May 16, 2022

How Intelligence Supports EU Security

Given the resurgence of great power competition, intelligence has a decisive role to play in strengthening the European Union’s security. 

The European Union flags flutter ahead of the gas talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium September 19, 2019.
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Intelligence is not a traditional topic of discussion when it comes to the European Union. Indeed, according to Article 4.2 of the Treaty, it does not fall within the remit of the EU’s competences. It is the sole prerogative of the member states, like all matters related to national security. The very nature of intelligence and the secrecy surrounding it explains why this field has remained under the control of nation states.

Nevertheless, the EU needs to think about intelligence. Indeed, Europe is raising its security profile and intends to be more sovereign in this area. Given the war in Ukraine or the new forms of great power competition, intelligence has a decisive role to play in building up Europe’s security.    

The EU itself does not gather intelligence but, at the same time, it needs intelligence. Thinking about intelligence in Europe is, therefore, about designing the right processes of bilateral and intergovernmental cooperation.  

Who are the Intelligence Players in Europe?

Article 4.2 remains the cornerstone of any discussion concerning intelligence issues in Europe. It confirms that the national intelligence services are the main intelligence players in Europe. Each member state, depending on its organization and its history, has an intelligence community contributing in various ways to informing its political leadership and, to some extent, the European institutions.

The main civilian gateway connecting the national intelligence communities to the European institutions is the European Union Situation and Intelligence Centre, or INTCEN, which is in charge of compiling and analyzing the intelligence and the syntheses provided by the member states. INTCEN has managed to become the meeting point of the intelligence producers (national civilian services) and its users (European institutions). The relationship between the national services and INTCEN has steadily grown in recent years and INTCEN has become the natural partner of the member states on these issues.  

As far as military intelligence is concerned, the European Union Military Staff has a dedicated division, the EUMS-INT, which synthetizes the contributions provided by the member states’ services.

INTCEN and EUMS-INT join their efforts through the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC). Gathering internal, external, and military services, it is able to produce 360-degree analysis. The Threat Analysis, which laid the foundation of the Strategic Compass, has been drafted using SIAC. Furthermore, on the technical side, the EU has direct access to images, charts, and analysis from the EU Satellite Centre or SATCEN, located in Spain. Those resources are shared with the national intelligence communities.

In addition, the Intelligence College in Europe (ICE) aims at developing a common intelligence culture among European countries. Announced by French President Emmanuel Macron, during his 2017 speech at the Sorbonne, the intergovernmental body has since developed training programs dedicated to the European intelligence communities. The encounters facilitated by the college are a long-term investment, leading to member states benefiting from a network among services and building a European understanding of European intelligence issues. 

Obviously, member state intelligence services have built close bilateral partnerships but they have also created informal dialogs between themselves as well as operational exchanges. These can be decisive in times of crisis, when intelligence communities need to assess military situations such as the Russian aggression against Ukraine. On the long term, fora like the Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG) also gather the European internal security and intelligence services, to coordinate and cooperate with each other. In line with Article 73 of the EU Treaty, the CTG demonstrates how European states have the capacity to “organize between themselves and under their responsibility such forms of cooperation and coordination as they deem appropriate.”

The EU counter-terrorism coordinator has also become a key interlocutor for the member states. Since 2004, a long-established dialogue between intelligence services and the CTC increased the awareness of EU about the interest and sometime the concerns of the intelligence communities in Europe. One has to pay tribute to the relentless action of Gilles de Kerchove as coordinator from 2007 to 2021. His successor since October 1, 2021, Illka Salmi, is a skilled and respected professional in the intelligence world. Without doubt, he will open a new chapter for this position, building on the achievements of his predecessor.

Some Good News

The intelligence landscape in Europe is, therefore, moving and it has to further develop to adapt to the EU’s ambitions.

The first good news is that Europe is becoming aware of what is at stake as far as its security and sovereignty are concerned. Even before the war in Ukraine, EU member states had intensified their work on joint threat assessments, for instance to shape the Strategic Compass adopted by the EU just few weeks ago. The Strategic Compass, a document identifying the challenges that Europeans face collectively, will be an important tool to become stronger internally and to design the EU’s external relations with lucidity.

Ironically, another good piece of news is that third countries and other hostiles players are increasingly trying to spy on EU institutions, bodies, and agencies: This speaks to the increasing relevance of the EU as a strategic player. The security of EU institutions is a major geopolitical issue. The European institutions have themselves taken the full measures of it and are enhancing security standards.

In 2022, INTCEN is celebrating the 20 years since it was established and it is appropriate to confirm its central role in informing European institutions with civilian intelligence, in coordination with EUMS-INT for military intelligence under the SIAC umbrella. Numerous crises are mobilizing the European intelligence communities, such as the conflict in Ukraine or the intense vetting and monitoring work deployed in relation to repatriated Afghans by diverse member states since summer 2021. On many issues, the articulation, between the actions of the national intelligence services and the tools displayed by EU, will be key.

The challenge will also be to develop the strategic task ahead of us. On issues like artificial intelligence and personal data protection, the dialogue between Europeans will be crucial to implement rules and cooperation frameworks ensuring a proper balance between fundamental individual rights and strong collective security tools.

Structuring intelligence in Europe will not be done hastily. The intelligence world may generate a lot of expectations, fantasies, and concerns, and its relationship with EU institutions should imply careful scrutiny. This applies similarly to the deepening of cooperation between national services. As far as intelligence is concerned, a step-by-step approach is probably the only realistic option.

In the light of this, it is crucial to conclude by stressing that intelligence is only one component of security as a whole. Even if it is a key element as far as identifying and anticipating the threat is concerned, and in terms of reducing the risks, intelligence alone will not be able to cope with all the challenges ahead. Each European player has to work internally to address external threats. This is why other channels of cooperation are developing between the European Union and the member states, particularly in fields such as defense, cybersecurity, strengthening the protection of classified information, and crisis management. An EU that is stronger in all these fields can contribute to and benefit from strong partnerships, particularly with the United States, the United Kingdom as well as with NATO.

In conclusion, security is everybody’s business and intelligence contributes to European security with its methods and its specificities. It is only through a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each player that we will be able to contribute our fair share to building a safer and more capable Europe.

Laurent Nuñez-Belda is France’s National Intelligence and Counterterrorism Coordinator.