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European Union and United States Counterterrorism Cooperation

A PROPOSED security agreement between the European Union and the United States would give federal officials access to a vast new pool of counterterrorism intelligence data. The program would create a “Euro-Atlantic area of cooperation” to prevent terrorism. The plan would also allow the EU’s 27 member states to develop joint video surveillance, cooperate on the use of unmanned aircraft, and enhance the operations of an intelligence clearinghouse based in Brussels.

The plan is contained in a report drafted by the High-Level Advisory Group on the Future of European Home Affairs Policy (Future Group). The organization is made up of interior and justice ministers from six EU member states—Germany, France, Sweden, Portugal, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. The group also includes top officials of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.

This new agreement would take the place of current security and justice policies scheduled to expire at the end of 2009.

The group urges closer EU cooperation on policing, intelligence-gathering, and security policy to combat cross-border threats, such as organized crime, immigration, and terrorism. The proposals also include the formation of an EU paramilitary force to be deployed overseas.

Germany created the group during its six-month rotating presidency of the EU in 2007. Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s interior minister, has been pushing for wider antiterrorist powers for his own government, although the country’s supreme court ruled this year that plans to use technologically advanced eavesdropping techniques were illegal.

France, which holds the EU presidency through December 2008, has said one of its goals is to “make the European Union a key actor in the struggle against proliferation and terrorism.” Sources in Brussels tell Security Management that France is continuing Germany’s push for continued closer cooperation in intelligence and police affairs, while the United Kingdom is likely to oppose any further integration. It is not a member of the Future Group, but its attorney general has observer status.

A main French-German objective is to deepen the EU’s security relationship with the United States. A leaked Future Group report says, “The EU should make up its mind with regard to the political objective of achieving a Euro-Atlantic area of cooperation with the United States in the field of freedom, security and justice.”

Stricter privacy and data protection rules in the EU have hampered intelligence collection, but European officials seem inclined to reach a compromise deal with the United States to remove some obstacles to the collection of information. Individual member states have already made some arrangements.

Germany’s parliament quietly agreed to a DNA and biometric data-sharing agreement with the United States in March 2008. The Czech Republic signed an agreement to share the personal data of air passengers with the United States to ensure continued participation in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. EU negotiators are discussing compromise language in privacy rules that would ensure joint exchange of personal data.

Analysts in Brussels and London say that many of the Future Group’s ideas are likely to be implemented either by the full European Union or by a subgroup of countries, because they have the backing of top EU governments and the Commission, and because the proposals have already built up so much momentum that it would be hard to derail them.

The group has also urged that disparate European agencies focusing on frontier security, counterterrorism, police cooperation, and organized crime be unified under a single roof or linked more closely to improve intelligence flow. Currently, the principle of confidentiality and concern over sharing of methods and sources hinders sharing of sensitive intelligence throughout the European Union and between the United States and former Warsaw Pact countries. There was dismay last year when Hungary appointed Sandor Laborc, a former Communist official who was trained at the KGB’s Dzerzhinsky Academy, as director of its counterintelligence National Security Office.

Another idea likely to be approved is the creation of an EU paramilitary force modeled on France’s Gendarmerie to provide security in the aftermath of a natural disaster, either in the EU or abroad.

“The idea is that if a place melts down, we’ll know who to call on to evacuate foreigners or help distribute humanitarian aid,” says Tomas Valasek, head of foreign policy and defense affairs at London’s Centre for European Reform.

“The new thing here is that a paramilitary group can combine civilian and military aspects,” says Valasek. “It’s relatively easy to provide security through conventional military superiority, but the difficult thing is getting peace afterwards to hold, not by military but through policing and [securing] infrastructure. That’s not the job of the military.”