Hybrid threats refer to when, state or non-state, actors seek to exploit the vulnerabilities of the EU to their own advantage by using in a coordinated way a mixture of measures (i.e. diplomatic, military, economic, technological) while remaining below the threshold of formal warfare.
Examples are the hindering of democratic decision-making processes by massive disinformation campaigns, using social media to control the political narrative or to radicalise, recruit and direct proxy actors.
What is the Commission’s role?
Member States are predominantly responsible to respond to hybrid threats by enhancing their resilience, and detecting, preventing and responding to hybrid threats. The Commission plays an important role in providing coordinated responses at EU level in cases where many EU Member States face common threats, which can also target cross-border networks or infrastructures.
The main pillars of the EU response are: enhancing situational awareness, boosting resilience in all critical sectors, providing for an adequate response and recovery in case of crisis and cooperation with like-minded countries and organisations, incl. the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
The European Commission coordinates and develops policy initiatives on several key issues within its competences e.g. protection of critical infrastructure, cybersecurity measures, tackling (online) disinformation, securing free and fair elections, etc.
Since 2016, the Commission together with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has set up a broad array of measures to counter hybrid threats in a substantial number of policy areas through the 2016 Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats – a European Union response and the 2018 Joint Communication on Increasing Resilience and Bolstering Capabilities to Address Hybrid Threats. In addition, the 2020 EU Security Union Strategy announced a new approach based on mainstreaming hybrid threats considerations into all policy initiatives.
DG DEFIS’ role
DG DEFIS, jointly with the European External Action Service, acts as a hybrid threats point of contact for the Member States and other external stakeholders, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Hybrid Center of Excellence. DG DEFIS is in close contact and exchange with these stakeholders to work together on new projects and initiatives and to make best use of synergies.
Guidance documents and relevant links
Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats – a European Union response
Joint Communication: increasing resilience & bolstering capabilities to counter hybrid threats
Annual progress reports on countering hybrid threats: JOIN(2017) 30 final, JOIN(2018) 14 final, SWD(2019) 200 final, SWD(2020) 153 final
EU Security Union Strategy COM(2020) 605 final and progress reports
- Mapping of measures related to enhancing resilience and countering hybrid threats, SWD(2020) 152 final
- The landscape of Hybrid Threats: A Conceptual Model