On April 6, 2009, the Council of the European Union quietly and without debate decided to transform the European Police Office (EUROPOL) into a Community Agency starting on January 1, 2010… Only few lines in the press release which followed the 2,936th Council Meeting were devoted to this subject, important for European construction as well as for European security enhancement.
This decision is the result of a long story – both international and European – which began, from an international point of view in 1923 with the creation of Interpol and from a European point of view in 1976 with the creation of the TREVI group(s).
INTERPOL is an international police organisation whose purpose is to promote and facilitate cross-border police cooperation, support and assist all security services. Primarily, Interpol was created to compensate the absence of diplomatic relationships between specific Member States. This organization, currently based in Lyon (France), counts no fewer than 187 country members. Only 8 countries are not members of this organisation (North Korea, Kiribati, Micronesia, Palaos islands, Salomon islands, Samoa islands, Tuvalu islands and Vanuata) which makes this organisation the second largest international one after the United Nations.
EUROPOL is not a branch of INTERPOL but a reaction of European States Members who decided to create their own European police cooperation structure after having encountered difficulty, in particular with USA, in the operation of INTERPOL
Obviously, one consequence of its huge size is that Interpol must respect a policy of political neutrality towards all its members and has never allowed the creation of a dedicated action force. Today, the action of INTERPOL is limited to a research and analysis activity on criminality and terrorism.
EUROPOL is not a branch of INTERPOL but a reaction of European States Members who decided to create their own European police cooperation structure after having encountered difficulty, in particular with USA, in the operation of INTERPOL.
EUROPOL finds its primary origin in a secret group called TREVI. The exact origin of this name is unknown. Some say that this means “Terrorime, Radicalisme, Extrêmisme et Violence Internationale” (Terrorism, Radicalim, Extremism and International Violence), others believe this name corresponds to the city where the first meeting of this group took place (Trevi, in Italy).
Created in 1976 following the Munich attack, TREVI was initially one or more ad hoc inter-state structures gathering the administration leaders of Justice and Interior Ministers of the twelve (first) Member States of the European Union. This structure aimed to facilitate European police cooperation, especially in the field of the counter terrorism, and was kept secret until adoption of `Palma Document’ in 1989, marking the beginning of a transformation into an official European instrument.
At the same time, the idea of a European-style FBI rose among a number of police chiefs in Europe. With the construction of the European Community moving apace, ad hoc arrangements, such as the Trevi group, were no longer satisfying and had to be replaced by permanent and official structures.
This transformation was all the more important given that, at the same time, the European Member States were about to sign the Schengen agreement which aimed to abolish internal frontiers within the majority of the European Community by reinforcing the concept of a “area of freedom, security and justice”.
EUROPOL will have, starting in 2010, a real independent legal capacity as community agency. It will assist the competent authorities of the Member States in combating specific forms of serious crime, without the current limitation that there must be factual indications that an organised criminal structure is involved.
In this context of European integration, the signature of the Maastricht treaty was the sign of this evolution, especially the content of the third founding pillar, which sets out the commitment of the Member States to establish a Central European Criminal Investigation Office (“Europol”) to combat drug trafficking and organised crime.
First the signature of the Maastricht Treaty legalized the existence of TREVI by transforming it into K4 Coordinating Committee. In parallel, EUROPOL was created in the form of the European Observatory of drugs and addiction in 1993.
In 1995, EUROPOL was finally created as the same time the resolution related to legal telecommunications interception was adopted (ENFOPOL).
Some important decisions followed the creation of EUROPOL, each of them constituted a step towards the creation of a judicial and police European area. In 1996, the Geneva petition was launched by some European judges working on bribery investigations. This petition requested the creation of a judicial European area. In 1997, the Amsterdam Treaty consolidated the idea that European Union should be a “area of freedom, security and justice”. The same year, the Naples II agreement concerning the European customs cooperation was signed. In 1999, the European Council decided on the first work program (Tampere program) for the period 1999-2004, followed by the Hague program for period 2005 to 2009 which aimed to reinforce operational cooperation and to provide a new dimension for information sharing among the Member States. In 2000, the European Police College was created. In 2002, the European arrest warrant was created as well as EUROJUST. In 2003, EURODAC database was created to coordinate the asylum policies. In 2005, the Prüm Treaty strengthend a large part of the police cooperation by authorising common police patrols in certain cases.
This list is not exhaustive; however, it shows correctly the construction, step by step, of a real area of security and justice within the European Union. In this context, it is amazing to note that EUROPOL was one of the last structures transformed into community agency. A lot of them were transformed before this one. Why did it take so long?
In any case, EUROPOL will become a community agency on next 1st January with all rights and obligations that assumes this new statute. This transformation will be the role of new Director of EUROPL, Mr Rob WAINWRIGHT (United Kingdom), appointed for a four-year period, in replacement of Mr Max-Peter RATZEL (Germany), whose mandate as director of Europol expired on 15 April 2009.
Forty-two years old, Mr Rob WAINWRIGHT graduated from the London School of Economics, University of London with a BSc. In the past, he worked for the UK Civil Service, he managed the Liaison Bureau at Europol and the Europol National Unit in London and after became the International Director of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) and he was the Chief of the International Department of the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
The first and main advantage of this transformation is that EUROPOL will have, starting in 2010, a real independent legal capacity as community agency. This statute assumes also that the financing of EUROPOL will now directly depend on the general budget of the European Union; this means that the European Parliament shall have to adopt it. Making EUROPOL subject to the general rules and procedures applicable to similar Union entities will ensure administrative simplification, which will allow Europol to devote more of its resources to its core tasks.
In order to face to a criminality that is becoming more and more international, which has been able to play with the regulation’s loopholes, we hope that European police forces, with the assistance of EUROPOL, will have now the tools to retake the advantage
The second and main advantage is the authorisation given to EUROPOL to assist the competent authorities of the Member States in combating specific forms of serious crime, without the current limitation that there must be factual indications that an organised criminal structure is involved. The establishment of joint investigation teams should be encouraged and it is important that Europol staff should be able to participate in them. To ensure that such participation is possible in every Member State, it should be specified that Europol staff do not benefit from the application of immunities while they are participating in a support capacity in joint investigation teams. That will be possible after the adoption of a Regulation to that effect on the basis of Article 16 of the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities.
To establish a comparison, the new EUROPOL will operate in the same operation conditions than the Regional Intervention Groups (GIR) in France with the additional advantage of having the legal capacity.
In order to face to a criminality that is becoming more and more international, which has been able to play with the regulation’s loopholes, we hope that European police forces, with the assistance of EUROPOL, will have now the tools to retake the advantage.