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Cyber-espionage

EU countries test their ability to co-operate in the event of cyber attacks

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EU member states, the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) and the European Commission have met to test and assess their co-operation capabilities and resilience in the event of a cybersecurity crisis. The exercise, organized by the Netherlands with the support of ENISA, is a key milestone towards the completion of  relevant operating procedures. The latter are developed in the framework of the NIS Co-operation Group, under the leadership of France and Italy, and aim for more coordinated information sharing and incident response among EU cybersecurity authorities.

Furthermore, member states, with the support of ENISA, launched today the Cyber Crisis Liaison Organization Network (CyCLONe) aimed at facilitating cooperation in case of disruptive cyber incidents.

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “The new Cyber Crisis Liaison Organization Network indicates once again an excellent cooperation between the member states and the EU institutions in ensuring that our networks and critical systems are cyber secure. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and we should work collectively in preparing and implementing rapid emergency response plans, for example in case of a large-scale cyber incident or crisis.”

ENISA Executive Director Juhan Lepassaar added: "Cyber crises have no borders. The EU Agency for Cybersecurity is committed to support the Union in its response to cyber incidents. It is important that the national cybersecurity agencies come together to coordinate decision-making at all levels. The CyCLONe group addresses this missing link.”

The CyCLONe Network will ensure that information flows more efficiently among different cybersecurity structures in the member states and will allow to better coordinate national response strategies and impact assessments. Moreover, the exercise organized follows up on the Commission's recommendation on a Coordinated Response to Large Scale Cybersecurity Incidents and Crises (Blueprint) that was adopted in 2017.

More information is available in this ENISA press release. More information on the EU cybersecurity strategy can be found in these Q&A and this brochure.

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Blockchain - Integrating new technologies in smart ways

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Recent media reports suggest a new cryptocurrency legislation for safe cryptocurrency exchange could be introduced in the EU countries. By this new legislation, under the new guidelines, Bitcoin and other digital currencies will be named monetary instruments all through Europe. This means legal cryptocurrency exchange will be more transparent than ever. Moreover, it is said that this new legislation will encourage the innovation associated to crypto and blockchains sector.

One area looking to new innovation using the blockchain is the cross-border money movement in multi-commodity trading business, which is very complex. There are a number of stakeholders, intermediaries and banks operating together to make deals happen. The supply chain deals are massive in value and happen very frequently.

“Many traditional banks have recently exited trade finance sector because it's simply too risky for them,” said Ali Amirliravi, CEO of LGR Crypto Bank of Switzerland. “The banks that stay have no incentive to optimize the inefficient processes, that’s because as the companies are working to gather up all the required documentation and address the compliance needs, the banks are sitting back and charging interest - they actually don’t care how long it takes, it’s the trading companies that have to pay the extra fees.

"It gets even worse in what we call the 'Silk Road Countries'- the areas between Europe, Central Asia and China. Here you really see big differences within the supply chains and they also have to deal with large number of different currencies. You’ve got some companies that are using all manual, paper based processes and others that are moving into digital - there’s no standardization and that’s a real problem."

Ali Amirliravi’s LGR Crypto Bank is a member of the Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce - an international association with the aim of increasing trade amongst members and states.

“These issues outlined are brought up frequently at the high-level meetings of the chamber of commerce,” said  Amirliravi . “The influence of my own experience in the industry mixed with the stories of other stakeholders really pushed me to start to create end-to-end digital system. We are building a better way to do things, one that is faster, cheaper and more transparent for all parties involved. “

“It comes down to integrating new technologies in smart ways. Take my company for example, LGR Crypto Bank, when it comes to money movement, we are focused on 3 things: speed, cost & transparency. To address these issues, we use leading technologies such as  blockchain, digital currencies, and general digitization to optimize the existing processes.

It's quite clear the impact that new technologies can have on things like speed and transparency, but when I say it’s important to integrate the technologies in a smart way that’s important because you always have to keep your customer in mind - the last thing we would want to do is introduce a system that actually confuses our users and makes his or her job more complicated. So on one hand, the solution to these problems is found in new technology, but on the other hand, it’s about creating a user experience that is simple to use and interact with and integrates seamlessly into the existing systems. So it’s a bit of a balancing act between technology and user experience, that’s where the solution is going to be created.

When it comes to the broader topic of supply chain finance, what we see is the need for improved digitalization and automation of the processes and mechanisms that exist throughout the product lifecycle. In the multi-commodity trading industry, there are so many different stakeholders, middlemen, banks, etc. and each of them have their own way of doing this - there is an overall lack of standardization, particularly in the Silk Road Area. The lack of standardization leads to confusion in compliance requirements, trade documents, letters of credit, etc., and this means delays and increased costs for all parties. Furthermore, we have the huge issue of fraud, which you have to expect when you are dealing with such disparity in the quality of processes and reporting. The solution here is again to use technology and digitalize and automate as many of these processes as possible - it should be the goal to reduce risks and take human error out of the equation.

And here is the really exciting thing about bringing digitalization and standardization to supply chain finance: not only is this going to make doing business much more straightforward for the companies themselves, this increased transparency and optimization will also make the companies much more attractive to outside investors. It’s a win-win for everyone involved here.”

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Why is Engie CEO Jean-Pierre Clamadieu in a hurry to sell off Suez?

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In the battle to ward off a hostile takeover from long-term rival Veolia, Suez is raising the stakes. The French waste and water management company announced that its strategy to improve the firm’s financial performance was paying off sooner than expected. As a consequence, Suez shareholders can look forward to €1.2 billion in exceptional dividends by early 2021.

The strategy was implemented last year, but the timing of the announcement is hardly a coincidence, coming mere days after Engie – which holds a 30% stake in Suez – rejected Veolia’s offer to buy out the stake at €15.50 per share, or a total of €2.9bn on 17 September. Engie’s CEO Jean-Pierre Clamadieu made it abundantly clear that Veolia’s bid was too low and called on the utilities provider to raise its offer, insisting that the “value of Suez is higher than the basis of these discussions”.

The rejection itself may not be the biggest news, however. More interesting is what can be read between the lines, specifically Clamadieu’s evident urgency that Veolia offer a new bid as soon as possible while calling on Suez to respond with a counter-offer – fast. The Engie CEO repeatedly stressed that any alternative bid would be considered carefully, assuming it could be “implemented rapidly”, and even offered an extension to Veolia for a new offer if need be.

If Engie’s signalling to both bidders that the clock is ticking was unequivocal, then that’s only because time is running out for Clamadieu as well. By rejecting Veolia’s bid and calling on Suez, it’s become evident that the Engie leadership is hoping to force a deal rather sooner than later. Indeed, after years of loss-making and continually falling operating profits, the COVID-19 pandemic left the company cash-strapped and is most likely the main driver behind Clamadieu’s decision to divest from some of Engie’s subsidiaries to reap the benefit of short-term financial windfalls.

Herein lies the rub – to get Engie’s finances back in order, Clamadieu seems willing to make a risky bet that’s resting on the assumption that a quick bidding war is the best way to maximize returns. But maximizing returns takes time as both contenders need to be given ample opportunity to escalate their bids. The emphasis on urgency is putting the pressure on Suez to react within a short period of time – Veolia’s offer expires 30 September – leaving the firm mere days to raise funds for a credible counter-offer. With the clock ticking fast, Clamadieu’s gamble may well backfire and force him to sign off on a deal that remains behind Engie’s expectations – but one that would most definitely make Veolia happy.

As such, the gambit raises broader questions about Jean-Pierre Clamadieu’s strategy, as well as his leadership. It’s important to note that Clamadieu was hailed as a fine and discreet business strategist when he became Engie CEO this February following a boardroom coup that saw the luckless former CEO Isabelle Kocher getting the sack. But in revealing the risky short-terminism in his thinking, Clamadieu isn’t doing himself any favours, particularly where his other leading business positions are concerned.

Take his role in French insurance company Axa, where he has held the Senior Independent Director position since April 2019. The insurance giant is facing down its own share of Covid-induced troubles after a Paris court ruled that the firm must cover a restaurant owner’s coronavirus-related revenue losses. The ruling set a ground-breaking precedent for businesses in the gastronomy sector, with the insurer now in talks with more than 600 establishments over financial settlements.

With Axa potentially in for millions of extra payments, a long-term strategy to keep the company profitable is required. In his role as Independent Director and member of the Compensation and Governance Committee, Clamadieu is holding significant responsibility in determining the company’s direction, but considering the gamble with Suez, Axa’s leadership would be justified in asking questions about his suitability to serve in a leading role in insurance – an industry that by definition deals in long-term assessments.

These trying times call for a steady hand and a thorough long-term strategy. Whether Clamadieu’s gamble will pay off remains to be seen, but if history is a lesson to be learned, the desire for short-term windfalls always loses out to long-term thinking.

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