News BlogEU Defense (Doctrine)

The SitCen, the information center of the EU

(BRUSSELS2) The SitCen, literally the EU Situation Center, is a bit more than its name suggests. Embryo of an EU intelligence service, it does not have an “action” aspect but the whole information dimension. It is not yet tomorrow, therefore, that we will see European agents operating “undercover” in a third country or in the EU. But it nevertheless came out of the European walls. And its agents are now going into the field.

His goal ? monitor everything that happens outside, analyze it extremely quickly and be able to alert European leaders directly to what is happening in the world. Somehow sound the alarm.

His clients ? These are essentially the ambassadors of the COPS (the Political and Security Committee of the EU) and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Cathy Ashon. But it can also be other EU officials.

How many people ? Its usefulness has grown over the years. And from a few people who made up the service, the SitCen now has around 100 people, most of them seconded from member states.

Its advantage ? 24 hours a day, a duty "officer" processes information coming from almost everywhere in the world: European defense missions deployed on three continents (in somewhat "hot" places, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine , Congo, etc.), offices of special representatives and (tomorrow) embassies of the European Union, as well as information sent by the “honorable correspondents” of the Member States. The press, internet, twitter also serves as a mode of information. As such, the SitCen has no directly deployed agents (with some exceptions).

In the field ? The ability to send people into the field is new. It was created two years ago and was inaugurated with the events in Georgia (to strengthen the Special Representative's team and better manage the flow of information), and in Thailand (an identical situation to Haiti but with a emphasis on support for the presidency).

His interest ? While in some Member States the concept of crisis and intelligence is relatively developed, this is not the case in all countries. Even less with the enlargements. Thus “there is a major government center for crisis management, at interministerial level”, in London or Paris. But " this is not the case everywhere ". Elsewhere it is often managed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs " with sometimes very disparate means from one State to another ».

A little older story

The history of the SitCen is a bit older. It dates back to the days of the WEU where a small unit was responsible for analyzing information from open sources (open-source intelligence). In 1999, when Javier Solana took office as the first High Representative for EU foreign policy, he moved the SitCen's center of gravity towards the European Union. It is then an organizational measure. Solana exercises the dual role of secretary general of the WEU and secretary general of the Council of the EU at the same time as the function of chief diplomat of the EU.

The SitCen/Crisis Unit then joined the brand new "Policy unit" as a simple office, headed by the Dane Matthiessen and made up of a few people. It was after the attacks of 2001 (New York) and then those of 2004 (London, Madrid) that the department really expanded, becoming a separate department with more extensive responsibilities. The British agree to get more involved, and to share a little more intelligence on one condition: the service will be headed by a Briton. William Shapcott takes the service lead.

Current structure and evolution

It now emphasizes certain subjects such as sensitive areas, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

It now comprises 3 main units: the Communications Center (COMCEN), consular affairs, the Operational Unit (OPS), the analysis unit. But some of its units could now be redispatched to the "Crisis Response" department of A. Miozzo or the Chief Operating Officer, O'Sullivan.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).