25th Oct 2016

EU should create own spy agency, Reding says

  • Reding: spoke off the cuff to Greek paper on the NSA scandal (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding has said the Union should create its own intelligence service by 2020.

Speaking on Monday (4 November) to Greek daily Naftemporiki on the US snooping scandal, she said: "What we need is to strengthen Europe in this field, so we can level the playing field with our US partners."

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She added: "I would therefore wish to use this occasion to negotiate an agreement on stronger secret service co-operation among the EU member states - so that we can speak with a strong common voice to the US. The NSA needs a counterweight. My long-term proposal would therefore be to set up a European Intelligence Service by 2020."

Revelations by US leaker Edward Snowden say America's National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts millions of Europeans' emails and phone calls.

It is also said to spy on 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

EU countries' intelligence services already co-operate to an extent.

They share classified information on conflicts and terrorist threats in IntCen, a branch of the EU foreign service.

Counter-terrorism specialists also meet in the so-called CP931 working group in the EU Council.

Outside EU structures, European intelligence chiefs meet in what they call the Club de Berne and in a Club de Berne offshoot, the Counter Terrorism Group.

In terms of the EU's own intelligence gathering, IntCen posts staff to non-EU countries on research trips. But they do it with the agreement of the host state.

The EU foreign service gets updates from its 13 civilian and military crisis missions, such as Eulex in Kosovo or EUTM in Mali.

It has 40-or-so Regional Security Officers, who file reports from EU embassies in risky places, such as Lebanon or Libya. It is also hiring EU countries' experts as military attaches in a handful of delegations.

None of it is comparable to an offensive foreign intelligence service, such as the UK's MI6 or France's DGSE, however.

An EU official told EUobserver that Reding spoke off the cuff in Naftemporiki and has not discussed her idea with fellow commissioners.

The official noted that creating a European Intelligence Service would need an EU treaty change and that Reding's notion, if it is taken up, would have to be dealt with after EU elections in 2014.

The idea already came up in 2004.

Austria and Belgium at the time proposed creating an EU intelligence service in reaction to the Madrid train bombings, which killed almost 200 people.

Their proposal fell on deaf ears in France, Germany and the UK.

Austria still has an appetite for it.

Its counter-terrorism chief, Peter Gridling, told a European Parliament hearing in 2011: "It is time to ask ourselves this question: 'Is it realistic to start thinking about a future EU intelligence service?' I think it's realistic."

But there is no sign that large EU states hold different views now than 10 years ago.

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