Six EU states sign declaration on PESCO cyber rapid response

Croatia, Estonia, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain signed up to the Lithuania-led mutual assistance cyber security project

Six European Union states signed a Declaration of Intent on Monday, June 25, to create rapid response teams to help countering cyber attacks under the Permanent Structured Cooperation on defense (PESCO), the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense announced.

“E.U. countries have not had the opportunity to address cyber incidents together so far, and in the meanwhile, the attacks are not limited by country borders. Lithuania has taken up the role of leadership in proposing first a practical solution in strengthening collective defence in cyber space and countering threats in a new dimension,” Minister of National Defence Raimundas Karoblis said at a session of the E.U. Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg.

Lithuania, Estonia, Croatia, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain were the first states to sign the declaration, while Finland, France and Poland are expected to sign on later.

Kristian Vakkuri, a senior advisor at the Media and Communications Unit of the Finnish Defense Ministry, told The Defense Post that Finland was not ready to sign the declaration because of ongoing discussions and negations between different actors within the country.

“In Finland, civil CERT [computer emergency readiness team] belongs to the guidance of the Ministry of Transport and Communications and military CERT belongs to the Ministry of Defence. The discussions between MoD Finland and the Ministry of Traffic and Communications take time and are not completed yet,” he explained.

Lithuania is the lead participant in the rapid response teams project, one of 17 announced when 25 E.U. member states established PESCO in December.

Asta Galdikaitė, Acting Head of Public Information Division at the Lithuanian Defense Ministry, told The Defense Post that the letter countries will join “after they have completed their national procedures.” She noted that Bulgaria has unofficially expressed its wish to become a member as well. 

Under the Lithuanian proposal, the response teams will be formed as a “civil-military capability” with experts pooled on a rotational basis. They will be ready to help national authorities to tackle cyberattacks, with the schedule to be approved next year, according to Karoblis.

“[Cyber Rapid Response Teams] will complement national, E.U., regional and multinational efforts in the cyber field, without duplicating existing efforts, structures and formats,” the declaration said.

The defense ministers have also expressed intent to “survey existing national and E.U. legal frameworks in order to investigate possibilities for an effective deployment of CRRTs and, if necessary, explore the need of their adaptation.”

The E.U. is expected to allocate funds for software and other equipment. As for legal and technical aspects, talks with E.U. institutions are ongoing.

Decisions on those questions will  be  made later and will be set in the Memorandum of Understanding on Development of the Lithuanian-initiated E.U. Cyber Rapid Response Force,” Galdikaitė said when asked about the size of the response teams and whether or not they are going to cooperate with the private sector. 

According to the declaration, the parties intend to sign the Memorandum of Understanding by the end of this year.

“The Signatories intend to further shape and define the initiative, seeking to reach initial operational capabilities of CRRTs in 2019,” the declaration added.

Even though the final details of the agreement are still being discussed, the first of the E.U. Cyber Rapid Response Teams will take part in the cyber security exercise in Lithuania this fall, according to the Ministry of Defense.

“In reality it would look like this: each participant would need to have a standing cyber security unit which could join the neutralisation and investigation in virtual or even in physical reality in the event of a significant cyber incident,” Karoblis said.

The cyber force is one of the 17 joint projects launched under PESCO, which include the establishment of a European medical command, E.U. training mission competence center, military disaster relief and an upgrade of maritime surveillance.

PESCO was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty and allows states participating in the joint framework to develop joint defence capabilities, invest in shared projects, and enhance the operational readiness and contribution of their armed forces.

“Emphasizing opportunities in developing cyber projects through PESCO, [the Signatories] have expressed the intention: to develop and deepen voluntary cooperation in the cyber field through mutual assistance in response to major cyber incidents, including information sharing, joint training, mutual operational support, research and development and creation of joint capabilities,” the declaration said.

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