Since this year, the ATLAS network has had a Support Office at Europol, with which the police agency coordinates cross-border operations of units from Schengen states. Most of the money from the coming budget will again go to police forces from Germany.
The European Union is further expanding its association of special police units.The so-called ATLAS network, in which 38 Special Intervention Units (SIUs) from the Schengen states coordinate, is working with Europol to build up new capabilities. This is stated in a work programme for 2023 published by the British civil rights organisation Statewatch. According to this, Great Britain will also participate in the cooperation after Brexit.
The ATLAS network, founded after the attacks of 11 September 2001, has been part of the structures of the European Union since 2008 and is managed as one of the 18 expert groups of the Council Working Group on Law Enforcement. The EU wants to use it to prepare for major police situations that require support from other member states. This concerns operations in the event of terrorist attacks, serious and organised crime or other „crisis situations“.
Slovakia takes over the chair
From Germany, the GSG 9 and special units from Baden-Wuerttemberg participate in the ATLAS network, from Austria the Cobra. Countries like France, Spain or the Netherlands also send gendarmeries. These are units that, after basic military training, take on tasks in the field of internal security. ATLAS has a rotating secretariat, provided by the Slovak Lynx police corps until 2024. This year, Slovakia also took over the chairmanship of the ATLAS alliance and the „Commanders Forum“.
At the beginning of this year, a permanent Support Office for the ATLAS network started its work at Europol. It is based at the police agency’s Counter-Terrorism Centre and is intended to respond to attacks which, according to Europol, can be inspired by „right-wing or left-wing ideologies“ as well as religious ones. With a new regulation, Europol will foreseeably receive far more competences, but this will be strengthened again by the coordination of the ATLAS units.
The Support Office currently consists of two officers; these personnel with management functions are supplemented by members of the police or gendarmeries from the ATLAS member states. Europol also makes its secure SIENA network available to the special units, through which classified messages can be sent. In the future, Europol plans to hold a Special Operations Command Conference( POLSPEC) every three years; the first such event could take place in Sweden or Spain in 2023.
Drone as „tactical support weapon“
For knowledge transfer, individual units join together in working groups, with topics such as critical infrastructure, urban operational tactics, snipers, covert action, negotiation skills, medical support and transport.
In the „Innovations“ working group, the ATLAS group is testing new special technology, with the participation of unnamed US agencies. Drones that break through windows and walls with explosive charges are being tested as „tactical support weapons“. The SIUs are also planning to procure a four-legged robot with which to test „artificial intelligence“ applications. Every three months, the robot dog is to switch to a different unit.
The ATLAS units use three training centres in Italy (aviation), Germany (maritime) and Hungary (medicine), and a fourth is being built in Slovakia (buildings). The SIUs also hold joint exercises there. In 2023, the ATLAS network could also hold an even larger operational training again, as it last did in 2018 in different countries at the same time.
Major exercise in Germany
ATLAS finances have been increased in recent years. The beneficiary has often been the German GSG 9, which most recently received around one million Euros from the EU Commission in 2015. In 2013, the unit, which is part of the Federal Police, had organised the largest European anti-terrorism exercise to date.
The new activities planned for 2023 are expected to cost almost four million Euros, most of which will come from the Europol budget. Again, the biggest part of the money is going to Germany, with 2.6 million Euros for the maritime training centre. A hostage situation on a ship is to be simulated there; among the more than 200 expected participants are also 30 role players.
Image: Special units from different countries at the ATLAS major exercise 2018 (German Federal Police).