16th Jun 2021

Private guards outnumber policemen in seven EU countries

  • Plain clothes bodyguards mingle with French police during a visit by VIPs to Unesco in Paris (Photo: Muninn)

Private-sector security guards outnumber policemen in seven mostly post-Communist EU countries according to the latest figures from the CoESS, the Brussels-based private security lobby.

Hungary tops the list with 104.97 private guards per 10,000 inhabitants compared to 39.94 police officers. The pro-private ratio is the second heaviest in Romania (49.84 private guards versus 25.62 policemen), followed by Ireland, Poland, Finland, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

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Italy, Spain, Malta, Denmark, Belgium and Lithuania have the lowest levels of private policing.

The most populous EU countries tend to have the largest private security 'armies' overall, with 170,000 private guards in Germany, 165,000 in Poland, 160,000 in France and 120,000 in the UK. Romania (107,000) and Hungary (105,121) give the big countries a run for their money. But Turkey has the biggest private security corps in Europe with 257,192 personnel.

"It is mostly the new EU member states that have a high private security force ratio," the study, entitled Third White Paper, says. "This trend confirms a continued and sustained choice for new economic aims, which are closer to the free market than the 'old' Europe, with the exception of Luxembourg and Ireland."

The sector currently employs 1,630,524 people in Europe, up by 176,888 compared to 2009, and is dominated by men. In one trend: "Companies, individuals and a growing number of public authorities are asking the private security industry for personal protection [bodyguards]."

CoESS is keen for the EU to roll out universally-recognised vocational qualifications for private guards to help them move jobs from country to country. But on the other hand, "in line with intensive lobbying by CoESS," the sector was kept out the EU's Services Directive, which obliges 'old' EU countries to let in workers from newcomers.

Zooming in on Belgian legislation, bodyguards and guards accompanying consignments of valuables are allowed to carry guns. But most guards who protect buildings such as cinemas or shopping malls and night watchmen may not. Belgian law also forbids the vast majority of guards from using force. They can perform citizens' arrest using handcuffs in special cases, however.

EU buildings in Brussels are currently protected by the UK-based G4S company, which famously failed to stop an armed robbery inside the European Parliament in 2009.

Meanwhile, the EU's new diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service (EEAS), is drawing up new guidelines on how to protect its 136 foreign delegations.

An EU official told this website that Brussels tends to borrow soldiers from member states which already have heavily-guarded embassies in given hotspots, such as the UK in Iraq and France in Chad.

"It is envisaged that there will be 'public sector' soldiers providing security for some delegations. In some cases it will be too politically sensitive to have physical security provided exclusively by private companies. So we are in this debate," the contact said.

The official added that there are "different cost and legal implications" of using private security forces: "If a guard killed somebody, unfortunately it is the company that provides the services that is responsible for those services."

In one example, the EU compound in Kabul is guarded by an outer ring of foreign-trained Afghan police, an inner ring of Nepalese Gurkhas and close protection bodyguards from the private London-based company Page Group.

The specialist Paris-based publication, Intelligence Online, reported in October that France's General Secretariat for Defence and National Security is trying to help French companies break Anglo-Saxon firms' dominant position in the sector.

It named the French ambassador in Baghdad, Boris Boillon, as promoting services by AICS Protection, Gallice Iraq Services and Anitcip.

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