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UK and regulation in EU

As the UK faces one of the biggest decisions in its recent history on whether to stay in the European Union, it is worth considering where we stand in the European Union (EU) and what other countries do, write Prof Mark Button and Peter Stiernstedt, University of Portsmouth.

We have recently conducted a piece of research, to be published by the journal Policing and Society, which compares nearly all the member states of the EU producing a league table. The table is rooted in criteria that are built upon the key criteria for regulation set out in the UNODC Handbook (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2014) State Regulation Concerning the Civilian Private Security Services and their Contribution to Crime Prevention and Community Safety and other appropriate guides.

From this we were able to develop a number of questions pertinent to the issue, ascribing these questions a relative weight, assigning an individual value and by adding up these values creating a league table. The formulation of the questions, the weight of each question, that is, the maximum value, as well as the various partitions of points within an individual question was determined by a method resembling constant comparison. The method, although changing the nature of the questions as the research progressed, allowed the analysis to reach a higher level of abstraction – drawing out, adjusting for and integrating integral and pertinent aspects making the entire league table be far greater than the sum of its parts.

Arising from the synthesis of the aforementioned resources was not only the emergence of a conceptual framework outlining the fundamentals of private security regulation in the EU, but also a number of contextual requirements essential to the stability of the framework. Creating sub-divisions, these requirements were translated into the questions pertaining to the legislative side of private security. As a counter balance to and product of the legislation, is the societal foundation, the actual implementation of legislation into the private security industry.

It is important, however, to note some caveats. Regulations are constantly changing and consequently many of the sources consulted are soon out of date. Thus, exploring different systems of regulation can be viewed at best as a snapshot in time. Second, the data presented in some studies do not always match others and this may reflect use of dated sources, a genuine mistake by an author or differences in interpretation of legal regulations. Another important aspect intentionally omitted from this work is the level of compliance to the various regulatory systems. The research was solely focused on comparing the theoretical foundation as laid out by the legislation in each member state.

In answering the questions that emerged a three-pronged approach was applied. Firstly, extant literature on the subject was reviewed. Centring on the same resources that were used for the creation of the questions, several answers were found in these or related writings. The second step, since most national legislation is publicly available, was a desktop-based process in which official documents were reviewed. This further filled the gaps and also provided some of the countries with more updated information. Still having some areas unanswered the third and last step comprised the use of the authors’ networks. Establishing direct or indirect contacts, the latter as a result of snowballing, the final gaps were filled.

Two countries (Hungary and Croatia) were excluded from the league table due to insufficient data and another two contain minor gaps that allow them to still remain in the analysis. Hence a total of 26 of the 28 EU member states are included and analysed in the league table. The first level of analysis is naturally to look at the total score achieved by each member state. With the top performers being Belgium with an overall score of 94 out of a maximum 100, followed by Spain with 88 and then Slovenia with 82. On the other side of the spectrum the two countries Cyprus and Lithuania, share third place from the bottom with 42. Austria is second to last with 40 and last by some degree is the Czech Republic with 22. As reference countries Sweden takes fifth place with 78 and the UK comes in 18th with 54.

Total scores for the member states of the EU:

Belgium 94
Spain 92
Slovenia 82
Greece 80
Sweden 78
Portugal 78
Ireland 74
Finland 69
Romania 68
Luxembourg 68
Germany 66
Malta 65
France 64
Netherlands 62
Estonia 62
Poland 60
Denmark 58
Latvia 56
Bulgaria 56
United Kingdom 54
Slovakia 50
Italy 46
Cyprus 42
Lithuania 42
Austria 40
Czech Republic 22.

The sub-divisions mentioned previously do, however, lend this league table to further and deeper analysis. As an example one can look at the top performers of the main division, legislation on one hand and societal foundation on the other. Belgium comes in first in both categories, but in second place for legislation Spain has to give way to Ireland. For societal foundation the three countries of Belgium, Sweden and Spain all share first place. This type of sub-division analysis can be extended to groupings of questions, ie. regulation, coverage and licensing, all under the heading of legislation as well as professional associations, enforcement and training which pertains to societal foundation. For example, when looking at coverage, comprising of the scope of regulation, the prohibitions and restrictions therein as well as whether or not in-house security personnel are included in regulation, Belgium is the only country with a faultless score. That indicates that almost all of the EU member states have regulation that does not completely cover the principal activities of the private security industry, which would be expected to be included.

There are several implications of the conclusions drawn from analysing the league table each equally pertinent in its own right within its own context. Particularly since private security regulation currently reside within the legislation of the member states with institutional and organisational cultures. With the continued emphasis on the coherence between EU instruments and regulation perhaps it is time for the subsidiarity principle to step aside for a better, fairer and more secure Europe?

If and when it does a rocky road of developing a supranational directive that could secure a broad level of acceptance across the entire spectrum of civil society within the EU lies ahead. Not being part of such development as a result of a Brexit is something that would not play well for the Britons nor its private security industry. Obviously this is a much larger discussion and what is notionally implied here can only be considered to scrape the surface.

In conclusion

Turning back to the league table, perhaps most significant to the scores and allocation of points is the significant difference between member states as well as the large variance. This raises significant challenges to a EU effective single market in the provision of security services in the EU. In addition it exposes the weaknesses in the potential of some states – given the importance of regulation in the promotion of standards of security – to develop minimum standards of security for citizens and address security inequity. One of the first priorities should be to reflect further on the implications for EU policy reform and develop a more focused set of ideas, Brexit or not, on the best way forward for the EU on the regulation of private security.

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