Policing: three undercover networks merge in step towards "a single pan-European surveillance network"

Three police networks focused on covert surveillance activities are to merge and start reporting to the Council of the EU's Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP). The group will include representatives of every EU and Schengen member state and - at least for the time being - the UK. Operational cooperation and training on issues such as "Non-Police Behaviour, Low-Light Capacity, Rural Surveillance and Counter Surveillance" will be extended through the move.


See: NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: European Surveillance Group (ESG) - coordination at EU level and cooperation with the LEWP (11519/20, LIMITE, 7 October 2020, pdf)

The merger will bring together the:

  • European Surveillance Group (ESG), which currently includes 16 member states, including the UK;
  • Surveillance Cooperation Group (SCG), eight member states; and
  • Surveillance Expert Network for Southeast Europe (SENSEE), 11 member states including non-EU member states Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia.

(For more detail on the membership and workings of these groups and others, see: Undercover policing: the ‘alphabet soup’ of cross-border networks, groups and projects, 16 November 2018)

The new entity created from these three networks will continue to use the name European Surveillance Group. As the name suggests, the aim of the merger is to create "a pan-European expert group in the field of surveillance," which will "strengthen the tactical and technical capabilities of the European surveillance units."

Recognition by the Council's Law Enforcement Working Party "would make it easier for both the ESG and EUROPOL to cooperate more closely in the future," the document notes. It goes on to say that:

"A pan-European politically legitimised and technically competent ESG could provide important advice to the LEWP on surveillance issues and would be available to policymakers and experts as a competent contact point in the field of surveillance."

On the operational level:

"The ESG intends to prepare a programme to harmonise and
strengthen the capabilities of the respective units. The approach is based on a triad of operational meetings, special training sessions and joint cross border exercises."

The merger of the three groups and recognition by the LEWP was recently confirmed by the German government (see question and answer, below).

However, the document notes that despite some EU funding for the activities of the ESG in recent years (from the Internal Security Fund), "finding a perennial solution to the issue of financing is the key challenge which will determine whether ESG’s work will be successful."

The ESG would would cooperate closely with Europol, according to the document. This would:

"...bring significant benefits for all parties, as it would facilitate a more intensive und effective use of the infrastructures and services already established at EUROPOL (e.g. EUROPOL Platform for Experts (EPE), European Tracking Solution (ETS)) and promote their added value to the respective professional partners."

Europol began taking steps to provide greater coordination of Europe's covert policing networks in 2015, through the ARGOS (Alliance of Regional Groups on Surveillance) initiative.

A separate document circulated in September by the German Presidency suggests that expert groups affiliated to the LEWP should have their reporting obligations reduced, cutting down the only form of oversight and governance of their activities at EU level.

See: LEWP Networks and Expert groups - update of the Networks' reporting obligations (10318/20, LIMITE, 8 September 2020, pdf)

It notes that the need for the LEWP to discuss work programmes and annual programmes drafted by its expert groups could be decided on a case-by-case basis, in recognition of the fact that some networks are less active than previously and others have "become more independent".

The necessities of the COVID-19 pandemic are also cited as a reason for cutting down on meetings and reporting requirements. However, revised rules do not yet appear to have been adopted by the LEWP.

As of July 2018, there were 18 expert groups affiliated to the LEWP (link to pdf).

Further reading


Confirmation of merger and recognition by LEWP: Written question from Andrej Hunko MP and answer from the German interior ministry (30 October 2020, pdf, machine translation):

Question

To the knowledge of the German government, what does the "Berlin Truck Concept" consist of? which the Berlin police force is conducting training courses for surveillance and observation units of European police authorities within the framework of the European Surveillance Group (ESG) (Council document 11519/20), and what is the status of the merger of ESG with the Surveillance Cooperation Group and the Surveillance Expert Network for Southeast Europe (SENSEE) proposed by the German Council Presidency and their subsequent establishment at EU level?

Answer

Following the attack on the Christmas market Breitscheidplatz in Berlin in December 2016, the Berlin police developed methods to be used in special situations to be able to stop trucks early. On 13 June 2018 a International workshop supported by the European Surveillance Group (ESG) on these methods. For details please refer to the responsibility of the State of Berlin.

At an informal meeting of the Council's Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP) under German chairmanship, it was decided to merge the three above-mentioned police associations into a pan-European association under the leadership of the ESG and to recognize it as a LEWP expert group.

 

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