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25th Jul 2021

Cyprus and Greece to create EU spy academy

  • Athens: new academy to provide 'training in intelligence disciplines' (Photo: Barcex)

EU defence and foreign ministers have agreed to create a joint intelligence training school and to develop new hardware, including drones and electronic warfare technology, as part of plans for what could one day be an "EU army".

The "Joint EU Intelligence School" will "provide education and training in intelligence disciplines and other specific fields to EU member states intelligence personnel", the EU Council said in a press release after ministers met in Brussels on Monday (19 November).

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The project is to be led by Cyprus and Greece - two traditionally Russia-friendly states - at a time of heightened tension over Russian espionage operations in Europe and the Western Balkans, including assassination attempts in the UK and in Montenegro.

The EU foreign service already has a joint intelligence capability called IntCen.

But not all the EU-28 states take part in its work, which remains limited to providing "strategic" analysis of crises in the EU neighbourhood and on counter-terrorism, rather than sharing of "operational" information - intelligence on specific threats by specific actors on the basis of which EU member states could take action.

The spy school was one of 17 new ideas agreed on Monday under a treaty clause that allows small groups of member states to press ahead with military initiatives.

The Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are to lead development of a new military drone by 2025.

The Czech Republic and Italy will build another drone system designed to "counter the threat posed by mini and micro Unmanned Aerial Systems".

The Czech Republic and Germany are to create a new "standing force" designed to "support EU battle groups with unique electronic warfare capabilities".

EU battlegroups are joint forces of subsets of EU states designed to be sent in to crisis situations in Africa and the Middle East at short notice.

They have existed since 2007, but have never been sent into the field due to disagreements in the EU Council, which acts by consensus on defence issues.

France, Germany, Spain will also build a new generation of attack helicopters, with Monday's list of 17 projects joining 16 others agreed earlier in March.

Meanwhile, a new command centre at the EU foreign service in Brussels, which deals with EU military training missions overseas, will get an upgrade to enable it manage missions of ups to 2,500 personnel at a time.

"It's a major step forward," REU foreign service chief Federica Mogherini said.

'EU army'

The decisions come after French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel called for the creation of what they both described as a future "EU army".

They did it in the context of increasing doubt over the US commitment to help defend Europe despite its obligations under the Nato treaty.

US president Donald Trump reacted to Macron's idea by saying it was "very insulting".

But the Belgian defence minister, Sander Loones, said on Monday that the US ambassador to the EU, whom he met earlier the same day, had voiced support.

"This is a good way forward - investing in our European defence without harming our other efforts on an international level," Loones said.

The Polish foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, also voiced "support", but added that Nato must remain the "overarching" structure that guaranteed Europe's territorial defence.

The French defence minister, Florence Parly, said on Tuesday the new projects showed that a "stronger Europe, capable of defending its citizens, is on the move".

'Army of Europeans'

For her part, German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen also shed light on the "EU army" concept in an op-ed in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last Friday.

She changed the title to an "army of the Europeans" - indicating that any new EU force would not have a unified command.

She spoke of "armed forces under national responsibility, closely interlinked, uniformly equipped, trained for joint operations and ready for action, such as the Franco-German Brigade and the German-Dutch Corps," referring to two military projects outside the EU framework.

Von der Leyen also brought to light a political problem which underlies the Macron-Merkel proposal - the fact that the 28 EU states each have a different protocol for agreeing military deployments.

In France's presidential system, Macron can personally give the go-ahead to military action. The Polish president can also do the same.

But in the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Sweden, the national parliament must give assent, posing the question of how an EU army could ever be sent into the field.

"I consider smart the German institution of parliamentary scrutiny ... Our troops need the broad support of the population for difficult and dangerous missions," Von der Leyen said.

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