Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Ninth Report


EUROPOL: COORDINATING THE FIGHT AGAINST SERIOUS AND ORGANISED CRIME

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

The subject of our inquiry

1.  Major criminals are no respecters of frontiers. They treat national borders as at worst an inconvenience, at best an opportunity to commit ever more sophisticated offences and to help in escaping detection, prosecution and conviction. For law enforcers matters are otherwise. Borders represent the operational limits of national units, and differences in operational methods. They throw up language barriers, and problems are caused by different legal systems, different laws and different prosecution processes. It is the task of Europol, the European Police Office, to ensure that, for law enforcers, the national borders of the Member States cause as little hindrance as possible to the fight against serious crime.

2.  Contrary to popular misconception, Europol is not a European Police Force; the European Union does not have a police force, and is unlikely to have one in the foreseeable future. Law enforcement remains the responsibility of the Member States. What the EU does have in Europol is an organisation whose task is to help the police forces of the Member States to help each other. Here is one example from December 2007:

BOX 1
Operation Dana

An armed and violent Eastern European gang committed around twenty armed robberies against high quality jewellers in the United Kingdom; there were over 200 similar incidents across the EU. Europol and Eurojust coordinated an operation involving law enforcement authorities in Estonia, Finland and the United Kingdom. Officers from three United Kingdom police forces visited Estonia at the end of 2007. Eight addresses were searched, seven suspects were arrested, and many mobile phones and SIM cards were seized. As a result United Kingdom forces have identified offenders in 16 cases and have brought prosecutions in 11 of them.[1]


3.  This is our seventh inquiry into aspects of Europol, but our first for six years. In the years leading up to 1 July 1999, when Europol began operations, we conducted four inquiries. The first was a major inquiry into the draft of the Convention between the Member States on the establishing of a European Police Office.[2] This was followed by brief reports drawing attention to the proposed Confidentiality Regulations,[3] to the draft rules of procedure of the Joint Supervisory Body[4] and to the rules governing cooperation between Europol and third countries.[5] Additionally, our 1999 inquiry into computer systems in the field of Justice and Home Affairs considered, among other databases, the Europol Information System.[6] In 2002, when Europol had been operational for three years, we conducted an inquiry into proposals by the Danish Presidency to extend its remit.[7]

4.  Europol is currently a body established by a multilateral Convention between the Member States. On 20 December 2006 the Commission presented a proposal for a Council Decision converting Europol into an agency of the EU, funded from the Community budget. After much discussion and amendment, political agreement was reached on a text at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 18 April 2008; the Decision is expected to be adopted later in November 2008 and will come into force on 1 January 2010.[8] This is therefore a good time for us to consider what Europol has achieved under its current constitution, and how it might best progress in future.

Conduct of the inquiry

5.  This inquiry has been conducted by Sub-Committee F, a list of whose members is set out in Appendix 1. They issued a call for written evidence in March 2008; this is reproduced in Appendix 2. In reply they received evidence from thirteen persons and bodies. Between May and July 2008 they heard oral evidence from thirty witnesses. They visited the headquarters of Europol and Eurojust in The Hague, and the following day held four evidence sessions in Brussels. The witnesses included representatives of the Commission, a Member of the European Parliament and the EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator. A full list of all the witnesses is in Appendix 3. To all those who helped in the arrangement of these visits, and to all the witnesses, we are most grateful.

6.  Throughout the inquiry we have had as our specialist adviser Kevin O'Connell, a former Deputy Director of Europol. His unrivalled knowledge of the subject has been of the greatest assistance to us. We are very grateful for all his help.

Structure of this report

7.  In the next chapter we look at the constitution of Europol as it has evolved, and at how it will shortly change. In Chapters 3 and 4 we examine the objectives, structure and working methods of Europol, and in Chapter 5 its governance and accountability. Chapter 6 considers its relations with its partners, and is followed by three chapters looking at security, data protection and a number of other issues. Finally in Chapter 10 we summarise our conclusions and recommendations.

8.  We recommend this report to the House for debate.


1   Evidence of William Hughes, Director General of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Q 91, and Europol Annual Report for 2007, page 22. Back

2   Europol (10th Report, Session 1994-95, HL Paper 51). Back

3   Europol: Confidentiality Regulations (1st Report, Session 1997-98, HL Paper 9). Back

4   Europol: Joint Supervisory Body (13th Report, Session 1997-98. HL Paper 71). Back

5   Europol: Third Country Rules (29th Report, Session 1997-98, HL Paper 135). Back

6   European Union Databases (23rd report, Session 1998-99, HL Paper 120). Back

7   Europol's Role in Fighting Crime (5th report, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 43) Back

8   In EU terminology the date of entry into force of the Decision (as of other legal instruments) is shortly after its publication in the Official Journal, whereas 1 January 2010 is the date from which it is applicable. Here and throughout this report we refer to 1 January 2010 as the date of entry into force, using the clearer terminology which applies to United Kingdom legislation, and indeed to international legal instruments like the Europol Convention and its Protocols. Back


 
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