It is about time! The European Parliament has finally expressed its concern about how private security companies operate in European member states.
Private security companies must respect minimum standards of accountability, as well as the screening of staff and reporting of misconduct, while avoiding tasks usually reserved for the military, MEPs said last Tuesday.
The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Defence Sub-Committee called for EU-wide rules on private security companies.
The sector represents quite an important business. Although there is no available data concerning annual revenue, some findings suggest the dimensions of this market.
Across the EU, for example there are an estimated 40,000 private security companies operating and employing more than 1.5m people.
The services they offer differentiate in relation to EU member states’ legislation and range from logistical support, through running prisons or providing protection, to combatting support and supplying military technology.
In many cases, however, it seems that the operation of this market remains out of any specific EU regulation. While some big, internationally operating firms respect EU standards on transparency and cooperate with state institutions, the market also hosts small private companies that do not.
The possibilities and the needs of the market are immense. From supplying municipalities with control personnel to protecting bank transfers to offering security solutions, as was the case during the Olympic Games in London.
Usually, the employees of security firms are skilled persons. In some cases, they use advanced – even military – technology.
To protect democracy, it is imperative to ensure that all private security firms abide under the strict rules of an international code of conduct.
It is important to install full control over how these companies operate. It is important, for instance, to secure transparency regarding the criminal and health records of the personnel, as well as financing.
In a resolution approved by 50 votes to 6, with 1 abstention, MEPs on May 2 proposed an open list of contractors complying with EU standards on transparency, criminal records, financial and economic capacity, licences, strict vetting of personnel, and adhering to an international code of conduct.
Based on what was discussed in the European Parliament, this could be followed by a single set of rules for EU institutions that use private security companies to protect EU staff, modelled after UN or Nato practices.
Meanwhile, polls suggest security and defence matters should be a European Union priority. This is according to 70% of EU citizens. The private security sector must be governed by European standards. The European culture does not allow private armies. And it does not allow the replacement of the police by private forces.
During the May 2 vote, the European Parliament’s rapporteur Hilde Vautmans (ALDE, BE), urged “the Commission and the Council to come forward with EU standards for private security companies to enhance transparency and democratic control”.
The European Parliament will vote on a resolution at the June plenary session in Strasbourg.