A joined-up EU security policy

Bulletin article
Daniel Keohane and Adam Townsend
01 January 2004

EU member-states disagree on whether the EU should have its own military headquarters, or continue to depend on NATO to help run EU operations. This dispute is becoming increasingly theological. It is part of the wider debate about Europe's relationship with NATO and the United States, rather than a practical debate about the EU's security capabilities. Member-states risk missing the more pressing need to improve the EU's ability to deal with other kinds of security threats, most notably terrorism.

The November terrorist attacks in Istanbul confirmed the ability of al-Qaeda-style groups to strike in Europe. After the 2001 attacks in the US, EU governments directed more resources into the fight against terrorism. They agreed to create an EU-wide arrest warrant, drew up a common definition of the crime of terrorism, and drafted rules for more joint operations between national police forces. Governments gave Europol, the EU police body, extra resources and a new task force made up of officers from national police and intelligence services.

However, national governments urgently need to overhaul further their approach to security policy: Europe's security agencies intelligence, police and armed forces are organised in ways that remain more suited to fighting the battles of the Cold War era.

Al-Qaeda-style terrorist groups are quite different from long-standing European organisations such as ETA and the IRA. They have members throughout Europe, and interact with other cells based in countries across the globe. To track these groups, governments must piece together information from a variety of sources. Since the terrorist threat exists both inside and outside the EU, governments cannot afford to maintain the traditional distinction between external and internal security. Increasingly, governments need to focus on the threat rather than the territory. On paper the EU has a wide range of tools available to tackle terrorism. The council of justice and home affairs (JHA) ministers can instruct national law enforcement and intelligence agencies to collaborate against a specific danger, like drug trafficking from Central Asia. The EU could use its aid budget to train and equip police forces, or use diplomacy to cajole countries to extradite suspects and share information with European security services. In the most extreme cases, European member-states could employ force against a terrorist group based abroad, or against a state that harboured terrorists.

But at least two factors are hampering the overall effectiveness of EU security policies. First, there is no single EU body that weighs up information on threats and recommends responses, drawing upon diplomatic, police and military resources. This makes it hard for the EU to ensure that its law enforcement, foreign and defence policies work together effectively.

Second, the EU does not have the powers necessary to devise coherent policies, nor the means to implement them effectively. Instead, the EU remains a patchwork of 15 (soon to be 25) different security establishments, with all the inefficiency that implies. Although most member-states have removed their border controls, governments only haphazardly co-ordinate the work of their law enforcement and security services. Europol has not proved effective at getting national police forces to work together.

The Situation Centre in the EU Council secretariat assesses some intelligence from the member-states. However, EU governments barely co-ordinate their intelligence-gathering; do not share sufficient information on threats; and do not conduct enough joint assessments of terrorist groups. The EU has agreed, but not fully implemented a common arrest warrant. Governments still lack the legal and practical framework to carry out joint investigations easily, and rarely co-ordinate prosecutions. Governments seldom synchronise their efforts to disrupt terrorists in other parts of the world. The Djibouti-based European-American counter- terrorism task force, which pools intelligence on terrorist activities in the Gulf and East Africa, is the exception to the rule.

The EU should create a cross-institutional body, a European Security Committee (ESC) to help overcome these problems. The primary role of the ESC would be to advise European heads of government on security matters. The chairmanship of the ESC should alternate between the EU's High Representative for foreign policy and the chair of the JHA ministerial council. An alternating chair would guarantee that ESC members addressed the concerns of both internal and external security decision-makers.

The other permanent members of the ESC should include the chief of the EU military committee, the head of Europol, and a representative from the Club of Berne a forum that brings together the heads of some national security services. The chairman could ask other officials to attend, such as national intelligence chiefs or the aid commissioner, when relevant. The ESC should meet at least monthly, and report to the European Council.

The ESC would identify and quantify threats, and suggest responses. If EU heads of government received the same threat assessments, they would be more likely to agree on a co-ordinated response. For example, the ESC could provide the European Council with a comprehensive anti-terrorism plan, drawing upon the full resources of the EU and its member-states. Or the ESC could focus on more specific issues, like the movement of terrorists in and out of EU territory via the Balkans. But the ESC would not employ 'euro-spies' to gather intelligence and would rely on member-states, Europol and the Situation Centre for information. The ESC would not be a panacea, but it would make it easier for the EU to co-ordinate its internal and external security policies.


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