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Why the EU wants Nato’s help to protect its wind turbines

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Good morning. EU leaders gathering in Brussels tomorrow are demanding a fresh push towards forming the long-delayed Capital Markets Union in an attempt to increase Europe’s pool of private finance — and meet the huge need for defence and green funding.

Today, our energy correspondent brings you the details of an EU-Nato plan to shield critical infrastructure, and our parliament correspondent previews a gathering of rightwing politicians in Brussels that’s struggled to find a home.

Hawkish

Belgium and Nato are leading a charge to better defend Europe’s critical energy infrastructure against malign interference, writes Alice Hancock.

Context: The explosion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, sightings of Russian boats near wind farms off the Dutch coast and scares around oil rigs have heightened fears that Moscow or other unfriendly actors could sabotage EU energy infrastructure. 

Officials are concerned that any threats could leave a region already vulnerable to energy supply shocks more exposed, particularly as governments push to expand offshore wind farms in the North and Baltic seas.

Defending that infrastructure had become “a geopolitical, security and also an economic imperative”, said Tinne van der Straeten, the Belgian energy minister who chaired a closed-door lunch with her fellow EU ministers and Nato officials yesterday. “Close co-operation is absolutely needed.”

The plan is for developers of wind farms, subsea cables and gas pipelines to share more data — including video footage and information collected by sensors — with military agencies.

The key issues are establishing what the major threats to energy infrastructure are, what can be done about it and how sensitive data can be shared in real time.

A person familiar with the discussions said that meetings to establish data-sharing networks were under way, along with efforts to develop artificial intelligence technology that would evaluate satellite data as well as input from drones and electronic sensors — of which offshore wind turbines can have up to 300.

Belgium could become the first country to formalise this, based on proposals for the auctions of contracts for its new North Sea energy hub, an artificial island nicknamed Princess Elizabeth.

The plans come after Belgium, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway last week signed a declaration to share more information about protecting critical assets.

Though developers are increasingly conscious of the risks, shielding the new infrastructure won’t be straightforward.

Wind turbines above the water are easier to protect than subsea pipelines and cables, but new technologies such as distributed acoustic sensing, which allows continuous monitoring along cables, can tell “if a vessel is dropping anchor on the seabed”, according to Giles Dickson, chief executive of the industry body WindEurope.

More off-kilter ways to protect power generators include sensors with small calibre guns to fire on malicious operators, putting up nets to catch drones — or even using hawks to disable them.

Chart du jour: Unsustainable

As western governments shy away from debt reduction and structural reform, investors must reassess their view of “safe” assets, writes John Plender in this debt deep dive.

Homeless

An unexpected migration crisis has hit an international gathering of rightwing activists in Brussels after two confirmed venues shut their doors to the group in quick succession, writes Andy Bounds.

Context: The National Conservatism conference, which begins this morning, is part of efforts to form a pan-European movement uniting different shades of the right. But this has hitherto failed as nationalist parties struggled to find internationalist things in common.

They have also struggled to find a venue to air their views. The conference’s organisers emailed delegates just hours before it opened to inform that it had moved to a third location: the Claridge in central Brussels.

Last week, the Concert Noble in the heart of the EU quarter backtracked on hosting it, reportedly under pressure from Brussels’ Socialist mayor Philippe Close. Another deal with the Sofitel hotel, announced only yesterday, fell through within hours.

“Brussels has grown fat and wealthy off the presence of EU institutions in this city. Local politicians will do anything to protect the political establishment that guarantees the gravy train,” said Yoram Hazony, chair of the Edmund Burke Foundation, a Washington-based think-tank behind the conference.

Some 600 delegates are expected at the event, which will feature speeches from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, French far-right ex-presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, former UK Independence party leader Nigel Farage, and ex UK home secretary Suella Braverman.

Attendees will discuss favourite conservative topics such as having more children, the clash between national sovereignty and multiculturalism and how to keep out immigrants.

The purpose of the conference is not just to rally, though, but to raise money. A table for 10 with VIP access costs €20,000.

What to watch today

  1. EU foreign ministers meet virtually to discuss Iran’s attack on Israel.

  2. Oceans conference takes place in Athens.

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