Europe’s spy network kicks off in Zagreb

The missing EU countries are Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Ireland and Luxembourg. [EPA/ LUDOVIC MARIN]

Twenty-three European countries signed a letter of intent for the Intelligence College in Europe in Zagreb on Wednesday (26 February), completing the creation of a network of intelligence agencies on the continent. EURACTIV Croatia reports.

This event was followed by a public discussion on “intelligence cooperation” involving European intelligence community representatives and decision-makers.

In the presence of Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, representatives of the 23 countries signed the document, which sets out the aims of the College, its scope of action and its governance.

Plenković explained that the college will not only be an educational institution” but also a sort of a network which will include people from academia, the media and everyone else”, with the aim of finding solutions ”to the various threats of the modern world, and especially in Europe”.

”I think this is a very good form of cooperation which is more open than what is usual for this type of service,” Plenkovic said.

The idea of establishing the College was first raised by French President Emmanuel Macron in a speech at the Sorbonne in September 2017, when he spoke about a stronger Europe and the need to promote Europe’s sovereignty.

In the speech, Macron expressed the need to establish a kind of European intelligence academy where EU intelligence communities would converge further through training, education and exchange.

Croatia, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, was one of the main drivers of the initiatives, as Daniel Markic, director of SOA, Croatia’s intelligence agency, active in creating the college from the beginning.

“This is a new form of cooperation, which means it will not replace the operational cooperation we have between EU member states and other countries such as the USA or others. However, we want a little more transparency and trust,” said the SOA director.

The signing closes a year of intergovernmental work, which made it possible to establish, among others, the three main missions of the College:

–  Foster strategic dialogue between the intelligence communities in Europe by allowing executives from different services to get together and compare their experiences at a non-operational level during thematic workshops;

–  Reach out to national and European decision-makers, but also citizens, in order to raise awareness about intelligence-related challenges and issues;

– Develop academic reflection through publications and the implementation of a dedicated academic programme contributing to building a common culture.

The 23 countries are Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The missing EU countries are Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Ireland and Luxembourg.

A Polish diplomat told EURACTIV.com that Warsaw had been “invited (like all member states)”.

“Our approach is pragmatic: wait and see how this initiative is going to evolve,” the diplomat said.

No to French COWs

EURACTIV Poland reported that the relations between Warsaw and Paris have been tense since PiS took the power. Reportedly, the clash started in 2016, when Poland suddenly pulled out from the deal on Airbus helicopters. In return, France withdrew the Polish delegation’s invitation to a Euronaval industry fair in Paris.

At that time, Poland’s former deputy Defence Minister Bartosz Kownacki replied angrily: “These are the people we taught to eat with a fork a couple of centuries ago, which may explain their behaviour today.”

EURACTIV Poland reported that Warsaw has been reluctant to any initiatives led by France through the so-called “coalitions of the willing” (COW). Warsaw believes that France-led initiatives are presented as European but in reality, they are hegemonic.

“The European Intelligence College is just one in a row, along with, i.a. European Intervention Initiative, Task Force Takuba, or European Maritime Awareness in the SoH,” EURACTIV Poland reported.

EURACTIV.com also contacted the Greek and Bulgarian ministries of foreign affairs but no reply has been provided by the time this article’s publication.

Former Bulgarian foreign minister Ivailo Kalfin commented that “Bulgaria should be much more ambitious because it wants to join Schengen and get rid of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. The whole issue is about the capacity to work with a lot of classified information. Taking distance from this process suggests lack of assurance as to the capacity to handle sensitive information.”

The EU currently has an Intelligence and Situation Centre, under its External Action Service, whose task is to provide intelligence, analysis and early warning to the EU’s High Representative, decision-making bodies, but also member states.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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