Since the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the fight against terrorism is in the centre ofEuropean societal and political interest. The attacks in Madrid (2004) and London (2005) and severalfoiled attacks made clear that Europe itself was also a target for the international Jihadists. The arrestsof many alleged terrorists in different European countries underlined the reality of the terrorist threat.1At the same time it became clear that the ‘new terrorism’ formed a national as well as an internationalthreat. Attacks in Europe can be the work of home-grown terrorists, as well as the work of foreignfighters who succeed in infiltrating European countries. Military personnel from European countriesthat operate in foreign countries in the context of the ‘war on terror’ can be a target for terrorists, butalso European business or embassies. Incidents like the Danish cartoon affair or the Dutch movieFitna make it clear that ‘internal’ issues can have a great impact in foreign countries. On the otherhand it is possible that incidents and conflicts in countries far away – the invasion of Iraq, the conflictsin the Middle East – can have their internal repercussions in European countries.
The European Union reacted on the new terrorist threat with an ‘unprecedented wave of policyinterventions’ (Den Boer 2006: 83). New counterterrorist agencies and structures were created in thewake of the attacks on top of already existing structures, and the latter were furbished with new andspecial competences in the field of counterterrorism. With this ‘plethora of initiatives’, the EUreinforced the already ‘crowded policy space’ on counterterrorism (Den Boer 2006: 99). The politicaland policy interventions of the European Union have been the subject of many articles and papers(see for instance Bendiek 2006; Den Boer 2006; Müller-Wille 2004a; Wilkinson 2005), so we will notduplicate that work in this paper. Instead, we will concentrate on one of the counterterrorist structuresof the European Union: the EU Joint Situation Centre. Moreover, we will research and analyse thisagency from the perspective of transparency and accountability. Therefore the central question will be:what do we know of this EU Joint Situation Centre? How does it operate? What is its relevance forEuropean counterterrorism? In other words: how transparent is the EU Joint Situation Centre?
Thorough research into and analyse of the EU Joint Situation Centre (SitCen) is important for severalreasons. First, within SitCen a merger is taken place between internal and external aspects of EUcounterterrorism policy. Second, SitCen is an important channel through which horizontal structures ofintelligence cooperation outside the formal scope of the EU merges with formalised vertical EUcounterterrorist structures. Third, thanks to the positioning of SitCen under the General Secretariat ofthe European Council, directly under the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign andSecurity Policy and its position at the cross point of the Second Pillar (Common Foreign and SecurityPolicy) and Third Pillar (Justice and Home Affairs) of the European Union, it is not obvious at first sightto whom and how SitCen is democratically accountable. Fourth, reports from SitCen can have policyimplications for the European Union and its member states; it is far from a marginal actor in thecounterterrorist field.In this paper we will shortly describe the importance of transparency and accountability for goodgovernance and the special problems that arise when these principles are being applied to the field ofsecurity and intelligence services.2 Then we will give a short description of the development of theEuropean counterterrorism policy, as far as relevant for a good understanding of SitCen. After that wewill look into the origins and development of SitCen. Then we will look on the basis of a quick scan ofseveral sources what information is available in the public domain on the work and substance ofSitCen to form an opinion on the transparency and accountability of SitCen. We will end the paper withsome concluding remarks and suggestions for further research.
- Concluding remarks
What do we know of the EU Joint Situation Centre? How does it operate? In other words: howtransparent is the EU Joint Situation Centre? These were the central questions of this paper. Theanswer has to be that SitCen suffers from a profound lack of transparency – and therefore is not asaccountable as could be expected in democratic societies. Documents available in the public domainmake it possible to reconstruct the trajectories of SitCen, its tasks and its position within the EU19counterterrorism field. It is however impossible to assess the substance of the work of SitCen and theinfluence SitCen has on the development of the EU as a security actor, the securitization of the EUand the constitution of threats and solutions. It is only through informal ways that it was possible toshed for the first time some light on the substance of the work of SitCen regarding its internal securitydimension and remove partly the blanket of mystery SitCen is shrouded in. It seems obvious thatfurther research on SitCen is needed, as it is an organization that has developed almost outside thepolitical and public spotlights from an ‘empty shell’ into a crossroad of internal, external and militaryintelligence cooperation in the EU. SitCen is also an organisation that stands in the centre of themerger between horizontal and vertical networks of intelligence and security agencies; an ‘in-securityfield’ that is in transformation and the outcome of this transformation will subsequently determine partlythe future of the EU as a security actor and the constitution of threats. ‘Secret truth’ of security andintelligence agencies is determining partly the European response to the terrorist threat and can havea great impact on citizens and the formation of the future political and social order of the EU. Forinstance, the European Council Strategy for combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism(Council of the European Union 2005d) has according to De Goede (2008: 170-171) created ‘an extralegalsphere of intervention’, where a wide array of functionaries, including teachers, prison workersand community workers, are authorized to intervene in people’s lives in the name of preventingradicalization. According to De Goede, the Council Strategy thus authorizes functionaries to decide onrights of travel and internet use, rights of worship and education, for an undefined group of citizenswho may be thought prone to radicalization. ‘In this manner, the Strategy enables far-reachingpractices of bio-political governing, which distinguishes some population groups for exceptionalmonitoring and treatment.’Further research is needed to analyze the way intelligence influences European and national policymaking. It will be a real challenge, in view of the level of transparency of SitCen, to research if andhow the list of SitCen reports we have revealed, have been translated in political recommendations; ifand how the transformation of the ‘in-security field’ is changing the relations, culture, power andinfluence of intelligence and security services, law enforcement agencies, customs and borderagencies; if and how these European transformation is affecting the security relations ‘at home’; howthe ‘uncertain and controversial’ discussions supported by SitCen assessments proceeded withinCouncil structures, Commission structures and national structures and which positions were taken bythe different member states; how SitCen assessments are structuring and directing the emergingEuropean foreign and military policy; how the difference between the member states that are ‘insiders’of SitCen and member states that are ‘outsiders’ influence the securitization of the European Union;how the emergence of SitCen is influencing the position of other security actors in the EU like Europol;and if and how the essentially contested and precarious relationship between the political/executivelevel and the intelligence community is being shaped by the emergence of SitCen. Hopefully thispaper can contribute a little to the realisation of this research agenda.