1 Oct 2018
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am thankful for the opportunity to be with you here today, and to address, for the first time, this yearly event on aviation security – an issue, that is always very high on the European and the global security agenda.
We live in volatile and unpredictable times.
Our neighbourhood is torn apart by conflicts spilling across borders.
Massive population movements, and more than 60 million refugees around the globe challenge the cohesion of our societies.
Our security is tested almost on a daily basis. Our own citizens are radicalised to terrorism and attack innocent people in our cities.
Solidarity between us has become harder to ensure. Nationalism and populism are on the march. Our citizens tell us that they are concerned about terrorism – but equally – they do not wish to see their freedoms limited, or their mobility impeded.
This year, as the European Union marks 60 years of peace, stability and prosperity on the European continent, we cannot take anything for granted.
The issues we discuss here today are not national, or regional. They are global. They touch all of us equally and indiscriminately.
That is why my political priority has been to put in place a genuine and effective Security Union, ensuring the most basic and universal of the rights of the European citizens: To feel safe and secure.
To reinforce the trust between our Member States, and to help them overcome the security taboos of the past – where security was the preserve of the nation state.
To understand, that the security of one Member State, is the security of all Member States.
To fight common threats together as one – because it is fragmantetion which makes us all vulnerable.
And in three years, we have made enormous strides.
We ensured the horizontal criminalisation of all terrorist offences across the European Union.
We took a plethora of measures to stop foreign terrorist fighters from threatening us if they attempt to return to Europe.
We strengthened our borders with a new European Border and Coast Guard, which I proposed to reinforce again just three weeks ago.
We set up new databases to know whenever our borders are crossed, and we are working on the interoperability of all our information systems for borders, migration and security.
We cracked down on the use of firearms, explosives and terrorist money.
We worked with internet companies to get terrorist propaganda offline in the voluntary cooperation of the EU Internet Forum and I just proposed legislation to further reinforce this work.
We fought radicalisation on the streets and in our local communities.
And working with international partners, we took a series of measures to reinforce our aviation security against international terrorism.
Because we all know that aviation at any moment can become the target of all these threats.
It is a simple fact that aviation is a cornerstone of the modern economy.
It is a highly competitive and rapidly growing sector.
It is a sector facing challenges related to performance, innovation, safety, sustainability, air traffic management and infrastructure – just to mention the most important ones.
Security is of course challenge number one.
Aviation security calls for our constant vigilance, and for strategic anticipation at all levels, to stay ahead of the threat.
Because if citizens don’t trust that their air travel is secure, there can be no civil aviation. We are all aware of the complex reality we are facing.
For decades now, civil aviation authorities and regulators, police and intelligence services, airports and airlines have been working to overcome threats against civil aviation.
It is a threat that is constantly evolving.
For years, we have been piling layers upon layers of controls.
We are playing catch-up with terrorists.
We need to get ahead of the threats. Civil aviation is the crown jewel of every ambitious terrorist.
And we see a variety of threats: from physical to cyber-attacks, from single knife attacks to sophisticated chemical plots, and from improvised spontaneous attacks to complex international plans.
Terrorists are eager to attack civil aviation targets, or to use planes to go to or return from war zones.
They are always looking for ways to innovate. We saw that in the plot in Australia in August 2017.
They are constantly developing new concealment techniques and looking at non-conventional weapons.
Hiding explosives in tablets was one of the most recent threats.
This comes in the footsteps of - the baggage bombs - the shoe bombs, - the liquid bombs, - the underwear bombs, - the printer bombs, and - the powder bombs.
We are therefore confronted with the fundamental question: how to continue to ensure and facilitate travel and mobility within, towards and outside Europe, while keeping our citizens, and our societies safe and secure?
We have not been idle in the face of all this.
We have done a lot to improve our aviation security.
We learned important lessons from recent experiences, and equipped ourselves with new tools wherever needed.
Let me give you some examples.
The downing of the Boeing of flight MH 17 on 17 July 2014 while flying over Ukraine, showed the need to evaluate better the risks of flying over conflict zones.
Since then, together with our Member States, we worked to develop risk assessments for more than 20 countries to help you, the airlines, to avoid risks from conflict areas.
This risk assessment was further developed to include air cargo and inbound flights to the European Union.
The threats from explosives and drones is another good example, where we moved on the basis of intelligence and quickly took measures to address developing threats.
Better detection technology was developed.
Knowledge and know-how was shared between us.
Now we see these measures at our airports in Europe on a daily basis.
These are measures that are the result of trust-building between our Member States.
Information being exchanged, best-practices being disseminated and resources being pooled, for our collective security.
The third and most prominent example I would like to give you, is about the measures we took to counter the threat of the so-called Foreign Terrorist Fighters.
Since 2014 and the rise of Daesh, we have been confronted with the serious threat of European citizens, traveling to Syria and Iraq, to fight with Daesh.
These are people who are brainwashed, battle-hardened, and determined to cause harm.
Some of them, on European soil. Clearly action had to be taken immediately – not only to protect our civil aviation, but our citizens across all spectrums of our economies and our societies.
The first thing we did was to reinforce our external borders, and the intelligence they give us.
We made sure that all persons crossing our external borders must be checked against our security databases – whether they are Europeans or third-country nationals.
We worked hard with our Member States and the European Parliament to agree on a European framework to collect and process Passenger Name Records.
I can tell you that this was not an easy task.
Today, our PNR legislation obliges our Member States to ensure that PNR data are collected, processed and made available to competent law enforcement authorities.
We guided our Member States at every step of the way and helped them with millions of euros in funding to implement the EU PNR rules and build their own systems.
PNR can be a game changer. These exchanges are pivotal in enhancing security across the globe, because they allow us not only to track down known suspects, but also to detect persons unknown to law enforcement authorities who may be posing a threat.
And it is no surprise, that just two years ago, the use of PNR to prevent travel by terrorists found itself in United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
Just last week, I was at the UN General Assembly, and I had the opportunity to discuss these developments with Vladimir Voronkov, the Head of the UN Counter-Terrorism Office.
The European Union with the United Nations and key partners such as the United States, are leading globally in the area of aviation security.
One year ago, at the Munich Aviation Security Conference, we built the international consensus to move forward together, on raising the global bar on aviation security.
A global shield, to keep our global aviation safe and secure.
All these improvements, would not have been possible without you.
The open and fruitful dialogue with you, the air carriers and airport authorities operating in the EU, and your associations, made these improvements possible at a very short timeframe.
I am thankful for our cooperation, and I am sure that this, is a partnership that will continue and deepen further.
Working together, we can be successful in ensuring our citizens can fly in safety and security.
I would also like to commend you, airlines and airport operators, not only for helping us on PNR, but also for adjusting to the new rules to step up our border security.
I know it was not simple at the beginning to adjust to new rules for border crossings and to limit the time spent by the travellers at airports.
But we had to do everything that was necessary to protect our citizens, even if the early days were challenging.
Knowing that we could count on your cooperation was critical in this endeavour.
I would like to finish with a forward-looking perspective.
As I said earlier, terrorists will always target our civil aviation.
The threats will not magically disappear.
We need to be ready, and we need to be vigilant. Technology here is our best friend.
It needs to be a constant theme of our improvements in security measures and procedures.
By improving technology and fully reaping the benefits of what technology can offer, we can both increase security and improve travel facilitation.
We need to stay ahead of the innovation curve on policing, but also on detection, on research, and on expertise.
Last year, we announced 1 billion euro of Horizon 2020 funding for security research in 2018 and 2019.
Parts of it will be on aviation security, and we will push for concrete, usable outcomes that can make a difference on the ground.
Jointly with manufacturers, we will continue implementing a technology roadmap with special focus on improving performance in terms of both detection and facilitation.
Your input again will be of utmost importance in this process.
At the same time, we should also continue learning together.
The German wings flight crash on 24 March 2015 showed the need for a better assessment of insider threats.
It reminded us that a simple background check on a person is not sufficient.
We have to constantly improve our tools to mitigate risks against such threats.
Aviation in the future must continue to be safe, secure and comfortable, affordable and efficient.
You should know that the Security Union we are building in Europe, is a paradigm shift – and aviation is a big part of it.
It took a lot of work on our part, but everybody in the EU has understood over the last 4 years that our security is a collective issue.
Trust has improved. Information exchange has dramatically increased. We are now facing the threats together, with unity of purpose.
Civil aviation is a cornerstone of our economic life, but also for the mobility of our citizens, which is the most cherished achievement of our Union.
We will continue to stand next to you as allies and partners, working with you to keep our citizens and our civil aviation safe and secure.
Thank you for your attention.