By BROOKS TIGNER
BRUSSELS – Private security companies (PSCs) have posed a dilemma to Europe for years. On the one hand, they are heavily used abroad in conflict zones as a cost-effective supplement to military forces and for the provision of logistical services. Moreover, the EU itself is one of their biggest customers, using them to provide on-site facility and personnel protection for its consulates and security missions.
On the other hand, PSCs’ uneven regulation across Europe and their low levels of accountability and transparency once deployed abroad are factors that leave many EU policymakers uncomfortable. So far, international attempts to regulate PSCs have fallen short of binding rules, though voluntary ones do exist such as the International Code of Conduct (ICoC) for PSCs sponsored by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government.
After years of watching the European Commission soft-pedal the issue, the European Parliament has had enough. In a move to regulate the sector, its security and defence sub-committee (SEDE) will soon present a draft report for approval in May that calls for a clear EU legal framework to regulate the activities of its PSCs within and beyond Europe’s borders.
“We call for a clear definition of the liabilities and responsibilities of PSCs,” Hilde Vautmans, the report’s author, told SEDE’s 12 April meeting here.
While her report is non-binding on the Commission, it will add to the growing voices of NGOs and others – and even from PSCs themselves – to clarify the sector’s operating rules.
More than 1.5 million private security guard contractors are employed by 40,000 PSCs in Europe whose annual turnover exceeds EUR 35 billion, according to EP estimates. Worldwide the sector was valued at just under EUR 200 billion in 2016, with around 100,000 PSCs and 3.5 million employees.
“PSCs cannot replace state militaries,” said Vautmans, Belgian MEP and member of the Euro-Parliament’s centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe political group. “This has been further clarified [by amendments] in the report where we call on the Commission to adopt robust standards on how, where and when PSCs can be used. We have our work cut out if Europe is to play a leading role on this issue. This report is just the first step, but a big one in the right direction.”
Vautmans’ draft for the EP’s Foreign Affairs Committee (to which SEDE reports) was first unveiled in February 2017.
While praising the ICoC and other regulatory initiatives by the UN as demonstrating “clear progress compared to the lack of meaningful regulation that prevailed only ten years ago”, it also notes that only two EU nations – Sweden and the UK – have signed the ICoC.
In Vautmans’ view, the ICoC’s compliance mechanism needs to be strengthened. Thus, her draft report calls for the creation of a “flexible, but rigorous” EU regulatory model to:
- overcome the legal differences between member states
- redefine public-private collaboration in the sector
- map companies with a single or multiple end use
It prompted a huge number of amendments in March – 243 in total – from other committees and political groups across the EP. These were then boiled down to 19 compromise amendments – and quite easily, according to Vautmans.
“The reason that cooperation between the groups went so well is because everyone is convinced there is a real vacuum in Europe on this issue,” she said.
Other SEDE members echoed that sentiment.
Laima Liucija Andrikienė, Lithuanian MEP and shadow rapporteur for the parliament’s centre-right group, the European People’s Party, said “we want an effective and rigorous EU framework of regulation. The services of PSCs must be restricted to logistical support, protection of sites and other non-combat areas. And no use of sub-contractors, though they could hire local personnel for their knowledge.”
Doru-Claudian Frunzulică, Romanian MEP and shadow rapporteur for the EP’s Socialists, agreed. “There is not enough transparency and accountability of PSCs in theatres of operation. We need a regulatory model that ensures reporting of their irregularities and holds them accountable for any violations,” he said.
The amendments and final text of Vautmans’ report should be voted within committee on 2-3 May, followed by that of the EP’s plenary in May or June.
Vautmans’ original draft text initially insisted on having the Commission establish a “black list” of contractors that fail to come clean on their financial and economic capacity, possession of licenses, standards of vetting personnel and other criteria.
It now aims for a more positive approach – an “open list” of approved companies. Not only would this motivate PSCs to get on the list for its valuable stamp of approval, but it would ensure that the EU uses only those PSCs for its delegations and missions, thus protecting its image abroad as well.