European Gendarmerie Force (EGF) to be launched in Italy on 19 January

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European Gendarmerie Force (EGF) to be launched in Italy on 19 January - and EU discussing the creation of cross-border law enforcement "Special Task Forces

On 19 January 2005 the EU Gendarmerie Force (EGF) involving para-military police forces from Italy, Spain, France, Holland and Portugal will be launched in Vicenza (Veneto), Italy. Vicenza is the seat of Camp Ederle - the third largest US base in Italy.

The proposal was put forward at an informal meeting of Ministers of Defence in Rome on 3-4 October 2003 by the then French Minister of Defence, Michelle Alliot-Marie. The "Declaration of Intent" between the five states was signed "in the margins" (ie: outside of the formal proceedings) at another informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers in Noordwijk, Netherlands on 17 September 2004. In a speech to this meeting Mr Solana, the EU's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, said he welcomed the establishment of the European Gendarmerie Force "covering activities such as security and public order missions".

The EGF involves the French Gendarmerie, the Italian Carabinieri, the Portuguese Guardia Nacional Republicana, the Dutch Royal Marechausee and the Spanish Civil Guard.

The idea of creating an para-military police force in the EU capable of acting within and outside has been part of the planning for its military role. It was the EU Council at Santa Maria da Feira on 19-20 June 2000, when considering the creation of the mechanisms for "non-military crises management", which agreed that EU states would "cooperate voluntarily":

"to provide up to 5,000 police officers for international missions across the range of conflict prevention and crisis management operations. Member States have also undertaken to be able to identify and deploy up to 1,000 police officers within 30 days."

See: Global policing role for EU (Statewatch News Online: December 2000)

However, a follow-up report (13831/01, 12 November 2001) showed only five member states (France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Finland) were prepared to make commitments.

Perhaps more relevant was a meeting in Paris of officers from paramilitary units in France (F), Italy (I), Spain (E) and Portugal (P) on 25-26 January 2000. The F.I.E.P. meeting agreed on the need for a "European security and investigation force" (FESI). The model for FESI units would be the "Multinational Special Units" (MSU) developed by NATO and implemented by the Arma dei Carabinieri. The units would have a capability for: "intelligence, general surveillance, judicial police and maintaining order". In what are called "peace support operations" the units could carry out "preventive and repressive" actions" because:

"Paramilitary police forces offer, above all else, the capability for the restoration of public order where the absence of any state legitimacy reigns. They have the required expertise and capability to engage in deteriorated situations as a component of armed forces."

An article by a Spanish officer (Enrique Esquivel Lalinde, Lieutenant Commander, May 2005, link to article) gives more detail on the intended role of the EGF as the "Declaration of Intent" has not been published.

The key elements are that the EGF can operate inside and outside the EU. Its HQ in Vicenza will have a staff of 30 with around 800 "troops" available within 30 days. The para-military force will work under a High Level Inter-Ministry Committee (HLIMC) drawn from Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Defence. This will provide "political and military coordination" - including the appointment of the Commander and agreeing Guidelines.

Under the heading of "Security and public order" the roles of the EGF include: public surveillance, border control, general intelligence, criminal investigation, and the "maintenance of public order in the event of disturbances".

Schengen: EU discussing creation of cross-border "Special Task Forces"

Another initiative, this time at the EU level, is being discussed in the Police Cooperation Working Party. It is being proposed that the "competent authorities" of one state can request the "competent authorities" of another to send its national "Special Task Force" to enter and act in support of the "Special Task Force" of requesting member state in "crisis situations". The European Commission is to compile a list of the "competent authorities".

The "Special Task Forces" are defined as "any law enforcement agency" (which can differ from state to state). A "crisis situation" includes, but is not limited to, "hostage-taking, hijacking and comparable incidents" where there is:

"a serious direct threat to persons or institutions"

The UK Presidency Note sets out the liabilities for "collateral damage" (in Annex B) based on the First Protocol of the Geneva Convention (1977) though it notes that this Protocol does not use the term "collateral damage".

Police cooperation arrangements concerning assistance between police authorities in crisis situations (doc no: 13937/1/05, pdf)

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"The creation of a European para-military force, the EDF, adds to the growing list of bodies, agencies and forces spawned by the EU over which there is scant accountability, scrutiny, transparency or openness. Para-military police are by their very name and nature trained to use force beyond that normally available to police forces and require greater not less oversight.

Everyone can understand the need to provide resources across borders for natural disasters and say, for hijacking where specialist help may be needed. But what are the limits, whether inside or outside the EU? Will the EDF is used for border control and the Special Task Forces for public order (eg: Genoa 2001)?

Where are the mechanisms for accountability? Should there not be provision for the European Commission to produce an annual report on the reason, use and deployment of such groups? Should not national and European Parliaments be expressly given the task of scrutinising the use of such groups?

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