• Daily life in Kabul: EU diplomats live in a secure compound and never leave without an armed escort (Photo: Michael Foley Photography)

Investigation

MEPs voice worry on security deals at EU embassies

15.07.13 @ 09:25

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - MEPs have voiced concern about security arrangements at EU embassies, amid a "surprising" new decision on bodyguards in Kabul.

German centre-right deputies Ingeborg Graessle and Markus Pieper, who sit on the parliament's budgetary control committee, filed a formal query to the EU Council, the European Commission and to the European External Action Service (EEAS) last Thursday (11 July).

They asked a series of questions on British firm Page Protective Services (PPS).

PPS guarded the EU delegation to Gaza and the West Bank from 2005 to 2010. It has also guarded the EU delegation in Kabul from 2008 to the present day.

In April, the EEAS awarded it a new contract for Gaza/West Bank.

Earlier this year, the EEAS also awarded it a new contract for Kabul. It later cancelled the Kabul decision and started fresh talks with bidders, citing technical problems with Afghan rules on operating licences.

For their part, Graessle and Pieper want to know why PPS keeps getting new contracts despite what they call "serious shortcomings" in its past performance.

They want to know why it keeps getting them despite being under investigation by the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf.

They also ask why the original terms of the Kabul tender were modified in PPS' favour and whether any EU officials have "conflicts of interest" with the company.

The MEPs filed the query after Graessle consulted internal EU documents - also seen by EUobserver - which indicate that PPS failed to supply the right rifles and body armour in Kabul, that it over-invoiced the EU for its Kabul services and that it mistreated locally-hired staff in Gaza.

The concerns about PPS, as well as broader worries over the private security industry, have also attracted the interest of Portuguese centre-left MEP Ana Gomes.

Gomes - in a report already endorsed by two committees and to be voted in plenary in October - says that private security firms "are particularly vulnerable to corruption and have been accused of serious human rights abuses."

Referring to a Swiss initiative, the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, her report urges the EU to help create a new "oversight mechanism" to clean up the sector.

PPS wins Kabul in the end

In coincidental timing, the same day that Graessle and Pieper filed their questions last Thursday, the EEAS decided that PPS should get the new Kabul contract after all.

The deal, worth up to €50 million over four years, is by far the biggest in its security portfolio.

Graessle, staff in Gomes' office and other MEPs were taken aback by the move.

"I am surprised this company was awarded the contract given the allegations made about it in the past. I think there should be more transparency in the tender process," Franziska Brantner, a German Green deputy who sits on the foreign affairs committee, told this website.

EEAS spokesman Michael Mann defended the decision, however.

"The issues relating to equipment and payments have been addressed a couple of years ago," he told EUobserver, referring to PPS' past performance in Kabul.

EUobserver contacted PPS for a comment, but it did not immediately reply.

Its chairman, Stuart Page, in an email to this website in April, said: "This company has been providing security services to the European Union in hostile environments since 2004."

He added: "I would describe our relationship throughout that period as entirely professional and fair, based upon our understanding of EU procurement and contractual procedures and the EEAS' acknowledgement of the quality of service we provide and understanding of the myriad of practical difficulties frequently encountered by contractors operating in such environments."

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