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  • Secret Truth: The EU Joint Situation Centre

    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.