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EU: 'First Step' Taken Toward Setting Up Joint Intelligence Capability

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Brussels, 8 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- European Union officials today announced that the bloc will step up cooperation between the intelligence agencies of its 25 member states.

Briefing reporters after a meeting of interior ministers in Luxembourg, the EU's security and foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said a central body known as the Situation Center will start analyzing intelligence provided by member states.

The move is part of the EU's response to the terrorist attacks in Madrid on 11 March.

Solana said member states are expected to share information relating to both internal and external security threats.

"The threats we are facing today are not national threats -- terrorism -- they are international threats. Therefore, to put together the intelligence which is international with intelligence which is national will be a very important step forward in the coordination of the European Union [counterterrorist measures]," Solana said.

Solana said intelligence analysis by the Situation Center will, in turn, be made available to member state capitals.

However, EU officials, speaking privately, say information-sharing between the intelligence agencies of member states will not be compulsory and will instead operate on a "moral obligation" basis.

Solana today said operational measures to prevent or counteract terrorism will still remain a matter for member states.

Solana called today's decision a "first step," but discounted comparisons between the Situation Center and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He stressed that EU-level bodies would be confined to analyzing information, and member states would retain full control of operational decisions.

In a related measure, EU ministers today approved the creation of a standing forum for the regular meetings of national intelligence chiefs.

The EU's new counterterrorism chief, Gijs de Vries, who reports to Solana, tried to alleviate concerns that the intelligence services of member states may spurn closer cooperation.

"I think the point about a lack of cooperation among intelligence services is a point I've come across occasionally in various publications and is a point which I think is a point that is based on an inadequate understanding of what is happening in practice. There is a lot of practical cooperation going on on a daily basis between various national services working together," de Vries said.

Both de Vries and Solana praised today's dawn raids in Italy, which saw the arrest of the suspected mastermind behind the Madrid bombings. The operation was conducted with the backing of Spanish, French, and Belgian intelligence agencies.
"The threats we are facing today are not national threats -- terrorism -- they are international threats. Therefore, to put together the intelligence which is international with intelligence which is national will be a very important step forward in the coordination of the European Union [counterterrorist measures]."


De Vries also said the EU will soon agree on a list of medium-term priorities in the fight against terrorism. This "road map" -- as he called it -- will be used to monitor the progress in member states in implementing measures agreed at the EU level.

De Vries rejected as premature the criticism that a number of member states already lag behind when it comes to putting into practice existing measures, such as the joint EU arrest warrant. He noted that the speed of implementation of EU measures is increasing, although it is "not yet at a level where we all would like it to be."

Solana also attacked critics who say the EU is not doing enough to protect itself against terrorism.

"Don't get the impression that we're beginning to work against terrorism [only] today. This [would] be a very false analysis. We have been working for a long time after [the] September 11 [attacks in the United States], and the amount of work [and] decisions that have been taken in the European Union has been formidable. Some of them have been implemented because the legislation in [member states] is exactly the same. Some others require some changes in legislation. But don't get the impression that we're now taking for the first time the responsibility of fighting against terrorism," Solana said.
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