Friday, 9 May 2008

The threat of the European police force

The European Law Enforcement Organisation’s (Europol) mission entails analysing intelligence information pooled from different Member States, preparing threat-assessment reports and deploying officers to serve alongside national police in multinational investigation teams. In December 2006, the Commission put forward a draft Council decision to replace the Europol Convention of 26 July 1995 with all the amendments already incorporated in the three Protocols, as well as some new provisions. Presently, the Europol Convention is amended through protocols which are then ratified by national Parliaments. Since the Europol Convention was replaced by a Council decision, national ratification is no longer required. The Commission has also proposed that Europol’s competence should not be limited to cross-border organised crime and that it should be extended to any serious cross border crime.

The Commission proposed that Europol be funded from the EU budget and not via contributions from each Member State. The Minister of State at the Home Office, Mr Tony McNulty, was initially concerned about Europol being funded from the Community budget which would lead to the UK losing influence over Europol’s budget. According to the Government, the introduction of EC staff regulations and community financing would not bring operational benefits to Europol, but it will, in fact, increase costs. The EU’s staff regulations would need to be extended to include Europol employees and so there will be an increase in running costs.

The Minister recently said to the ESC, “it would appear that the effect of applying the EC Staff Regulations to Europol (…) would result in an increase of about 4.9 per cent (€1.7 million) a year in the staff costs of Europol.” The UK’s contribution to Europol is about €9.1 million a year. According to the Minister if Europol is to be funded from the EU budget, the total cost of Europol would be greater, but the UK’s contribution would be significantly less because of abatement. The UK which initially demanded that the proposal be budget-neutral has decided to withdraw its reservations claiming that the issue was not serious enough to justify blocking a deal.

According to the Minister “the Government believes it has got as much as it is likely to get out of the negotiation as a whole. We believe we have got a good overall deal.” The Commission has proposed to apply the EC staff regulations to Europol and according to the original draft the secondment of law enforcement staff from Member States to Europol would not have been possible. Tony McNulty has explained to the ESC that the proposal has been amended in order to enable “bold posts” to continue to be filled by officers seconded from Member States’ law enforcement authorities.” The Commission has also agreed that Europol officials would not be immune from prosecution when taking part in a joint investigation team.

After 15 months of intense negotiations, on 18 April, the Justice and Home Affairs Council reached a political agreement on the draft Council decision establishing Europol. The Council still has to formally adopt the document – scheduled to take place in October. Europol will become an EU agency in 2010. It will then be subject to the Financial Regulation and the Staff Regulations of officials and other servants of the European Communities. The Europol mandate was also extended to all serious cross-border crime. Presently, Europol is solely authorised to assist Member States in preventing and combating organised crime but soon it will also be able to assist Member States in fighting terrorism and other serious crimes, even where there is no link to organised crime. The competence of Europol will be significantly increased as its remit will no longer be limited to organised crime.

With the Lisbon Treaty and the collapse of the pillars, legislation relating to Europol will be subject to the Community method. Hence the European Parliament and the Council, acting by QMV, through the co-decision procedure will adopt regulations concerning Europol’s structure, operation, field of action and tasks. The Lisbon Treaty puts forward some tasks that Europol will have in the future. Member States will no longer be able to block the further extension of Europol’s powers. Europol is developing into a European police force, able to co-ordinate, organise and even undertake investigations and operations together with the national police forces.

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