European Intelligence Cooperation Beyond the Nation State: A prerequisite for common foreign and security policy (CFSP)

Posted in Other | 26-May-06 | Author: John Nomikos| Source: RIEAS

The end of the Cold War has created a world in which the relative stability between the two superpowers has disappeared. Today, terrorism referred to as the world’s second oldest profession, has moved to the top of the international political agenda. It has replaced the Cold War as one of the main security threats – at least in the perception of many in the developed world.

During the 1990s, the European Union has kept a relative low profile in the world and European arena. As with the US in the post WWII era, the European Union has had little to no experience in dealing with these new problems. In July 1991, the European Union had to deal with a major crisis in Yugoslavia. This crisis became a civil war and the Europeans were unable to stop the fighting. One of the reasons for the failure of the European Union states was the divided opinions and later actions of the individual member states.

Furthermore, the European Union did not realize how deep-rooted the conflict between the different ethnic groups was. Through continuous analyzing of the situation, the European Union states might have been able to realize sooner that a major conflict in Yugoslavia was inevitable and been able to diffuse the conflict before it could explode.

The Treaty of Maastricht negotiated by the EU in 1991 helped set the agenda, establishing as EU objectives the implementation of a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as well as the eventual framing of a common defense policy. There were no means established to implement a CFSP, however, nor did the Treaty of Maastricht make any specific mention of increasing intelligence cooperation with the CFSP framework. (1) The Gulf and Yugoslavian crises proved more of an impetus to a common European Union intelligence cooperation policy than Maastricht. Dependence on the US for intelligence during both crises convinced the Europeans that it needed improved intelligence collection capabilities, especially with regard to space-based assets.

Most important, at the British – French Summit at St. Malo (1998), it was stated that intelligence was fundamental to the success of the European Union, and that it must be given appropriate structures and a capacity for analysis of situations, sources of intelligence, and a capability for relevant strategic planning without unnecessary duplication. This notion was also reinforced in the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) in order to create a policy of planning and early warning unit.

Moreover, Intelligence and security analysts in the European Union member-states who promote the idea of a European common intelligence policy argue that intelligence collaboration is already taking place successfully around the world; in the EU Satellite Center in Spain; the Situation Center at the United Nations in New York and the informal gathering of the Club of Berne in Switzerland. However, the toughest challenge for the European Union has been the highly sensitive area of intelligence-sharing. The European Union has decided that from January 1, 2008, any information available in one country should be available in all other 25 member-states.

What the Role of an Intelligence Service within the European Union Mechanism

Improving intelligence cooperation is a top priority but in the longer-term root causes must be understood and addressed. An emerging intelligence service in the European Union should have as its most important task the analysis of overtly gathered information and preparing it for use by policy makers. A first step towards improving intelligence sharing was the establishment of the Situation Center (SITCEN) for intelligence analysis within the Council Secretariat. One of its goals is to bring together experts from both the intelligence and security services.

How an European Union intelligence service might fit in the overall European Union mechanism and that its shape and role might be, is a prospective challenge for the member-states in the coming decades. Eventually, by establishing an intelligence service, Europe would be able to foresee a situation which could be threatening to the European Union states such as crisis in the Balkan states or prospective religious turmoil or biochemical attacks to the terrorist acts, the Council of Ministers should be involved as well by informing appropriately their national intelligence services.

Since the Council of Ministers is the official decision-making body of the European Union, it should receive reports and analysis from the European Union intelligence service. However, the problem here is that a Minister of foreign affairs might have difficulties and conflicts in dealing with the foreign affairs of his own country and that of the European Union at the same time. This is a good reason to found a Committee on European Intelligence, which will refer directly to the European Union Commission.

On the other side, the European Parliament would be the one to approve the budget of the European Union intelligence service. In the U.S. the Congress is also responsible for the approval of the budget of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The European Parliament could in the future also become the institution to provide oversight over the European Union intelligence service operations comparable to U.S. Congressional oversight over the intelligence community.

The Council of Ministers as well as the European Parliament could also be involved in the determination of the issues that should be monitored by the European Union intelligence service. However, threats have to be clearly identified and a European Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) must be corresponded to a coherent intelligence action that would be defined in a European Intelligence Act. This act would support the pillar’s role of the European coordinator in a renewal transatlantic cooperation.

Since the European Union member states address the possibilities of a future European Army, even if it remains simply a peacekeeping facility, it is crucial that an intelligence policy is created, since successful armed forces require to being well informed. Reduced duplication and closed cooperation among the member-states offers an opportunity for efficient intelligence cooperation.

Analyzing the Reasons for European Intelligence Cooperation as part of CFSP

The European Union as an entity has become an increasingly important factor on the Continent since the revival of the European Community through the Single European Act (SEA) signed in 1986. SEA is the official name for the 1992 program for the opening up of borders among its members. The European Union, together with the United States and the United Nations, has also become a force of some importance outside the European continent.

The Treaty of Amsterdam, negotiated by EU member states in 1997, made several changes to the CFSP to enhance its effectiveness. First, the Treaty created the new office of High Representative for the CFSP (Spain’s Javier Solana was appointed to this position) to “assist” the EU Council in matters coming within the scope of the CFSP, in particular through contributing to the formation, preparation, and implementation of policy decisions, and, when appropriate, acting on behalf of the Council at the presidency’s request, through the conduct of political dialogue with third countries. (2)

Furthermore, the European Union leaders, meeting in Helsinki, Finland in December 1999, and at a follow-up meeting in Sintra, Portugal in February 2000, agreed to major changes in European Security and defense policy, many of which had been initially suggested in Cologne, Germany. (3) These new plans called for a 15-brigade multinational army corps of 50,000-60,000 troops, supported by air power and warships. This mobile professional force, initially due to be fully combat ready by December 2003, had attained partial combat readiness as of late 2004. The work of the multinational force takes into account the current limitations or constraints on deployment time, and the fact that high risk may arise at the upper end of the spectrum of scale and intensity, particularly when conducting concurrent operations.(4) Three additional bodies have already been established to support the European Union Defense Policy: a Political and Security Committee, composed of ambassadors with an advisory role to the EU Council of Ministers; an EU Military Committee of senior officers; and a Multinational Planning Staff. While details of the intelligence support to be provided to the multinational force are not yet available, this level of support is likely to require significantly increased intelligence cooperation.

By late 2004, a decision to set up a civilian/military cell in each of the European Union member states had been taken. (5) But its composition and role had yet to be defined. Its main task will apparently be to engage when military crisis management missions transform into civilian ones, but it is too early to accurately discuss its possible involvement with intelligence.

But the instability of the North Africa region, as well as in the former Soviet states, will affect the enlarging European Union. Islamic fundamentalism is reemerging in the North African states, alongside an increase in terrorism. Southern European Union member-states such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are facing the effects of demographic trends (via illegal immigration).

The European Union’s interior and justice ministers were clearly reluctant to hand over any major national intelligence function to a European government at a time when ad hoc arrangements among the major national intelligence services in European Union –and with the United States – are currently in the forefront in the campaign against Al-Qaeda and related Islamic extremist groups.

Eventually, the European Union’s interior and justice ministers did agree on closer cooperation on some security issues, and discussed the appointment of a new counter-terrorism coordinator. An important point of agreement was to “create a clearinghouse, where for the first time investigating judges, police, and intelligence services can direct information which would become available in real time to all members.” (6)

The various forms of cooperation so far, also these within the European Union, have been based on the major secret services. Owing to this fact, it is not surprising that small states deprived of their own effective intelligence services, which would be capable of recognizing and neutralizing terrorist threats, are insisting on the creation of European intelligence. Those small states are also unsatisfied with the present cooperation with the states bearing such services. On the other side, the countries with effective intelligence services, such as the so-called “Big Five” (Italy, UK, Germany, France and Spain) which together with the Netherlands and Sweden participate at the Situation Center (SITCEN), are against revolutionary changes in the present system of the intelligence cooperation in the European Union. (7)

Moreover, the Belgium and Austria governments suggested to create an European Union Intelligence Service (EUIS) modeled on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in order to fight terrorism, the interior ministers from the top five European countries (as analyzed above) – UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy – were unwilling to agree on how to share intelligence will all 25 members and other nations. And the European Union’s past unwillingness to cooperate on counter-terrorism has caused strain, in particular with Washington, because of U.S. demands to collect personal data on air-line passengers.

The next step in the process of creating an intelligence service in Europe would be to distribute tasks according to the operational and information capacities of a given national service. For instance, French Intelligence has been traditionally interested in Africa, and Spain in South America, while new member in the European Union are to some extend experienced with the former USSR countries as well as the Balkans and the Middle East. It would also be possible to make a wider use by the European Union’s analytical and intelligence units of the following: information and non-governmental analyses as well as research centers, private, scientific and related to economics, which relay upon Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). (8)

Treaty Provisions and “European Union Intelligence Cycle”

What the European Union can and can not do is governed by the Treaty of the European Union. Another driving design factor was therefore what the Treaty had to say about the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). The former is mainly covered by Article 11 which, amongst other things, talks to: “safeguarding the fundamental interests, independence and integrity of the Union; strengthening international security. ESDP is covered principally by Article 17, which includes references to the progressive framing of a common defense policy, and the Petersberg tasks including humanitarian and rescue missions, peace-keeping, and the use of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-keeping.” Thus the Treaty provided a solid basis for a global, holistic approach to the design of the European Union’s intelligence architecture. (9) The intelligence cycle of activity in the EU intelligence Service should include the main steps of collection, collation, interpretation, assessment, dissemination and system feedback. The European Union decision-making machinery’s prime need is for assessed intelligence, the steps of collection, collation and interpretation being part of the spectrum of capabilities offered to the European Union by the member states.

Overcoming Obstacles to the Development of the European Union Intelligence Structure

The tentative European intelligence cooperation that developed during the 1990s fell far short of a common policy necessary for an effective Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and autonomous defense capability. An audit completed in 1999 by the Western European Union on defense capabilities stated that, as yet, no satisfactory sharing of strategic intelligence exists, either at the national or international level that would enable a joint European military staff to conduct in-depth analysis of a crisis situation. (10)

European intelligence cooperation to date has been hampered by emphasizing national sovereignty over sharing intelligence. The cooperation that does not exist has been largely confined to imagery collection and analysis using the European Union Satellite Center (SATCEN). Imagery intelligence is a necessary capability, but an effective European Union Intelligence Service will also require cooperation in signals intelligence (SIGINT) and human intelligence (HUMINT), and be able to integrate them in all-source intelligence products.

The second obstacle to integrate cooperation is the fear of spoiling privileged relationships. Many NATO countries have individual intelligence sharing agreements with the United States. The French, determined to reduce their dependence on US intelligence capabilities, are the driving force behind the drive for European autonomy. France developed the Hellios system with Spain and Italy, and has struggled to obtain German cooperation in the Hellios 2 program. (11) The French have also played an important role by developing a C4I system (Command & Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) for use by a European-led Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF).

Another institutional obstacle consists of the European Union’s and Western European Union’s bureaucratic decision-making structures. As one critic notes, “intelligence, as a profession that is concerned with the unknown, the surprising and the unwelcome, does not seem to lend itself easily either to the current pace of the CFSP or to its diplomatic nature, where all action must wait for a high level intergovernmental decision and must never go beyond the scope of its language.” (12)

Institutional obstacles also stand in the way of increased intelligence cooperation. Intelligence organizations generally believe that no other organization’s analysis is as reliable as their own, which leads them to place more faith and confidence in their own work. These organizations also tend to view international relations as a zero-sum game, and may not agree with a cooperative approach to security and defense integration. Furthermore, the conservative nature of intelligence agencies, coupled with the bureaucratic lethargy of the European Union, will also act to slow European Intelligence Cooperation.

Concluding Remarks

It is obvious that intelligence cooperation beyond the nation state – within the European Union must serve the declared ambitions of the CFSP. At the same time, the European Union member states have broadly outlined the Union’s instruments for long and short-term prevention. Therefore, the aim of the intelligence cooperation among the European member states must be to meet the demands for both conflict prevention and for civil and military crisis response operations. (13)

The tragic events in Madrid in March 2004 have initiated a discussion about the poor state of the European counter-terrorism cooperation. Alongside the discussion, an idea of an idea to create an European Union Intelligence Service (EUIS) has arisen. However, it seems that to ascribe the issue only to counter-terrorism prevention is misleading and is also making it difficult to define matters of the European intelligence cooperation in its right place and context, namely as an indispensable mechanism for creating and conducting Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as well as European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). (14)

By creating an intelligence service, Europe would be able to foresee prospective conflicts since the international order had changed dramatically in the last few years and has not made the world more stable. The eastern and southern periphery of Europe are regions with considerable instability. And the European Union has consequently become more active in the international arena. Crises, such as the one in Yugoslavia, are having great effects on the European Union and its members. A lack of knowledge about other potential conflicts in the region could be more costly than maintaining a viable European Union Intelligence Structure.

Moreover, just as in the discussion over the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the emphasis here is placed, on prevention of conflicts and the prevention and management crises. This emphasis also stresses the role of gathering, analyzing and passing adequate and timely information and intelligence on to decision-makes. As information usually comes from various branches of intelligence, the standardization of evaluations and information constitute an indispensable condition to form a European defense identity and foreign policy. (15)

The comparison has been made with the Central Intelligence Agency. The U.S. had little experience with intelligence prior to World War II. Then the Americans were suddenly put in the position of a superpower. Such inexperience is also largely the case for the European Union. To fit the European Union intelligence service (EUIS) into the European Union mechanism presents some difficulties, because the division of power is not all that clear. The EUIS should become an independent institution, reporting directly to the European Commission and providing reports on a regular basis to the European Council.

The EUIS’s main tasks would be gathering information from the European Union members’ intelligence organizations and analyzing it independently. This analysis would allow the EUIS to advise the Commission and the Council on foreign relations and security issues. Most of the information needed for thorough analysis would be obtained overtly. In case of unavailability of vital intelligence, the EUIS might have to resort to covert collection. But the EUIS should refrain from covert action.

The EUIS could become a very useful instrument for European Union policymakers and decision makers in the fields of foreign relations and military affairs once the European Union establishes a military pillar. The Persian Gulf and Balkan crises have been sufficiently traumatic to convey the message that if European Union is serious about achieving the objective of a common foreign, security, and defense policy, the requirement for a common European Union intelligence policy is urgent. This can be achieved only if the EUIS is independent and regarded as a true European institution.

At the end, the European Union member-states needs to understand that terrorism is an international problem, not a European one, and without a comprehensive intelligence and firm policy, terrorism, ethnic and religious conflicts, will continue to present a real threat to our transatlantic values in the 21st century.


  1. John M. Nomikos, “European Union Intelligence Agency: a necessary institution for Common Intelligence Policy?” , in Vassiliki Koutrakou (ed), Contemporary Issues and Debates in EU Policy, Manchester University Press, UK, 2004, pp: 47-48.
  2. Walter L. Pforzheimer, “Prospects for a European Common Intelligence Policy”, Studies in Intelligence, unclassified document, (Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency), No.9, Summer 2000.
  3. The Cologne Summit, 3-4 June 1999, also saw the establishment of an 18-month deadline for the adoption of a more autonomous European defense posture.
  4. European Union Council, “European Security and Defense Policy Report”, Document No. 15814/03, Brussels, Belgium, 9 December 2003, p:4.
  5. Bjorn Muller-Wille, “For Our Eyes Only?: Shaping an Intelligence Community Within the EU”, Occasional Paper, No. 50, European Institute for Security Studies, Paris, France, January 2004, pp:21-24.
  6. John M. Nomikos, “A European Union Intelligence Service for Confronting Terrorism”, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, pp: 191-203, (Summer 2005)
  7. Antoni Podolski, “European Intelligence Cooperation: A Failing Part of the CFSP and ESDP?, EuroFuture Journal, pp: 44-47, March 2005, Paris, France.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Major General Graham Messervy-Whiting, “Intelligence Cooperation in the European Union”, in the Jess Pilegaard (ed) at the Politics of European Security, p:89, May 2004, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  10. See John M. Nomikos, “A European Union Intelligence Service for Confronting Terrorism”, op.cit., p:196.
  11. Ibid.,- France developed the Hellios system with Spain and Italy, and has struggled to obtain German cooperation in the Hellios 2 program. Leading the intelligence gathering assets is the Helios series satellites which are optical reconnaissance satellites providing photographic images down approximately one-meter resolution. Each can operate only during daylight and then only in clear weather and are thus placed in sun-synchronous orbit. (5.) Helios system is a joint French (79%), Italian (14%) and Spanish (7%) venture and provide data initially to the three participant states.
  12. Ibid
  13. Bjorn Muller-Wille, “EU Intelligence Cooperation – A Critical Analysis”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol. 23, No. 2, August 2002, p: 64.
  14. See Antoni Podolski, “European Intelligence Cooperation: A Failing Part of the CFSP and ESDP?, EuroFuture Journal, op.cit: 44-47.
  15. Ibid.