Strategic Compass: EU to get new secret service centre

The two EU secret service situation centres could soon be merged into a single institution. Their surveillance capacities are currently being expanded. Operational competences are also under discussion.

The European Commission wants to take the cooperation of intelligence services within the EU to a new level. In her „State of the Union“ address last September, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promoted the establishment of a Joint Situational Awareness Centre. How it should differ from other intelligence structures, however, remained unclear.

Now the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has also commented on the matter. In his answer to a parliamentary question, Josep Borell writes that „discussions“ on the joint centre will continue within the framework of the Strategic Compass. These are new guidelines for the Common Security and Defence Policy. They should help to make the military efforts of the EU and its member states more operational.

No EU competence for secret services

According to Article 47 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the member states also transfer their competences in the areas of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) to Brussels. Only the Commission can initiate legislative initiatives and measures in this regard, which are then decided by the Council (i.e. the governments of the Member States) and the Parliament.

Explicitly no competence has the EU for the coordination of secret services. According to Article 4(2) TFEU, „national security“, for which the services are responsible, remains the sole preserve of the member states. Therefore, the separation between „law enforcement“ and „security services“ activities is always emphasised in EU documents in the JHA area.

Two situation centres in Brussels

However, governments have agreed to establish two intelligence situation centres in Brussels for „early warning“ and „comprehensive situational awareness“. Since 2010, the INTCEN (Intelligence Analysis Centre) has been responsible for the civilian sector, working under the auspices of the EU External Action Service. In addition to a permanent staff, personnel from the member states work there. With the EUMS INT Directorate, the EU maintains a military structure similar to the INTCEN, which is part of the EU Military Staff. It is used for the advance planning of foreign policy and military measures.

Both centres form the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity. However, apart from surveillance with the help of the EU satellite programme, they only use information that comes from the intelligence services of the member states. As far as is known, this is not raw data, i.e. intercepted communications or material from observations, but analyses and reports.

Capacities are strengthened

A Joint Centre for Situational Awareness is likely to change the existing intelligence architecture at EU level. It is conceivable that the civilian INTCEN and the military EUMS INT will be merged into a joint service with different departments. That the capacities of the two institutions are to be strengthened is also envisaged in the Strategic Compass. There, for example, the areas of satellite monitoring and processing of geodata are mentioned.

Presumably, the new centre will also work on the new version of the „Threat Analysis“ in the Strategic Compass. With the help of the national intelligence services, the EU wants to draw up an inventory of all sources of foreign policy threats by 2025, for which the Union and the member states are then to build up appropriate capabilities.

Social Democrat wants „pilot project“

The discussion on the tasks of the planned intelligence centre within the framework of the Strategic Compass also indicates that the (in some countries also military) foreign secret services of the member states are to be given more weight there.

However, it is also possible that the EU member states will actually endow the new intelligence centre with operational competences. Such a restructuring, with the approval of the EU Parliament, has been observed, for example, in the JHA agencies Frontex and now also Europol for several years.

It is on this ticket that the S&D Group in the EU Parliament is now also moving with regard to secret services. „We need to have our own intelligence services, with our own intelligence systems if we want to be a global player“, says Spanish MEP Nacho Sánchez Amor. The Socialist announces a proposal for a pilot project for the „increasing the information gathering capacity“ of the EU’s External Action Service.

Image: Germany’s foreign intelligence service is also involved in the EU situation centres (BND Visitor Centre).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.