EU should advance foreign intelligence-gathering capacity, EU lawmaker says

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The EU should develop its own foreign intelligence services to provide itself with credible information about possible foreign threats, according to an upcoming European Parliament proposal, previewed to EURACTIV.

“We need to have our own intelligence services, with our own intelligence systems if we want to be a global player,” MEP Nacho Sánchez Amor (S&D, ES) told EURACTIV, saying he is working on a pilot project proposal to explore possibilities for increasing the information gathering capacity of the bloc’s diplomatic service.

“The idea is not so much about the EU’s internal security, I am sure that the national intelligence services collaborate frequently, but it is outward-looking and has to do with the EU’s foreign policy capacity,” he added.

With EU Intelligence and Situation Centre (EU INTCEN), an intelligence body of the EU’s diplomatic service (EEAS) under the authority of the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell, the bloc already produces intelligence-based classified assessments.

However, the body has no power to collect intelligence by itself, relies on information forwarded by EU member states, and there has long been a lack of political will to make it a fully-fledged intelligence service.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen had outlined better intelligence sharing, including a new proposal for an EU joint situational awareness centre, in her State of the Union speech last year.

“However, she did not propose it as an own intelligence service,” Sánchez Amor said.

“She talked about the fact that we have to cooperate more on intelligence, but then she said we have to pool all the knowledge of all the services and sources of all the knowledge that the EU has, whatever means, and that it must be fed into this centre,” he said.

Following the announcement, the MEP five months ago asked EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell to what extent this centre will feed the EU’s needs in terms of information gathering. The European Commission’s reply remains pending.

“If this EU joint situational awareness centre that Von der Leyen has proposed can be a nucleus that begins to, shall we say, overcome possible suspicions among member states, I think it is a good element,” Sanchez Amor said.

“But I want to stress the point that I am talking about intelligence on the situation outside and therefore, where is the harm to sovereignty in Germany sharing with the EU the knowledge it had about the Taliban’s advance? There is none,” he added.

“We are talking about external actions, and we are talking about EU member states that have authorised the EU to have a foreign policy,” the MEP said.

According to him, this would be just one more part of the authorisation, just like ambassadors are lent to the bloc, which would not diminish a member states’ sovereignty.

“Diplomats from bigger member states have tons of additional information available that they can count on; it would be not a bad idea if we could pool this information somehow in-house,” one EU diplomat told EURACTIV on the condition of anonymity to speak more freely.

“Especially smaller member states could profit from intelligence that also concerns their own security,” the diplomat added.

However, most member states worry that any further centralisation, analysis, dissemination does not compromise their autonomy.

“One of the problems is that the minute the EU’s diplomatic service would produce a common intelligence product, some member states would start to worry it would start to also act more independently as a geopolitical actor,” another EU diplomat said.

“There’s not much appetite for this since we have difficulties to agree on a common perception and or categorisation of threats,” the diplomat added.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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