Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos at the high-level International Conference on countering the threat posed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), Brussels 17/10/2019

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Date: 
17 Oct 2019
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos

Brussels, 17 October 2019

Ladies and gentlemen,

Together with Commissioner Bulc, I would like to welcome you to this Conference on countering the threats posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems also called drones. 

Like many other technologies, drones offer opportunities and pose challenges.

Positive examples on the use of drones however are many. Drones can be used to transport desperately needed blood from one hospital to another. They can help to find missing children or during fire-fighting operations. Police can use them to monitor traffic, track down suspects and carry out investigations. Critical infrastructure providers can supervise their facilities more efficiently. Airport operators can benefit from them to carry out checks on runways and in far-off corners on the ground. In the future, we may see wide-scale use of drones for delivering packages.

The European Commission fully supports everything, which contributes to creating a conducive environment in Europe for the use of drones in ways that are legitimate, safe and beneficial to our citizens and to the economy.

But drones can also be used maliciously, carelessly or unintentionally  to disrupt our daily lives, and harm citizens.

Drones can be used to carry out attacks, like those in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Venezuela and most recently in Saudi Arabia. What is happening in conflict zones can be a source of inspiration to attackers elsewhere around the globe. Returning foreign terrorist fighters with drone experience are also a concern in this respect.

However, the drone threat does not solely stem from terrorists. Drones can and are being used both in Europe and around the world to smuggle goods over borders and into prisons, to track and disrupt law enforcement operations, to harass and stalk individuals, and to create unrest, as it happened during a Europa League football game in Luxembourg.

Drones can also significantly disrupt critical infrastructure operations. While the investigations into the incidents at Gatwick and Heathrow airports are ongoing, the drones reported at the time caused serious disruptions, which had an immediate impact around the globe and caused significant financial damage.

Our response in countering the inappropriate use of drones has to be clear, strong and follow the course of technological innovations. This is the reason why the European Commission is supporting EU Member States in their efforts to address the potential dangerous use of drones.

Our support is focused on the following actions:

First, on the Systematic threat monitoring: Tracking the threat and its evolution in order to identify trends in how drones are being used maliciously is very important. Europol now is developing a drone incident reporting mechanism and  the European Border and Cost Guard agency has a role to play in the air border surveillance, involving the detection, tracking and identification of drones.

Second, on supporting trainings initiatives: Today's law enforcement personnel needs to have skills that would have been unthinkable in the not so distant past and this is exactly where the European Agency for Law Enforcement Training – CEPOL comes in and organise regular trainings on drones.

Third, by bringing all stakeholders together such as we did today by organising this very timely conference.  Cross-sectorial exchange with Member States, EU agencies, international organisations, third countries, academia, the industry and civil society is of utmost importance to counter the threats posed by drones.

And Fourth by funding relevant research such as supporting research programmes through Horizon 2020 and ISF-Police fund.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We see a clear need for further testing of drone countermeasures that can be used to detect, track, identify and even intercept drones. We know that testing is underway in many countries. Supporting this work is a priority for us and we look forward to exploring with Member States the best way to facilitate their work. Member States must be able to make informed choices regarding sometimes very expensive systems.

As Commissioner Bulc will describe in a minute, in Europe, we are also taking a number of important regulatory measures of relevance from a security standpoint. U-Space is worth being mentioned in this context. This unmanned traffic management concept aims to facilitate the safe operation of drones at low altitude over urban centres, many times very close to critical infrastructure and sensitive sites like prisons, stadiums, and defence facilities.  Discussion on U-Space must involve law enforcement and other public security authorities. They need to understand what U-Space will entail and how U-Space can be used in the interest of security.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Aviation security is very high on the European and on the global security agenda. It is part of our efforts to protect our citizens. Today, we live in volatile and unpredictable times. Our neighbourhood is torn apart by conflicts spilling across borders.

Our own citizens are becoming radicalised to terrorism and attack innocent people in our cities. Nationalism and populism are on the rise. Solidarity between us has become harder to ensure.

Aviation security is a silver thread connecting our work on counter-terrorism, on border management, on radicalisation, on information systems, on security research, and elsewhere.

A lot remains to be done to protect our citizens. For this to happen, experts, law enforcement practitioners, security authorities and industry all need to work together towards this clear goal. And you are all represented here today.

The European Commission will continue to play a crucial role in connecting all these elements. Only collectively with a strong Security Union and a global security role for Europe in the world can we protect our citizens.

We are not where we were 5 years ago. Under the present Commission, the EU had to respond to a security crisis and I am pleased to say that progress has been made and continues to be made. The Security Union we are building is about building trust, sharing resources, and facing threats together.

With that, I would like to once again welcome you to this event, and wish you a good and productive day with us today. I would now like to hand over to my colleague Violeta Bulc, who will say a few words from a transport perspective.

Thank you.

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