Documents considered by the Committee on 27 April 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents


15   National Parliaments' scrutiny of Europol

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COM(10) 776

Commission Communication on the procedures for the scrutiny of Europol's activities by the European Parliament together with national Parliaments

Legal base
Document originated17 December 2010
Deposited in Parliament11 January 2011
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationOpinion of Home Affairs Committee
Previous Committee ReportHC 428-xvi (2010-11), chapter 10 (9 February 2011)
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared

Background and previous scrutiny

15.1  Europol is the Hague-based EU law enforcement organisation responsible for the collection, exchange and analysis of criminal intelligence. Its principal objective is to support and strengthen the work of national law enforcement authorities in preventing and combating organised crime, terrorism and other forms of serious crime affecting two or more Member States which require a common approach because of the scale, significance and consequences of the offences concerned.[56]

15.2  The Lisbon Treaty introduced a number of changes which will affect Europol and which are set out in our Eighteenth Report.[57] They include:

  • a new role for national Parliaments in monitoring Europol;[58] and
  • a requirement to include in a future Regulation on Europol "procedures for scrutiny of Europol's activities by the European Parliament, together with national Parliaments."[59]

15.3  A Protocol on the Role of National Parliaments in the European Union makes clear that it is for the European Parliament and national Parliaments to determine together "the organisation and promotion of effective and regular inter-parliamentary cooperation within the Union."[60] However, the Stockholm Programme establishing the EU's priorities in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice for the period 2010-14 invited the Commission to produce a "reflection document" on how best to ensure scrutiny of Europol's activities by the European Parliament and national Parliaments.

15.4  The Commission Communication seeks to stimulate ideas for effective scrutiny of Europol at EU level which could then be incorporated within a broader legislative initiative, probably in 2013, establishing a new legal framework for Europol based on an EU Regulation. After considering existing opportunities for scrutiny of Europol, the Commission proposes the creation of a permanent joint or inter-parliamentary forum, comprising members of the relevant European Parliament and national Parliamentary committees responsible for police matters, which would meet regularly and could invite Europol's Director and the Chair of the Management Board to discuss questions relating to Europol's work.

15.5  The Commission contemplates that the new joint or inter-parliamentary forum would establish a mechanism for "information exchange and coordination between national Parliaments and the European Parliament with a view to unifying Parliamentary control at European Union level (without prejudice to national Parliamentary procedures)." The forum could also facilitate a more regular exchange of views with Europol's governing bodies on overall strategy as well as on reports evaluating Europol's performance. It would provide a new channel of communication to enable information on Europol to be transmitted swiftly to national Parliaments.

15.6  The Government, while supporting the need for accountability, considered that existing procedures allow for stringent scrutiny of Europol and remain appropriate, without further need for a new inter-parliamentary forum.

15.7  We noted that the type of scrutiny envisaged in the Communication would be in addition to our existing scrutiny procedures, would operate at a different level (European, rather than national), would involve a different set of actors (members of the European Parliament and, potentially, members of specialist national Parliamentary committees responsible for police matters), and would cover aspects of Europol's strategic planning and activities which we would not routinely consider. We thought that it would be difficult to implement the requirement in Article 88(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) to "lay down the procedures for scrutiny of Europol's activities by the European Parliament, together with national Parliaments" without contemplating some form of inter-parliamentary forum but suggested that it might be possible to use the existing format of Joint Committee meetings (involving members of the relevant European Parliament Committee and national Parliamentary committee) or inter-parliamentary meetings (involving the European Parliament and national Parliaments) rather than creating a new mechanism.

15.8  We highlighted the following key principles:

  • any views expressed within the framework of inter-parliamentary cooperation should not bind national Parliaments or prejudge their positions;
  • national Parliaments should remain free to express their own views and concerns; therefore the creation of a mechanism to coordinate the views of national Parliaments and the European Parliament in order to unify Parliamentary control of Europol at European Union level was neither feasible nor desirable; and
  • each national Parliament should be free to determine how it is represented within the framework of inter-parliamentary cooperation.

15.9  We also invited the Home Affairs Committee to give its Opinion on the possible establishment, membership and role of an inter-parliamentary forum on Europol.

The Opinion of the Home Affairs Committee

15.10  The Chairman of the Committee (Keith Vaz) tells us that the Home Affairs Committee is already active in scrutinising the work of Europol. He explains:

"In the last Parliament, the Director of Europol gave formal oral evidence to the Committee in relation to two inquiries, one into human trafficking and the other on the work of Europol. Committee members made several visits to Europol in The Hague, and the Committee had a number of informal discussions with Europol officers, British officers seconded to Europol and police and customs bodies in both the UK and overseas about the intelligence analysis and operational support work provided by Europol in relation to various areas of crime, including the cocaine trade.

"Where other national Parliaments are less frequently engaged in such work, this is likely to be attributable at least in part to the varying roles played by subject-related committees within Parliaments and the different constitutional arrangements within Member States for scrutinising EU issues. There is no reason to believe that Europol would not fully co-operate with other national Parliaments wishing to scrutinise aspects of its work, as it has done with this Committee."

15.11  The Home Affairs Committee nevertheless considers that there is scope to make scrutiny of Europol by national Parliaments more methodical and to develop best practice:

"To achieve this, it is neither necessary nor desirable to create a mechanism 'with a view of unifying parliamentary control at European Union level'. It is difficult to see what value this would add in terms of quality of scrutiny and, in practical terms, a formal forum of representatives of 27 Member States plus the European Parliament would be unwieldy and, because of different national constitutions, could not anyway make any decisions binding on national Parliaments.

"Two informal fora already exist in relation to policing issues: the meetings of representatives of the Home Affairs Committees of national Parliaments which take place most years and the ad hoc inter-parliamentary meetings involving both national Parliaments and the European Parliament, often hosted by the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament. One or both of these could be used as a mechanism for discussing Europol on a regular basis and exchanging ideas about best practice."

Conclusion

15.12  We thank the Home Affairs Committee for its Opinion and welcome the active interest which the Committee has taken in Europol's work and Europol's willingness to cooperate fully with national Parliaments. We note that the ideas contained in the Commission Communication are not intended to supplant the existing scrutiny function of national Parliaments, but to develop an additional layer of scrutiny and oversight at European Union level involving both the European Parliament and national Parliaments.

15.13  We think that the views expressed by the Home Affairs Committee are broadly consistent with those set out in the Conclusion of our last Report on the subject.[61] We share the Committee's view that establishing a new, formal forum or mechanism to unify parliamentary control or scrutiny of Europol at European Union level is neither necessary nor desirable, not least because it could not make decisions which would bind national Parliaments. We agree that there is scope to build into existing mechanisms, such as inter-parliamentary meetings involving the European Parliament and national Parliaments, more systematic discussions on Europol's activities, and to exchange information and share best practice on scrutiny at both EU and national Parliamentary levels.

15.14  Whilst we are now content to clear the Communication from scrutiny, we trust that the Commission, in formulating proposals for a Regulation in 2013 establishing a new legal framework for Europol, and the Council, in considering the content of the draft Regulation, will be mindful of Article 9 of the Protocol on the Role of National Parliaments which provides that "the European Parliament and national Parliaments shall together determine the organisation and promotion of effective and regular inter-parliamentary cooperation within the Union." In our view, neither the Commission nor the Council have any locus to determine the format, frequency and procedures applicable to such inter-parliamentary cooperation; any future arrangements for scrutiny of Europol should, therefore, be determined by the European Parliament and national Parliaments.




56   See Articles 3 and 4 of Council Decision 2009/371/JHA, OJ L 121, 15.05.2009, p.39. Back

57   HC 428-xvi, (2010-11), chapter 10 (9 February 2011). Back

58   See Article 12 of the Treaty on the European Union. Back

59   See Article 88(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.  Back

60   See Article 9 of the Protocol: OJ C 310, 16.12.2004, p. 206. Back

61   HC 428-xvi (2010-11), chapter 10 (9 February 2011).  Back


 
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Prepared 10 May 2011