A bimonthly magazine on international affairs, edited in Germany's capital

Red Herring & Black Swan: Five Eyes for Europe


The EU‘s foreign and security policy needs to be backed up by shared intelligence. Eventually, the EU should have its own intelligence agency. For now, a Five Eyes-type agreement would help.

With the European Union facing an increasingly unstable world of hybrid threats, military interventions, terrorism, and organized crime, many politicians across Europe have repeatedly called for closer intelligence cooperation and even for the establishment of an EU intelligence service.
In fact, the EU Global Strategy in 2016 already emphasized the necessity of timely information sharing for security policy decisions being taken at the EU level: “European security hinges on better and shared assessments of internal and external threats,” it states. “This requires investing in intelligence… We must feed and coordinate intelligence extracted from European databases.”

Furthermore, the Implementation Plan on Security and Defense, which was published the same year, confirms that a “European hub for strategic information, early warning and comprehensive analysis” is a necessary security policy instrument. Yet with Britain leaving, the EU is losing a very powerful intelligence partner. As a result, the remaining member states should certainly think about cooperating even more closely.

The Limits of EU Law

So, why not shoot for the moon and establish an EU intelligence service? Since intelligence services are regarded as the heart of a nation state, the EU member states traditionally have been highly reluctant about institutionalized forms of cooperation and set themselves clear legal boundaries.

Article 4 of the Lisbon Treaty states that national security falls under the “sole responsibility of the individual member states.” The relevant regulatory areas “Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice” and “General Provisions on the Union’s External Action and Specific Provisions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy” do not refer to intelligence cooperation at all. However, Article 73 states that member states are free to set up—on their own responsibility—forms of individual cooperation and coordination between their national security authorities. That means that, while a European intelligence service is not an option right now, closer cooperation is legally possible, politically necessary, and practically useful.

In fact, within the clear limits of EU law, two different forms of intelligence cooperation at EU level have developed: on the one hand, there are rather informal bilateral and multilateral forms of cooperation. For instance, the Club de Berne is a forum between the domestic intelligence services of all member states (plus Switzerland and Norway), based on a voluntary exchange of information, experiences, and point of views. Given the high level of trust, flexibility, and independence, those informal intelligence coalitions are probably regarded as the most effective ones.

On the other hand, there are two important institutionalized forms of cooperation within the EU structures. First, the EU maintains a military intelligence unit with the Intelligence Directorate of the EU Military Staff (EUMS INT), which is part of the EU’s foreign and diplomatic body, the European External Action Service (EEAS). It provides military analysis/assessment for the decision making and planning of civilian missions and military operations under the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). Second, there is the EU Intelligence and Analysis Centre (INTCEN), established in 1999 with the CSDP, and another intelligence body of the EEAS. Its mission is to provide intelligence analysis and “situational awareness” to the High Representative, to various EU decision making levels as well as to the EU member states. Neither EUMS INT nor INTCEN generate its own intelligence; rather, they are dependent on information delivered by national foreign and domestic services of the member states and by internal EU bodies.

INTCEN and EUMS INT are linked in the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC). This is a purely virtual hub within the EEAS but one that works very well. Its products provide significant added value to the member states and to the EU itself. The Implementation Plan on Security and Defense defined SIAC as a central hub for the generation of strategic information and threat assessments: “Improving CSDP responsiveness requires enhanced civil/military intelligence…, through the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC) as the main European hub for strategic information, early warning, and comprehensive analysis.”

Rocket-Fueling SIAC

By shooting for the moon, the EU will land among the stars. The establishment of a supranational intelligence service would require a substantial change of the EU treaties. Given the results of the European elections and the rising euroskepticism in some of the member states, this, however, seems light years away.

But with the EEAS and the integrated SIAC, the EU actually already has a strengthened role in the analysis of internal and external security threats. The SIAC could be used more efficiently by the member states and optimized by investing in a higher number of staff and in the quantity and quality standard of intelligence products delivered. That would eventually make its added value more visible and would further build trust among member states, encouraging them to cooperate even closer.

But that’s not all. In times of increased global insecurity, two members of the Five Eyes and the EU’s most trustworthy intelligence allies are going down an unforeseeable political path. Both the United States and United Kingdom will surely remain partners in security policy, but in the long term, their respective political isolation might also affect the sharing of confidential information with the EU member states.

What Germany Should Do

Altogether, it is an undeniable fact that in foreign and security terms, the EU will increasingly have to rely on itself. This has already triggered ambitious reactions from 25 member states that committed themselves to “permanent structured cooperation” (PESCO) in defense policy. PESCO could serve as a model for strengthening intelligence cooperation. Closer cooperation would continue to take place in coalitions of small numbers of those member states willing and, more importantly, able to share confidential information with selected partners. Although Article 42 of the EU treaties does not provide a legal basis for a permanent structured cooperation of the intelligence services, Articles 328/329 generally provide a legal basis for enhanced cooperation and maybe for the future creation of Five (preferably six, seven or even more) Eyes of the European Union.

As Germany is taking over the Presidency of the European Council in 2020, the government in Berlin should start focusing now on how flexible cooperative solutions between EU member states could be advanced, leading to deeper integration and toward a real Security Union. This is actually a unique chance for Germany to demonstrate its ability to put innovative policy priorities on the agenda—including a better exchange of intelligence information and coordination at the EU level.

In the end, that might also give a fresh impetus to the concept of a European intelligence service, and make it not quite so many light years away after all.