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EU proposal for a new policy package on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) security - briefing

24 June 2009
by eub2 -- last modified 24 June 2009

The European Commission has today adopted a policy package on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) security. The core of the package is an EU Action Plan on Countering CBRN Threats. The aim of the proposed policy is to strengthen the protection of EU citizens from these threats.


What is the problem?



Over the last 50 years, the vast majority of terrorist attacks around the world were committed with explosive devices or firearms. Nevertheless, there is a risk that terrorist organisations may choose to use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials to commit their criminal acts. Such incidents could result in large numbers of casualties, create economic disruptions or cause fear among the population. Early action is therefore needed in order to limit the possibility of terrorist use of CBRN materials.


Where does the policy come from?



While the main responsibility for the security of citizens rests with the Member States, the European Union has actively supported their efforts. Preventing terrorist access to CBRN material is currently considered a key priority under the European Union Counter-Terrorism Strategy from 2005 and under the EU Strategy against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Means of Delivery (WMD) from 2003. The EU CBRN Action Plan, proposed by the Commission in June 2009, will contribute to achieving the goals of these strategies.


In December 2007, the Justice and Home Affairs Council confirmed that effective policies to address CBRN risks should be further developed. The Commission was invited to step up its work in the CBRN field together with the Member States and relevant stakeholders by identifying existing policy gaps and building on good practices across Member States. The Commission based its work on a broad consultation with the CBRN Task Force, set up by the Commission, which gathered more than 200 experts from relevant national authorities, as well as from research, academia and the private sector. The proposed EU CBRN Action Plan is based on the 264 recommendations contained in the Final Report of the CBRN Task Force, which was issued in January 2009.


What is the proposed policy package composed of?



The core of the policy package is the EU CBRN Action Plan, containing 132 concrete measures that are either horizontal or specific for each of the CBRN strands: chemical, biological and radiological and nuclear. The Action Plan is an annex to the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on "Strengthening Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Security in the European Union." The third component of the package is the Staff Working Document "Bridging Security and Health: Towards identification of good practices and recommendations on response to CBRN incidents and security of CBR substances."

What are the benefits of the policy package?



The overall goal of the proposed policy on CBRN is to enhance the protection of the citizens of the European Union from incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials. In order to achieve this goal, the CBRN Action Plan, which is the core of the package, sets out concrete measures which could be taken by various stakeholders (including the EU, Member States and industry) to address the problem.


The Action Plan focuses on three broad areas of action:



    * ensuring that unauthorised access to CBRN materials of concern is as difficult as possible (prevention);

    * having the capability to detect CBRN materials (detection);

    * being able to efficiently respond to incidents involving CBRN materials and recover from them as quickly as possible (preparedness and response).


These three areas of action are supported by a number of horizontal measures (such as international cooperation and research) which are broadly applicable to all CBRN work.


In more practical terms, the core elements of the CBRN Action Plan are:


    * using a risk-based approach to CBRN security in the European Union leading to a prioritisation of efforts on the issues of highest concern;

    * ensuring that CBRN materials are well protected and the potential for them being lost or stolen is limited;

    * strengthening the exchange of information between Member States on CBRN security issues in order to react more swiftly to emerging threats;

    * improving the use of detection systems across the EU; and

    * providing responders with the necessary tools to save lives and limit damage to property in case of CBRN incidents.


Why was this action taken at EU level?



The European Union is an area of increasing openness and an area in which the internal and external aspects of security are closely linked. It is an area of increasing interdependence, allowing the free movement of people, ideas, technology and resources. As a result it is also an area which terrorists may abuse to pursue their objectives and which has already been abused for this purpose.


Security is a common concern for all EU Member States and for all European citizens. Although security is a national competence, the EU can significantly contribute to the efforts being made because:


    * The terrorist threat knows no borders – its international character necessitates an international response.

    * In an EU without internal borders, similar minimum levels of security should be present in all Member States so that lower security standards in one State do not have adverse effects in another.

    * There are potential economies of scale to be generated through the identification and dissemination of good practices at EU level.


The added value of European level engagement in the CBRN security field was confirmed by the strong involvement of Member State authorities and industry representatives in the CBRN Task Force.


How will the policy be implemented?



The CBRN Action Plan contains a broad range of measures which will be implemented over the next 3 years. A number of tools will be used to facilitate implementation including providing financial assistance, preparing studies and organising meetings. The majority of actions undertaken in the immediate aftermath of the adoption of the Action Plan will be of a preparatory nature. These preparatory activities will include the prioritisation of CBRN substances of highest concern, the identification of good practices in various areas and the establishment of information exchange systems.


When will the Action Plan take effect?



Following the adoption by the Commission, the CBRN Action Plan will be discussed with Member State representatives in the Council in the 2nd half of 2009. Following agreement among the Member States, the implementation of the Action Plan may start in 2010.


Source: European Commission