By ANDREW RETTMAN
The European Commission is testing the water for creating a new EU internal security body on the model of Catherine Ashton’s European External Action Service (EEAS).
Speaking at a European Parliament hearing in Brussels on Wednesday (30 March), commission counter-terrorism director Olivier Luyckx envisaged a new entity that would pull together existing security agencies Cepol, Cosi, Eurojust, Europol and Frontex under EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator Gilles de Kerchove.
“There is new room for action at EU level,” he said. “This is how I see the change: to set up a system that would mirror the one that is being set up for monitoring external crises [in the EEAS], a one-stop shop for information-sharing.”
Luyckx cited Guideline V on Operational Co-ordination of the EU’s recently-adopted Internal Security Strategy as containing the “embryo” of the project: “Today, crisis centres in member states share contacts and information on a voluntary and informal basis. We need to go a step further and to see, while respecting the division of labour set up in the EU treaty, how to make those linkages in a tighter way.”
Speaking at the same hearing, Austrian counter-terrorism chief Peter Gridling went even further.
“It is time to ask ourselves this question: ‘Is it realistic to start thinking about a future EU intelligence service?'” he said. “I think it’s realistic to start thinking about it.”
Austria and Belgium first proposed a European intelligence service after the Madrid train bombing in 2004. But they were shot down by big member states, not least the UK. Gridling noted that EU capitals still have “different positions” on the subject and laid out some of the obstacles on the way.
He explained that EU countries’ intelligence services work on rules such as ‘originator control’ and ‘need-to-know’ designed to limit information to as few people as possible. He also said that member states do not trust EU institutions to keep secrets.
Gridling gave a rare insight into current EU intelligence co-operation.
All 27 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland share secrets inside the non-EU body, the Club de Berne. They share secrets on terrorism in a Club de Berne offshoot, the Counter Terrorist Group (CTG). The CTG is also a non-EU body but talks to the EU institutions via the Joint Situation Centre, a branch of Ashton’s EEAS.
“The Club de Berne is an institution based on voluntariness. The members come together to speak about problems, to exchange views and exchange experience and information. These meetings on the level of heads of service take place frequently,” Gridling said. “The CTG is nowadays the interface between the Club de Berne and the EU … the Joint Situation Centre has been attending CTG meetings for years and acts as a gateway for the CTG to the EU institutions.”
Remarking on the growing trust between EU countries, former Spanish intelligence director Gabriel Fuentes Gonzalez told MEPs: “Some of the co-operation systems we have today would have been unacceptable 20 years ago.”
For his part, Andre Vandoren, a senior Belgian intelligence officer, put forward the modest idea that EU countries should use one system of terrorist alerts.