A safe and secure Europe requires far-reaching co-operation

A safe and secure Europe requires close co-operation between all parties, in both the public and private sectors: ‘Brussels’, national and local government bodies, knowledge institutions, businesses of all sizes, and citizens. The cooperation can be far-reaching, and will not exclude unorthodox parties such as ‘ethical hackers’ or former extremists.

This was the conclusion reached by academics from the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus (LDE) universities, MEPs, staff of the European Commission and various other stakeholders including urban policymakers from The Hague, Rotterdam and Molenbeek and representatives from the private sector and advisory bodies such as the Dutch Cyber Security Council when they discussed safety and security at the seventh European Innovation Summit, which was held in Brussels on 8 December. One of the sessions took the form of round-table discussions designed to produce a number of recommendations for the EU. This was the second time that the three universities have acted jointly as host, discussion partner and knowledge provider at this annual event.

Three universities

The three universities have extensive in-house expertise in the field of safety and security. This expertise is brought together in, among other things, the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Safety and Security. The Centre focuses on complex and often cross-border issues relating to safety and security, whereby ‘safety’ involves disaster recovery and preventing unintended disasters, and ‘security’ relates to guarding against intentional attacks. Other centres in which the three universities collaborate (e.g. the Centre for Metropolis and Mainport and the Centre for Economic and Financial Governance) and the University Medical Centres also study safety and security issues.


The EU countries are among the safest in the world. Are we – citizens, businesses, knowledge institutions and government bodies – sufficiently prepared for ‘horror scenarios’: scenarios that are very unlikely to happen but would have a huge impact on society if they did? The attacks in Paris, as well as disasters such as the one in Fukushima with an enormous potential domino effect, have taught us that such scenarios can become reality. Other questions: what does the economic crisis have to do with safety and security? How can we raise awareness of the risks inherent in the Internet? On a general level: how can we all ensure structural, satisfactory risk management that is geared not only to preventing incidents but also to effectively managing their impact, for example by creating a resilient civilian population?

Fundamental questions

These are just a few of the fundamental questions raised. And however diverse the issues – ranging from resistant bacteria (introduction by Prof. Margreet Vos of Erasmus MC) to youth radicalisation (introduction by Prof. Edwin Bakker of Leiden University) – all those present were in agreement that increasing co-operation between various parties is the only effective way to tackle safety and security issues. These issues have become so complex and so interwoven that is impossible for a single party to understand them, let alone solve them.

‘Dutch approach’

In certain fields, such as cyber security, the Netherlands apparently leads the field in this form of collaboration. There was praise for the ‘Dutch Approach’, whereby businesses – even those in fierce competition with each other – government bodies, intelligence services and researchers work together to prevent cyber attacks: ‘All EU countries should have a Cyber Security Council.’ The way in which the LDE universities work with government bodies and the private sector to provide an international Executive Master’s degree programme , among others, customs professionals (with a view to ensuring the safety and security of ports and transport), was also cited as an example: ‘Can this be scaled up to the European level?’

Catching up

However, there are domains in which the Netherlands and the whole of the rest of Europe have quite a way to go to catch up with the US. One example is the chemical industry, in which security (i.e. the prevention of terrorist and other attacks) is still insufficiently thought out and developed, according to Prof. Genserik Reniers of TU Delft, Professor of the Safety of Hazardous Materials and Scientific Director of the Centre for Safety and Security. There is still a world to be won in this field for science as well as industry.


Naturally, common dilemmas and areas of tension were also noted – finding the balance between privacy and security with regard to cyber security, for example, and the sharing of patient information by hospitals in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Equally evident is the tension between optimum transparency and optimum safety and security: current European legislation on hazardous substances requires complete transparency on the part of companies with regard to their safety measures. But is that such a good idea?

What are we going to do?

The message to the academic community was clear: build new knowledge, and work with others to do this; work together, and work with parties in the public and private sectors. This should also involve good knowledge management: don’t reinvent the wheel, but look at existing knowledge in closely related – and less closely related – areas, link the short and long term, and empower government bodies and other stakeholders with knowledge so that, for example, they have the courage to implement a counter-cyclical policy. Government bodies, in turn, must have the courage to be innovative and tackle cross-border problems on the right levels. There is an important role for local government bodies: they are close to citizens and can help to develop knowledge at micro level (i.e. in the case of youth radicalisation, at family level) and increase awareness and resilience.

And then Europe

Safety and security problems are not confined by national borders, which means that solutions are, of necessity, almost always supra-national. The role of Europe is therefore a crucial one. What can Europe itself do, and how can it help Member States with safety and security on a national level? The harmonisation of legislation was cited as the essential precondition for effective governance in all areas of safety and security. This year, Europe has taken important steps to combat terrorism. In April, the European Commission set out a European Agenda on Security Agenda for 2015-2020, and in June it adopted an Internal Security Strategy. This was followed in December by a package of further measures designed to restrict the movements of foreign terrorist fighters and combat their use of and trafficking in weapons and explosives. As yet, there are no European directives for other aspects of safety and security such as hospital security or protecting the chemical industry against terrorist attacks. Herein lies a task for Europe. And, of course, there is always a need for research funding.

More information:
7th European Innovation Summit: Events hosted by Leiden University, TU Delft an…