Strengthening European Unity: The Case for a Common European Intelligence Agency

We propose that the ‘’Intelligence and Situation Centre’’ (INTCEN) of the EU evolve to create collective assessments based on member states' sources and gain its own intelligence gathering capabilities that will inform a more effective, speedy and united European front against foreign interference.

An opinion article by Adam Hruška and Teun Janssen.

Apr 19, 2024

The Road to Unfreedom is paved by those who play on existing weaknesses and frustrations in our open societies in order to lay the groundwork for something much darker than muddy democracy: public apathy, cynicism and eventually; autocracy. Russia understands that, faced with the West's conventional military and economic superiority, victory on the battlefield is unlikely; therefore, it seeks to win the war in our minds. It must convince us that it cannot be beaten, and that a better world is not possible. As became clear from a bombshell Czech intelligence investigation, Russia has been finding and corrupting immoral European politicians to do just that, including from the Netherlands. The case highlights the transnational nature of modern disinformation campaigns. With foreign actors exploiting digital platforms to amplify their narratives and target vulnerable populations, traditional approaches to national security are no longer sufficient. The question is: what can we do about it?

A debate on this situation in the Dutch Parliament (in the main suspect’s absence) quickly became bogged down in legalistic disputes over who should be in charge of defending democracy from foreign interference. The problem is that without a unified European intelligence service, we won’t be able to deliver on a major transnational threat such as this. It is very difficult to do proper cross-border intelligence work. Individual EU countries can only request information from each other’s national intelligence agencies. Because of a lack of mutual trust, quick procedures or a strategic culture, this often means real answers arrive very late, incomplete, or not at all. These long delays slow down democratic debate, decrease accountability and create room for doubt in our societies which Russian interference strategies are happy to exploit. 

At the moment, the EU has the ‘’Intelligence and Situation Centre’’ (INTCEN), which can only share intelligence between member states when they have been given the mandate to do so. In practice, it is very weak and lacks a culture of trust and smooth cooperation. Even between established national agencies, this can be a problem. A recent example in which a sensitive German intelligence briefing on the use of Taurus missiles in Russia leaked because of careless use of digital security was a textbook example.  In the complex landscape of global politics, where misinformation and foreign interference have become increasingly prevalent, the need for a unified approach to intelligence gathering and analysis within the European Union has never been more apparent. 

We propose that INTCEN evolve to create collective assessments based on member states' sources and gain its own intelligence gathering capabilities that will inform a more effective, speedy and united European front against foreign interference from countries such as Russia. The European External Action Service (EEAS) will then have its own in-house intelligence-gathering agency, which will also allow it to be more assertive and autonomous in its assessment of threats; including threats to cyber security and the information space. The European Parliament and national parliaments will then be able to request intelligence when it is deemed safe to share, speeding up democratic accountability on foreign interference. Over time, this will create trust, a culture of cooperation and more effective counter-intelligence.

Beyond immediate security concerns, the establishment of a common European intelligence agency holds broader implications for EU cohesion and solidarity. In an era characterized by geopolitical uncertainty and shifting alliances, the EU must demonstrate its ability to act decisively in the face of shared challenges. By fostering greater integration in the realm of intelligence, member states can reaffirm their commitment to collective defense and mutual assistance, bolstering the union's credibility on the world stage.

Critics may argue that the creation of such an agency would encroach upon national sovereignty or duplicate existing structures. However, the reality is that the threats posed by foreign interference transcend individual borders, necessitating a unified response. Rather than undermining sovereignty, a common European intelligence agency would complement national efforts, offering a coordinated framework for addressing cross-border security threats while respecting the diverse interests of member states.

In conclusion, the recent revelations of Russian propaganda infiltration serve as a wake-up call for the European Union. To safeguard our democratic values and collective security, we must prioritize unity and cooperation in the realm of intelligence. By establishing a common European intelligence agency, we can enhance our ability to detect, deter, and counter external threats, thereby ensuring a safer and more resilient future for all EU citizens. Now is the time for bold action and unwavering commitment to the principles of solidarity and democracy.

About the authors:
Adam Hruška is a candidate for the European Parliament for Volt Czechia. Teun Janssen is a candidate for the European Parliament for Volt Netherlands. They are both specialised in security and defense policy.