Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Vernon Coaker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office to the Chairman

  I am writing to inform you of the discussions conducted during the Austrian Presidency of the EU on the future of Europol.

  These discussions were launched at the Informal Meeting of the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs in January, and continued by means of a senior officials conference, held in Vienna in February, and a Friends of the Presidency group consisting of experts from Member States, the Commission and Europol, which met in March and April.

  In light of these discussions the Presidency has prepared an Options paper which I enclose for your information. The Options paper was presented to the meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 1 and 2 June. The paper reflects the full range of views expressed by the experts, notwithstanding that they are to an extent conflicting. It is structured around six clusters, each including a number of problem themes, concrete options and implementation measures. The clusters are: the future role of Europol; Europol's support to operational work; partnership issues; corporate governance and oversight; Europol awareness; and institutional issues.

  The Options paper will be useful in informing future discussions on Europol's development, but I would emphasise that it does not bind Member States nor does it amount to a blueprint for Europol's future development. There is not yet a consensus on which reforms are necessary or desirable. Further consideration will be required before decisions are taken as to which options to progress.

  In light of this work Council Conclusions have been agreed. A copy of the Council Conclusions is also enclosed. Due to the timing of recess and the Council, I thought a letter after the Council would allow for a more informed statement. The Council Conclusions call for:

    —  Member States to complete the ratification of the three Protocols amending the Europol Convention: The Conclusions urge Member States to complete this task by 31 December 2006. The protocols will strengthen and improve the effectiveness of Europol. The UK has already completed the ratification process for all three protocols but this is a useful reminder to those Member States who have not.

    —  Preparation of the implementation measures for the entry into force.of the three Protocols amending the Europol Convention. Once ratified by all Member States, measures will need to be taken to implement the Protocols. I welcome steps taken now to prepare for these measures; this will ensure that the benefits from the Protocols can be derived at the earliest opportunity.

    —  Consideration to the implementation of the options identified in the Presidency's Options paper: I welcome the commitment to further consider reforms to improve the functioning of Europol. The Options paper has indicated a wealth of ideas for possible reforms. However, there is not yet a consensus on which reforms to progress and when. The Council Conclusions sensibly reflect the need for further consideration before final decisions are taken. The identification of potential "quick wins", reforms that do not require legislative change, is a useful development.

    —  Consideration to the creation of a more flexible legal instrument (replacing the Europol Convention with a Council Decision): Experience of amending the Convention by protocol has proved a time-consuming business. A more flexible legal framework is therefore desirable. One option would be to replace the Convention with a similar text but in the form of a Council Decision. The Council Conclusions reflect a wish to consider whether and how to progress this possibility.

    —  Exploration of a method to abrogate (repeal) the Europol Convention: There is no agreement yet as to how, technically, the Convention can be abrogated (repealed) were it to be replaced. The Council Conclusions reflect the possible need to consider this issue.

  It is important that Europol is not constrained by over-rigid arrangements and practices from playing its full part in supporting Member States in preventing and combating organised crime. I believe the Austrian Presidency has made a valuable contribution in initiating discussions on this important issue. The Conclusions rightly recognise the need for further work and will ensure that the productive discussions conducted during the Austrian Presidency are taken forward by future Presidencies.

  Overall I strongly believe that Europol should continue to perform a support function to Member States' own law enforcement operations. We certainly would not wish to see Europol being given intrusive or coercive powers such as the powers of arrest or seizure. Europol's added value continues to lie in its ability to support Member States' own operations by facilitating the exchange of criminal intelligence and by providing high quality analysis of this criminal intelligence. We need to ensure that Europol can effectively undertake these roles. The focus of reforms should be on options that can add value quickly and which will enable Europol to achieve its full potential within its existing remit.

  I hope that you will find this letter helpful. I shall keep you closely informed as these discussions develop.

15 June 2006

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