Tuesday

13th Nov 2018

EU commission keen to set up new counter-terrorism office

  • The Madrid train bomb saw Austria and Belgium propose a quantum leap in EU intelligence co-operation (Photo: Cocoabiscuit)

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), senior commission counter-terrorism official 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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"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."

He underlined that the new body would not be an EU intelligence service which carries out its own operations in the field. "We have no mandate, no appetite and no perspective for doing intelligence work. But we are prepared to add value if mandated by member states," Luyckx said.

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.

"We should ask ourselves who would be the users, the consumers of intelligence and are they trained users, are they conscious enough to understand the principles and the importance of secrecy, of protecting this information," he said. "Can we expect anything in the next two to three years? The answer for me is clearly No."

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.

"I hope in the future we can have threat levels that are common for the 27 countries so that we are speaking the same language. For the moment we have different ones in each country. We can speak with each other. OK. But that's the way to go," he told MEPs.

Belgium's system goes from one (the lowest) to four. The country is normally on level two, but US, Israeli and Jewish interests are on three. The last time it jumped from two to four was due to a plot to attack Christmas festivities in winter 2007. Greek parcel bombs last year saw it briefly go from two to three and back again.

"I'm sorry, but if you know Brussels, and with the EU and Nato here, I think two is the minimum," Vandoren said. "Antwerp is the second Jewish city in the world after New York and we have already had attacks in Brussels and Antwerp against Jewish targets."

Correction: this article was changed at 13h Brussels time on 19 April, altering the title of Olivier Luycx and removing a link to an outdated version of the ISS

Exclusive

EU commission redacted too much in 'WiFi4EU' papers

Secretariat-general of the European Commission decides that information redacted by directorate-general Communications Networks, Content and Technology should have been made public.

Mogherini's tech experts talk more freely in secret

The EU's foreign service says there are no "records" of the Global Tech Panel meetings, but acknowledged foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini writes summary letters. Five MEPs worried about killer robots suggest the panel's composition is skewed.

News in Brief

  1. Draft Brexit deal on London cabinet agenda on Wednesday
  2. EU proposes no visa for UK citizens after Brexit
  3. EU parliament 'deeply concerned' on Romania judiciary
  4. Macedonia's ex-PM flees to Hungary, seeks asylum
  5. Cyprus opens first new border crossings in eight years
  6. Putin's Austrian dance partner cancels Moscow visit
  7. Political deadlock over Sweden Democrat influence
  8. Court: Catalan referendum organisers must repay costs

Opinion

Dodgy regime lobbying is below the EU's radar

In Brussels, PR professionals and lobbying consultants are working for some of the world's most autocratic regimes. And we have no way of knowing for sure who they are, how much they are paid, or what they are up to.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Merkel calls for 'real, true' EU army
  2. Italy defiant on budget on eve of EU deadline
  3. EU action on Hungary and Poland drowns in procedure
  4. EU unable to fully trace €1bn spent on refugees in Turkey
  5. Romanian leaders trade jibes over upcoming EU presidency
  6. EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press
  7. EU 'Magnitsky Act' must bear its proper name
  8. Fear of nationalist surge marks European memorials

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us