directorate-General Migration & Home Affairs, and welcomed relevant experts from the Central Directorate for Immigration and Border Police of the Ministry of Interior of Italy, the Central Intelligence Analysis Unit of the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police, the Telecommunications Engineering Higher Technical School of the Polytechnic University of Madrid, Zanasi & Partners company representing NOTIONES EU project, and KEMEA on behalf of TENACITY project.
In this panel the role of security practitioners and responders from non-governmental, governmental, and international bodies in security research action, and the potential for them to contribute hands-on insights, but also to receive useful and usable solutions were discussed. Given their background the panellists brought together the perspective of practitioners and of innovators.
The challenges of civil security innovation in Europe, the capability-based approach and tools to increase the role of practitioners in research, as mandatory participation in Research & Innovation (R&I) projects and Networks of Practitioners for Innovation served as introduction to discussions where the panellists showcased their experience in civil security innovation, what worked well and what challenges they faced in working in innovation, how the innovations (if this was the case) were, adopted by the end users and practitioners, and what the reasons were for not adopting. Also, it was discussed how is innovation different from other work, in the case of practitioners (e.g., LEAs) and how is security different from innovation in other fields, in the case of researchers/ innovators these discussions opened the floor for the audience’s questions.
This fourth panel was moderated by Dr Georgios Kolliarakis, advisor for Research Strategy, Technology, Security, Defence at German Council on Foreign Relations, DGAP. Participant experts with long track records and experience, but also with diverse backgrounds, were certainly an asset for the discussion, as this panel counted on the Spanish National delegate, National Contact Point for Cluster 3 Security of Horizon Europe Programme, and representatives from the area of Innovation, Research and Development of the Directorate Technologies for Defence and Security of ISDEFE, from the Euro-Arab Foundation for Higher Studies and from the School of Sciences of CERIDES, European University Cyprus, representing METICOS EU Project.
The panel revolved around three core triggers for the discussion, in order to elucidate the not always straightforward relationship between research and policy, particularly when it comes to highly salient and, not least, contentious issues of security. First, considering that emerging and hybrid threats resemble “moving targets”, the role of security research in setting new diagnoses about the challenges to come was discussed, including forward-looking methodologies for helping to respond to and prepare against crises and shocks. Secondly, the issue on what security research can contribute to security policy, and under which conditions this is feasible animated the discussion. Then concluding with the question about which the limitations and constraints to security research are, and how results should become useful and usable.
As conclusions of these discussions, it can be remarked, on one hand, that security research is an ideal tool which allows to rapidly identify potential future threats and challenges, given that it enhances collaboration and coordination between end-users and security services / technologies providers, including the academia and RTOs. Considering the fact that the ‘enemies’ are well trained/educated and have easy access to sophisticated/state of the art toolkits, the role of security research is to keep us always one step ahead from them. On the other hand, that security research must be at the core of EU and national security-related policies and therefore, must contribute to security-related policies with recommendations on new challenges to be addressed, how to cover end-users’ needs, etc. The lack of synchronization between regulation and policy drafting with research programmes was mentioned as a limitation and the support to EU technologies and the importance of sovereignty of security-related technologies as essential needs to be strengthened.
This conference was organized by the MEDEA network (Mediterranean practitioners’ network capacity building for effective response to emerging security challenges), 2018-2023, funded under Grant Agreement no. 787111.