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2001 12 04 * The Parliament Magazine - Europol and Terrorism : is Europe destroying democracy by trying to protect it, di Maurizio Turco*

During the last plenary, the European Parliament approved a report drafted on two initiatives of the Council on the extension of Europol’s mandate to deal with the serious forms of international crime. Italian rapporteur Maurizio Turco MEP explains why he believes Europol needs more democratic and judicial control.

As rapporteur I have stressed the necessity for the European Parliament not to waste the opportunity to remind the Council and the Member States of its concerns regarding Europol. As a premise, I would like to point out here an institutional problem that concerns the powers of the EP in Third pillar matters. Given the lack of codecision powers on the part of the Parliament with regard to justice and home affairs, the EP was once again in this case only consulted, so that the result of its vote will have no real effect on the decision to be taken by the Council. The fact that the EP is reduced to a consultative body with regard to Third Pilar matters hurts European democracy. Moreover, the uselessness of EP consultations on Third pillar matters also implies a loss of time and money that could be better used for the decision-making on policies in which the EP is plainly competent.

Since Europol was set up, the EP has strongly pointed out the institutional need to supervise it by establishing a democratic and a judicial control. This control is even more needed in the context created by the tragic events of the 11th of Semptember and by the Council will of enhancing Europol powers to fight against terrorism. Other events, such as the scandal involving a Europol official, and the reluctance of the national police forces to transmit their data to Europol, have recently led the the Council to reflect on the necessity to reform the Europol Convention and to request the Commission to draw up a communication on the democratic control of Europol by the end of the year. Besides, Commissioner Vitorino has repeatedly stated that he considered it appropriate to set up a joint committee for the purpose of monitoring Europol.

A list of some of the most controversial aspects of Europol that need to be solved urgently include the following:

Democratic control of Europol is proving at present to be extremely difficult. Europol is on the sidelines of the Union's structure, its legal basis being a Convention between the Member States of the Union. This makes it difficult to determine the rights and duties of Europol and of the institutions amongst themselves and gives rise to heated debates between the Parliament and the Commission on one side and the Council on the other. The problem of informing and consulting the EP (and the parliaments of the Member States) on acts concerning Europol is an example of this, with the result that the EP is consulted on the increase in the salaries of Europol officials but not on much more important documents such as for example Europol’s work programme. Secondly, the EP has been denied direct powers of democratic control. It is maintained in some quarters that control is exercised by the Member States through their representative on the management board as well as through the Ministers in the formation of the Council.

Europol is funded by the Member States and not by the Community budget; thus the EP and the Commission have no power of budgetary or financial control and cannot therefore either criticise or direct the activities of that body.

The Court of Justice has been denied full powers of judicial control over Europol. We should also note that Europol officials benefit from wide-ranging immunity protecting them with regard to the judicial control which can be exercised at national level.

Although Europol initially dealt with drug-related crime, the act under consideration widens the powers of Europol to what is in essence all types of crime. Moreover, the Council is also discussing whether to set up joint investigative teams, give Europol the power to call on the Member States to initiate criminal investigations, give the heads of Europol’s national units a more important role, increase its powers to analyse files and open files, introduce cooperation between Europol and Eurojust, coordinate cooperation between Europol and the European Police Chiefs’ Task Force, and extend access to Europol’s information system.

The gradual increase in the mandate and powers of Europol in prospect from the Council confirms the urgent need to ensure its democratic, financial and judicial control at Community level. The European Commission should draw up a proposal for the revision of the Europol Convention to bring it into line with the higher standards and methods of democratic control of the police forces of the Member States. In my opinion, the Council should also refrain from encouraging Europol to play an operative role until those reforms have been implemented. If these checks and balances are not finally created, if Europol will not be submitted to democratic and juditial control, Europe will run the risk of spoiling democracy and infringe citizens' rights with the aim of protecting them from terrorism and crime.

President of the Radical MEPs, Rapporteur on Europol for the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs