Commission Recommendation on secure and resilient submarine cable infrastructures

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When Britain entered World War I, among its first actions was cutting the subsea cables connecting Germany with France, Spain and North America. This forced Germany to rely on radio transmissions that were interceptable by British naval intelligence. More recently, on 5 March 2024, AP reported that three subsea cables in the Red Sea have recently been cut, mentioning speculation that this may have been caused by the Yemenite Houthi movement.

Apart from sabotage and warfare, subsea cables face a multitude of threats, ranging from shark bites, anchors, fishing trawler nets, pirates and seaquakes to volcanic activity. An earlier series of cuts caused experts to point out that damage to subsea cables is hardly rare necessitating about 50 repair operations per year in the Atlantic alone.

At the same time, subsea cables carry 99% of data traffic that is crossing oceans. Hence, it is stringently important that as one element of its initiatives on cybersecurity, the EU has been looking at the security and resilience of submarine cable infrastructures. This has led to the Commission Recommendation on the subject, which was adopted on 26 February. According to the Recommendation’s recital (14), these infrastructures include not only cables but also supporting infrastructure such as landing stations, repair centres and the fleet of cable laying vessels.

In the recitals, the Commission announced its intention to set up a Submarine Cable Infrastructure Expert Group based on Commission Decision C(2916) 3301. The Expert Groups role will be focused on information gathering and advisory functions, serving as a coordination platform between Member states, providing advice and assistance to the Commission thereby complementing the roles and tasks conducted by the NIS Cooperation Group established by the NIS2 Directive and the CER Group established by the CER Directive. Beyond that, the Recommendation aims to assess and improve the security and resilience of existing and new submarine cable infrastructures and to support their deployment or significant upgrade via Cable Projects of European Interest (‘CPEI’).

Apart from that the Recommendation, it recommends a variety of actions on Member State level, actions at Union Level by the Member States as well as steps for funding of CPEIs.

Member States should promote a high level of security of submarine cable infrastructures, collect information from relevant actors and engage in regular stress testing of relevant entities. They are also encouraged to fast-track the granting of permits for submarine cable infrastructures.

On Union Level, member states are encouraged to assist the Commission in mapping existing infrastructures, creating Union-wide risk-assessments and to engage in information sharing and mutual assistance. They should also assist the Commission in proposing a list of CPEIs, covering their urgency and timeline, that should be considered for support through Union programmes, to fill strategic caps and establish new connections. Such new connections should especially help to create redundancy in infrastructures, thereby increasing resilience and thus supply chain security in communications and industries reliant on communications.

With respect to Funding, the draft regulation states that CPEIs should be funded by private sector but supported where necessary and appropriate by Union programmes, mentioning specifically the CEF Regulation, i.e. the Regulation establishing the Connecting Europe Facility.

Next steps

The Commission intends to assess the Regulations effects by December 2025 in cooperation with the Member States.

For more information, please contact Valerian Jenny.

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