|FOREWORDWhat this report is about|
Europol, the European Police Office responsible for coordinating the fight against serious and organised crime, began operations from its headquarters in The Hague in 1999. In January 2010 it will become an agency of the EU. The Council Decision bringing about this change in its constitution has made some amendments to its objects, powers, working methods and governance. Many of these changes are beneficial, so far as they go; but they do not go very far, and we believe this represents a missed opportunity.
The raison d'être of Europol is the exchange of information for law enforcement purposes. It is a matter of particular concern that four fifths of the information exchanged by national liaison officers stationed at Europol is exchanged without actually going through Europol, and hence without being placed on Europol's database and without being accessible to Member States other than those directly involved. The reason is a lack of trust: a reluctance on the part of Member States, especially at the early stages of an investigation, to share sensitive information with all Member States through the Europol channels. One way of improving this would be for Member States to station at Europol only officers and officials with the highest necessary security clearance.
In addition to simply facilitating the exchange of factual information, Europol analyses information to help the investigation of particular categories of crime. This is one of Europol's success stories. Undertaking analysis of information is one of the differences between Europol and Interpol, a difference we explain more fully in Chapter 2.
The United Kingdom has been influential in persuading Europol to base its work on Organised Crime Threat Assessments: planning for future threats rather than reacting to past events. Much however remains to be done to persuade other Member States of the value of this, and of other modern policing methods.
The existing structure for the governance and management of Europol is complex and cumbersome. The new Decision might have improved this, basing itself on the structure of other EU agencies; but it does not. We are making a number of recommendations which, if implemented, would clarify the respective duties of the Director and Management Board, and would make it easier for them to work together. A particular aspect of this which we consider is the responsibility for security in the organisation.
In the United Kingdom the Serious Organised Crime AgencySOCAis the body responsible for liaison with Europol. This works well, but the same cannot at present be said for liaison between SOCA and the United Kingdom police forces which provide it with much of its information. We make recommendations for improvement.
Accountability of Europol to the European Parliament and national parliaments would improve if the Treaty of Lisbon came into force; but even without that Treaty, there is scope for improvement.