Skip to main content
Migration and Home Affairs

The Commission supports EU Member States in enhancing the protection of citizens and critical infrastructures against terrorist threats. The EU measures include:

  • facilitating network-building
  • encouraging cross-border and public-private cooperation
  • organising joint trainings
  • promoting closer coordination
  • funding of projects

The EU Counter-Terrorism Agenda adopted in 2020 builds on existing policies and puts forward initiatives to ensure physical protection of public spaces, places of worship, and critical infrastructure. The Agenda builds on EU actions and policies already in place:

  • to deny terrorists the means to attack by preventing them from acquiring firearms and explosives precursors
  • Action Plan for the prevention of and response to terrorist attacks using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) materials
  • Action Plan to support the protection of public spaces

Critical infrastructure resilience

Critical infrastructure, such as power plants, places of worship, or public spaces, require special attention to be protected from terrorist attacks, natural hazards and other threats.

EU Protective Security Advisors (EU PSA)

The EU Protective Security Advisors (EU PSA) is a group of security and anti-terrorism experts that offer support services to examine the safety of public spaces and large scale events.

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats

Although there have not been any major CBRN terrorist attacks in the EU so far, the CBRN threat needs to be taken seriously because of the harm these materials can cause. There is a need for vigilance in this area, as these are typical cases of “low probability, high impact” threats.

Action plan against CBRN threats

The 2017 EU Action Plan to enhance preparedness against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) security risks aims to enhance the ability of the Member States and the European Union as a whole to manage the CBRN threat.

EU countries share their best practices, train together and develop common capabilities. The Commission works closely with CBRN coordinators from all EU Member States to reduce the risk posed by these dangerous materials and substances. A coordinated effort is made to improve the preparedness and response capabilities of EU Member States when confronting CBRN incidents. The Commission works also closely with external partners, both states and international organizations.

Protection of public spaces

Terrorist attacks have overwhelmingly targeted people in public spaces, which are especially vulnerable due to their open and accessible nature.

In the past years, public spaces such as shopping malls, public transportation, and entertainment venues in EU became the target of terrorist attacks. The Commission took steps to support the EU countries in protecting these areas and adopted an Action Plan to support the protection of public spaces in 2017.

“With the Counter-Terrorism Agenda, we are boosting our ability to anticipate new threats, we are helping local communities to prevent radicalisation, we are giving cities the means to protect public spaces and we are ensuring that we can respond quickly and more efficiently to attacks.”

Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs

Characteristics of public spaces

All public spaces are different. Some, like public squares and parks, are completely open, while others are confined/semi-confined with some form of protection (e.g. access controls at airports). Public authorities run some of them, while others are privatised or managed through public-private partnerships.

As such, effectively securing public spaces requires engagement with a broad range of actors with varying types of responsibility in preparing and responding to terrorist incidents. The Commission is mindful of the need to strike a balance between improving the security of public spaces and preserving their open nature and accessibility to the public.

Preventing terrorist attacks with vehicles

Over the past years, public spaces across EU cities have been recurrent targets of terrorist attacks. These are often carried out with everyday items such as vehicles used to strike into crowds. To step-up prevention of such attacks, and to support EU countries, the Commission’s Action Plan to support the protection of public spaces sets out measures to foster the exchange of best practices and the involvement of the private sector in this work.

In light of the security threat posed by the use of rented or shared cars by terrorist groups, the Commission seeks to gain an overview of the various existing and possible means of mitigating the vulnerability of the car rental industry being misused by terrorists. For this purpose the Commission published a study on preventing terrorist attacks with vehicles:

Security-by-design. Protection of public spaces from terrorist attacks

Security by design is an important concept. This handbook explains it and promotes its practical implementation in the design and redesign of public spaces. It does so while providing information on terrorism risk assessment, project planning / management and proposing innovative technical solutions for the protection of public spaces against terrorist attacks. Security by design is built upon the principles of proportionality, multi-functionality, sustainability, accessibility and aesthetics. Security by design is antonymous to the creation of urban fortresses.

Places of worship

Protecting citizens while they visit places of worship in the EU is a priority. Places of worship of all faiths are regularly targeted by terrorist attacks, especially due to their high symbolic nature. As announced in the EU Security Union Strategy  and the new Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the EU, the Commission acts to strengthen their protection by bringing together the different faith communities and by fostering cooperation between them and national authorities.

The EU also funds projects that aim at enhancing the physical protection of places of worship. Following the tragic attacks in Nice and Vienna last year, the Commission increased the budget of the call for proposals on protection, published under the Internal Security Fund-Police, and is making € 20 million available to fund projects that improve the protection of public spaces and especially places of worship.

EU Guide to support protection of places of worship

To support places of worship throughout Europe against threats, the Commission published the EU Quick Guide to support the protection of places of worship. This Guide assists places of worship to assess their vulnerability and strengthen their preparedness while maintaining their sacred nature. This includes defending against random acts of violence for lower risk places and improving awareness and resilience against a number of threats such as vehicle, firearms, explosive and bladed weapons.

EU Anti-Semitism Strategy

In the EU Anti-Semitism Strategy, adopted on 5 October 2021, the Commission commits to provide support to the Jewish faith community in order to improve the security and protection measures of their places of worship and to increase awareness and resilience against threats. The EU will also be able to assess specific threats to Jewish people and their places of worship in order to better understand, prevent, protect, and respond to specific security risks.

EU Forum on the Protection of Public Spaces

The Commission and EU countries meet regularly to discuss the protection of public spaces at the EU Forum on the Protection of Public Spaces composed of:

  • a Policy Group with representatives from Member States authorities
  • two sub-groups: Operators’ Forum and Practitioners Forum

Operators’ Forum

The first sub-group, the public-private Operators’ Forum, seeks to bring together public authorities and private operators in order to discuss good practices and other ways to improve the protection of public spaces.

Working with public authorities and private operators of different sectors as public transport, mass events, hospitality and commerce, the Commission has identified several measures that operators and public authorities involved in the protection of public spaces can implement to strengthen security. The good practices include:

  • vulnerability assessments and planning,
  • awareness and training,
  • physical protection, including work on detection technology and security by design
  • cooperation between public and private stakeholders.

Partnership for Security in Public Spaces

Since local actors are at the frontline to make our public spaces more secure, the Commission cooperates with cities and regions through the Partnership for Security in Public Spaces under the Urban Agenda for the EU and its Action Plan. The priorities of the Partnership are

  • urban planning and design to create safer cities
  • technologies for smart and safe cities
  • managing security and sharing public space

The EU Pledge on Urban Security and Resilience

Building on the work of the EU Partnership for Security in Public Spaces and the initiative EU Cities against Radicalisation, the Commission will propose to establish an EU Pledge on Urban Security and Resilience, setting out basic principles and objectives for local authorities for the protection of public spaces.

Cities that take part in the Pledge will become part of an EU-wide initiative of Cities against Radicalisation and Terrorism, through which the Commission will facilitate the sharing of good practices and support projects led by cities and peer-to-peer advisory efforts.

Practitioners Forum

The second sub-group within the EU Forum on the Protection of Public Spaces, the Practitioners Forum, brings together members of the EU law enforcement community to discuss their role in protecting public spaces. Members of this group include:

  • AIRPOL (network of police and border guard units working in the fight against crime in the European aviation sector)
  • RAILPOL (network of the organisations responsible for policing European railways)
  • ENLETS (network of European law enforcement technology services)
  • ATLAS (network of European police special intervention units)
  • High Risk Security Network (military and police units protecting public spaces, critical infrastructures and high risk locations)
  • Explosive Detection Dogs Working Group

The practical support to Member States include:

  • pooling of research needs and outcomes to support law enforcement practitioners
  • development of guidance materials
  • assistance in the testing of detection equipment
  • harmonisation of standards and sharing of good practices

Reducing access to explosives and improving detection capability

Policy timeline

  1. 2018
    Strengthened rules

    In April 2018, the Commission proposes to strengthen the current rules of the Regulation EU 98/2013 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors by banning additional chemicals, ending the current registration systems, upgraded licensing and screening as well as faster and better information sharing. Regulation (EU) 2019/1148 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors, amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 and repealing Regulation (EU) 98/2013, entered into force on 2 August 2019 and applies from 1 February 2021.

    In addition, the Commission has set up a Protective Security Advisors (PSA) expert pool consisting of Member States and Commission experts, which will be activated to support Member States with the use of EU vulnerability assessment tools and, on request, carry out operational assessments and share best practices on protection of high risk events.

  2. 2015
    Action Plan against illicit trafficking in and use of firearms and explosives

    On 2 December 2015, after the deadly Paris attacks, another Action Plan against illicit trafficking in and use of firearms and explosives is adopted. This plan sets out specific actions necessary to implement the European Agenda on Security, including the close monitoring of the implementation of Regulation (EU) 98/2013 on explosives precursors.

    The Action Plan also calls for the establishment of a pool of EU experts for the detection of explosives, accompanied by a capacity building and support programme, in order to further improve the security in this field, by dialogue and exchange of best practices.

    The Commission organises annual EU-US explosives experts’ seminars focussing on topics of common interest.

    The Commission is able to provide support to law enforcement agencies in detecting explosives and is also involved in detection trials evaluating the effectiveness of various tools and methodologies in different operational settings, including critical infrastructure protection, safety of public buildings and security during major public events.

  3. 2008
    EU Action Plan on Enhancing the Security of Explosives

    A key achievement of the Action Plan is the adoption of Regulation (EU) 98/2013 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors. Explosives precursors are chemical substances habitually used for legitimate purposes, but that can also be misused to manufacture homemade explosives. The Action Plan also established the creation of a Standing Committee on Precursors (SCP).

    More information

Threat detection equipment

Threat detection equipment is used in a variety of sectors, for example, in law enforcement, border security, customs, post services, transport, prisons, government buildings and large sports or entertainment events. Outside the areas where aviation standards apply, there are no harmonised European performance requirements or test methods for detection equipment. Consequently, the equipment used in public areas can be of unknown and varying efficacy.

Working group for threat detection equipment

The Commission has launched a technical working group to address this shortcoming. The group aims to support a voluntary scheme for performance requirements of detection equipment used in public spaces outside areas where aviation standards apply.

The voluntary scheme is open to all interested manufacturers of detection equipment, who are willing to test the equipment they make available in the EU against an agreed level of performance. Ultimately, the Commission wishes that a large majority of the detection manufacturers will participate in this scheme, thus raising the bar across the sector.

Main objectives of the working group

Through 2021, the group has taken the first practical steps towards defining harmonised performance requirements of the detection equipment and related verification mechanisms. This will be a continuous process driven by threat developments and protection objectives of public spaces and critical infrastructures.

The voluntary scheme will contribute to the protection of public spaces and to the wider efforts to improve the detection and prevention of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives incidents. It will in particular help the operators of public spaces that are considering the use of detection equipment to identify the appropriate equipment. At the same time, it will bring more clarity for industry about the threats that their equipment should be able to detect.

The Commission has prepared draft Rules of Procedure and draft Terms of Reference for the new technical working group which have been discussed and adopted at the first meeting of the group on 10 December 2020.

Commission Recommendation on voluntary performance requirements for X-ray equipment used in public spaces (outside aviation)

In 2021, the technical working group developed performance requirements for X-ray equipment that is used for threat detection in public spaces, excluding the aviation sector. Based on this, on 23 June 2022, the Commission adopted the Commission Recommendation on voluntary performance requirements for X-ray equipment used in public spaces (outside aviation). Member States should ensure that the X-ray equipment they procure for security-threat detection in public spaces comply with the performance requirements set by this Recommendation.

Commission Recommendation on voluntary performance requirements for metal detection equipment used in public spaces (outside aviation)

The technical working group continued its work and developed in 2022 performance requirements for metal detection equipment that is used for threat detection in public spaces, excluding the aviation sector. The Commission subsequently adopted on 10 May 2023 the Commission Recommendation on voluntary performance requirements for metal detection equipment used in public spaces (outside aviation).

Member States should ensure that the metal detection equipment they procure for security-threat detection in public spaces comply with the performance requirements set by this Recommendation.

An additional Commission Recommendation of similar nature will follow in the area of explosives detection.

Other actions to enhance protection

Tracking new and possible future threats

Technology progresses fast, creating wealth and making our lives easier, but also offering new opportunities for criminals and terrorists. The illegal use of advanced technologies is a considerable challenge for the EU and its Member States. As terrorists adapt and change their operational techniques, it is necessary that law enforcement agencies are equally innovative. As needs arise, Commission will adapt its support to the Member States in keeping up with technological advances and confronting use of technology for malicious purposes.

Use of drones

As an example, the malicious use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly referred to as drones, are of particular concern in the context of both the protection of public spaces, where it in mentioned as a specific action, and critical infrastructure resilience, but also VIP protection, prison security, and border management.

While drones are likely to become an increasingly common sight overhead in carrying out many positive and useful missions, they also pose a range of security challenges that must be confronted now and going forward. The Commission is carefully following developments in this area and providing different forms of support to Member States.