1st Dec 2022

Von der Leyen: EU must now protect critical infrastructure

  • 'We need to protect our critical infrastructure,' EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said (Photo: European Parliament)
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The EU needs to do more to protect its critical infrastructure, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday (10 October) as Germany did not rule out foreign interference in an act of rail sabotage in the north of the country over the weekend.

"Critical infrastructure is the new frontier of warfare," von der Leyen said in a speech in Tallin, Estonia a few days after rail transport in northern Germany has been brought to a halt by "an act of sabotage".

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German transport minister Volker Wissing said on Monday he could not rule out the involvement of foreign countries in what he called an act of sabotage.

"We have increased vigilance since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, because we know that infrastructures have become an increased target," Wissing told German public broadcaster ARD.

Wissing did not name any countries in connection to the sabotage, Bloomberg reported.

Rail traffic in northern Germany was disrupted for hours this weekend after two separate fibre optic cables were damaged.

The complexity of the operation raised concerns that it could have been done by a foreign state. The German police have launched an investigation.

"We need to protect our critical infrastructure," von der Leyen said, pointing out that — for instance — submarine fibre-optic cables carry 99 percent of global internet traffic.

Von der Leyen pointed to new legislation which is expected to come into force in 2024 and is aimed at identifying and better protecting infrastructure deemed critical for the entire EU.

The commission plans to do "stress tests" of the critical infrastructure to identify weak points, von der Leyen also said.

The commission is also set to support EU countries in case of disruption to critical infrastructure from the civil protection mechanism, which is EU money designated for disasters.

Von der Leyen said the EU will need to "make best use of our satellite surveillance capacity to detect potential threats", and strengthen cooperation with Nato on preparedness.

The German rail sabotage came two weeks after several massive leaks damaged the Nord Stream gas pipeline connecting Germany and Russia.

In that case, authorities have also suspected deliberate sabotage, with some pointing to Russia.

Moscow has denied accusations, and Russian president Vladimir Putin has blamed "Anglo-Saxons" for the damage.

"The acts of sabotage against the Nord Stream pipelines have shown how vulnerable our critical infrastructure is," von der Leyen, who previously served as Germany's defence minister, said.

The German government is aware that infrastructure has become a target and, according to Wissing, has displayed "increased vigilance since the beginning of the war in Ukraine."

Underwater explosions were detected near Nord Stream leaks

Measuring stations connected to the Swedish National Seismic Network (SNSN) detected powerful underwater explosions close to the leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. Poland has already declared it "sabotage".

Foul play suspicions in Nord Stream leaks

Sweden's maritime authority detected two leaks on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline on Tuesday, shortly after Danish authorities discovered a leak in Nord Stream 2.


Can Europe protect its underwater cables from sabotage?

The sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines was the first major attack on European maritime infrastructure. But while the EU Commission has a critical infrastructure directive in the works, it largely focuses on cybersecurity —not physical attacks.

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