Migration and Home Affairs


The Commission supports the Member States in enhancing the protection of citizens and critical infrastructures against the terrorist threat through a number of means. These include facilitating network-building, encouraging cross-border and public-private cooperation, organising joint trainings, promoting closer coordination in procurement and funding of projects with the Internal Security Fund Police (ISF-P) and the programme Horizon 2020.

EU legislation has been adopted for the reduction of access to explosives precursors and the protection of critical infrastructure. EU adopted also Action Plans for the prevention of and response to terrorist attacks using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) materials and for the protection of public spaces.

Protecting against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats

Despite the fact that there have not been any major CBRN terrorist attacks in the European Union so far, the CBRN threat needs to be taken seriously because of the harm that these materials can cause. It is known that terrorist organisations are interested in acquiring and then using CBRN materials and agents. There is therefore a need for vigilance in this area, as these are typical cases of “low probability, high impact” threats.

The complexity of this issue makes the protection against CBRN threats challenging. For that reason, Member States share their best practices, train together and develop common capabilities. To support those activities, the European Commission adopted in October 2017 an Action Plan to enhance preparedness against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) security risks (PDF). The goal of the Action Plan is to enhance the ability of the Member States and the European Union as a whole to manage the CBRN threat.

The Commission works closely with CBRN coordinators from all Member States in order to reduce the possibility of illegal acquisition of dangerous materials and substances. A coordinated effort is made to improve preparedness and response capabilities of Member States when confronting CBRN incidents. The Commission works also closely with external partners, both states (e.g. United States) and international organizations (e.g. International Atomic Energy Agency or the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons).

Enhancing the protection of public spaces

In the past years, public spaces such as shopping malls, public transportation, and entertainment venues in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Berlin, Stockholm, London and Barcelona became the target of terrorist attacks. The Commission is taking steps to support the Member States in protecting these areas and adopted an Action Plan to support the protection of public spaces (PDF) in 2017.

All public spaces are different. Some, like public squares and parks, are completely open, while others are confined/semi-confined with some form of protection (e.g. access controls at airports). Public authorities run some of them; others are privatised or managed through public-private partnerships.

As such, effectively securing public spaces requires engagement with a broad range of actors with varying types of responsibility in preparing and responding to terrorist incidents. Like the Member States, the Commission is mindful of the need to strike a balance between improving the security of public spaces and preserving their open nature and accessibility to the public.

The Commission meets regularly with the Member States to discuss this topic within the context of the Protection of Public Spaces Forum, which is composed of a policy group with representatives from Member States authorities, and two sub-groups. The first, the public-private Operators’ Forum, seeks to bring together public authorities and private operators in order to discuss good practices and other ways to improve the protection of public spaces.

Individual meetings are often focused on a specific theme, e.g. public areas of transportation facilities, emplacements of large-scale entertainment events, hotels/restaurants, shopping malls/gallerias, etc. The Commission provides practical support to the Member States via the Protection of Public Spaces Forum through assistance in carrying out vulnerability assessments and the development of guidance materials (manuals, handbook, etc.), such as 2017 Review on vehicle barrier protection guidance.

Working with public authorities and private operators of different sectors as public transport, mass events, hospitality and commerce, the Commission has identified in Staff Working Document COM (219) 145 several measures that operators and public authorities involved in the protection of public spaces can implement to strengthen security. The good practices include vulnerability assessments and planning, awareness and training, physical protection, including work on detection technology and security by design and cooperation between public and private stakeholders.

Since local actors are at the frontline to make our public spaces more secure, the Commission cooperates with cities and regions through the Partnership on security in public spaces under the EU Urban Agenda. The priorities of the Partnership are 1) Urban planning and design ‘to create safer cities’, 2) Technologies for smart and safe cities and 3) Managing security and sharing public space.

The second sub-group within the Protection of Public Spaces Forum, the Law Enforcement Practitioners Forum, brings together members of the EU law enforcement community to discuss their role in protecting public spaces. The members of this group include:

  • AIRPOL (network of police and border guard units working in the fight against crime in the European aviation sector),
  • RAILPOL (network of the organisations responsible for policing European railways),
  • ENLETS (network of European law enforcement technology services),
  • ATLAS (network of European police special intervention units),
  • High Risk Security Network (military and police units protecting public spaces, critical infrastructures and high risk locations),
  • Explosive Detection Dogs Working Group

The practical support to Member States includes the pooling of research needs and outcomes to support law enforcement practitioners, the development of guidance materials, assistance in the testing of detection equipment, harmonisation of standards and sharing of good practices, etc.

Reducing access to explosives and improving detection capability

The European Agenda on Security identified the need to strengthen the legal framework on firearms and combat their illicit trafficking. It also highlighted the need to restrict access to and the deployment of dangerous substances, including explosives, by terrorist networks. The attacks in Paris (7-9 January 2015) as well as the attack on a Thalys train in France (21 August 2015), were perpetrated by terrorists who obtained weapons and/or explosives by purchasing them on the black market from criminal gangs. In this context, it was crucial that the EU and Member States increase efforts to fight against the trafficking in firearms and the illicit use of explosives.

The Commission has been active in this field, starting with the 2008 EU Action Plan on Enhancing the Security of Explosives. A key achievement of the Action Plan was the adoption of Regulation EU 98/2013 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors. Explosives precursors are chemical substances habitually used for legitimate purposes, but that can also be misused to manufacture homemade explosives. The Action Plan also called for the creation of a Standing Committee on Precursors (SCP).

On 2 December 2015 after the deadly Paris attacks another Action Plan against illicit trafficking in and use of firearms and explosives (PDF) was adopted. This plan sets out specific actions necessary to implement the European Agenda on Security, including the close monitoring of the implementation of Regulation 98/2013 on explosives precursors. In order to further improve the security in this field, by dialogue and exchange of best practices, the Commission organises annual EU-US explosives experts’ seminars focussing on topics of common interest.

In April 2018, the Commission proposed to strengthen the current rules of the Regulation EU 98/2013 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors by banning additional chemicals, ending the current registration systems, upgraded licensing and screening as well as faster and better information sharing. Regulation (EU) 2019/1148 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors, amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 and repealing Regulation (EU) No 98/2013 entered into force on 2 August 2019 and will apply from 1 February 2021.

The 2015 Action Plan also calls for the establishment of a pool of EU experts for the detection of explosives, accompanied by a capacity building and support programme. This pool has now been set up, with the Commission and Member States’ experts providing support to law enforcement agencies in detecting explosives. The Commission is also involved in detection trials evaluating the effectiveness of various tools and methodologies in different operational settings, including critical infrastructure protection, safety of public buildings and security during major public events.

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Critical infrastructure protection (CIP) and resilience

Critical infrastructure is vital for the functioning of modern societies. Without reliable supplies of energy or predictable transportation, our current way of life would not be possible. For this reason, the Commission has long been engaged in supporting the protection of critical infrastructure from all kind of threats, be it natural or man-made disaster or terrorist attacks. In 2004, the Commission issued a Communication on Critical Infrastructure Protection in the Fight against Terrorism. The proposals contained in the Communication provided the basis for the establishment in 2006 of the European Programme of Critical Infrastructure Protection (EPCIP), which was revised in 2013 to take account of increasing cross-border interdependencies (PDF) between and among critical infrastructures in different sectors.

The key pillar of this programme is the 2008 Directive on European Critical Infrastructures (PD). It establishes a procedure for identifying and designating European Critical Infrastructures (ECI) and a common approach for assessing the need to improve their protection. The Directive applies only to the energy and transport sectors. The Directive requires owners/operators of designated ECI to prepare Operator Security Plans (advanced business continuity plans) and nominate Security Liaison Officers, linking the owner/operator with the national authority responsible for critical infrastructure protection. In 2018-19 the Directive was subject of an external evaluation. The evaluation was finalized on 23 July 2019 with the publication of a Staff Working Document (PDF).

The EPCIP facilitates information sharing among the Member States and other stakeholders, via the CIP Points of Contact group with representatives from every Member State and an online information tool, the Critical Infrastructure Warning Information Network (CIWIN). The EPCIP framework also provides the Commission legal basis to offer support to Member States in protecting their own national critical infrastructure, and to provide funding for CIP-related research/studies. The EPCIP actions are associated with the works of the research scientists from the European Reference Network for Critical Infrastructure Protection (ERNCIP).

Given the complexity of CIP and the international interdependencies of infrastructures, the Commission facilitates through the EPCIP contacts and fosters cooperation between EU Member States and external partners, including neighbouring countries from Western Balkans and Eastern Europe as well as the United States and Canada.

As foreseen in its adjusted work programme for 2020 , the Commission plans to present a proposal for additional measures regarding the protection and resilience of critical infrastructure. An inception impact assessment related to the proposal has been published on the Commission’s website. This is open for stakeholders feedback until 7 August 2020.

Other actions to enhance protection

On transport security, DG HOME participates in the works of DG for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE) expert groups on air security (AVSEC), land transport security (LANDSEC) and maritime security (MARSEC). Additionally, the Rail Security Platform (RAILSEC) was set up in coordination with DG MOVE. Cooperation with customs authorities and DG for Taxation and Customs Union (DG TAXUD) has also been established. An important part of those efforts focuses on explosives detection and therefore is classified. Plans for future include a closer cooperation with Law Enforcement networks (including Europol) with a possible creation of a European Transport Police network.

Tracking new and possible future threats

Technology progresses fast, creating wealth and making our lives easier, but also offering new opportunities for criminals and terrorists. The illegal use of advanced technologies is a considerable challenge for the EU and its Member States. As terrorists adapt and change their techniques and modi operandi, it is necessary that law enforcement agencies are equally innovative. As needs arise, Commission will adapt its support to the Member States in keeping up with technological advances and confronting their use for malicious purposes.

As an example, the illegal use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), commonly known as drones, are of particular concern in the context of both the protection of public spaces, where it in mentioned as a specific action, and critical infrastructure protection. While drones will become an increasingly common sight overhead in carrying out many useful missions, they also pose a range of security challenges that must be confronted now and going forward. The Commission is carefully following this trend and providing support as necessary.

Another important work strand is to address insider threats , which is included as an action in the CBRN action plan.