Police and judicial cooperation: better parliamentary scrutiny needed

Tuesday, October 18 2005

Politiƫle samenwerking - 18-10-2005 - 05:10

The European Parliament held a meeting on 17 and 18 October with representatives of national parliaments to discuss the role parliaments can play in improving judicial and police cooperation among Member States. The debate focused on four key issues: the exchange of data to investigate organised crime; how to improve the roles of Europol and of Eurojust; and the European arrest warrant.

Success in the fight against international crime and terrorism depends on the ability of EU Member States to cooperate closely. However, European Parliament President Josep BORRELL stressed in his opening speech that parliaments have an important role to play in this area.

Trial of strength over data retention

A great deal of attention is currently focusing on proposed new EU legislation on the transmission and retention of communications data by Member States as part of the fight against terrorism.  The UK Presidency has made this legislation an absolute priority, stressed Hazel BLEARS, Minister at the UK Home Office, who said: "Communications service providers already retain a lot of information for business purposes. But data protection obligations in some countries pressure them to erase data that they believe has no business purpose. That means that catching a murderer or stopping a terrorist attack may depend on which mobile telephone company a victim, suspect or witness uses (or has used), or which EU country they were in. I think this is precisely the kind of disparity our citizens simply would not forgive and would expect the EU to address"

The European Parliament fears that the Council may adopt legislation without taking account of the EP's views. Two competing texts are currently on the table: a framework decision proposed by France, Ireland, the UK and Sweden over which Parliament cannot exercise proper scrutiny and a draft directive by the European Commission on which the EP could act in codecision with the Council.

At a meeting with MEPs last week, UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke spoke in favour of using codecision in this field but only if the EP accepts the key points proposed by the Council and agrees on a final text before December this year. Otherwise, he announced, the Council will try to adopt an agreement on data retention, leaving the EP without a legislative role.

The EP rapporteur on data retention, Alexander ALVARO (ALDE, DE) said democratic scrutiny was crucial. "It is essential that we are involved (...) We will do our best at the Parliament to reach an agreement with the Council on time, but we will not accept to have a gun held against our head".

Lousewies VAN DER LAAN, a Dutch national MP, supported this view. "We need to cooperate with the European Parliament to avoid the secrecy of what our ministers are doing in Brussels. The Dutch parliament has forbidden our Dutch minister to agree on any measure based on the third pillar" (where the Parliament has no co-legislative powers) "so the Council will never get the unanimity they need to take a decision at this level"

Other speakers, including Swedish MPs Cecilia MAGNUSSON and Olle SANDHAL, were more in favour of strong and fast measures to require data retention. And MEP Michael CASHMAN (PES, UK) supported data retention as an effective measure, comparable to the use of fingerprints during police investigations. "The bombings of Madrid and London were a reality. The use of new technologies by terrorists is a reality. For the European Parliament not to react to this is denying reality".

Strengthening judicial cooperation: The role of Eurojust

 Eurojust's primary role is to facilitate the co-ordination of investigations and prosecutions into serious organised crime affecting two or more Member States. Eurojust is made up of one national representative from each Member State but so far national members of Eurojust enjoy very different powers and status. According to the chair of the EP Civil Liberties Committee, Jean-Marie CAVADA (ALDE, FR), there are still big gaps in the system. Eurojust should have a more central role in justice cooperation, he said. "The reality is that many countries prefer to work with Interpol, even though they could use Eurojust".  

The President of Eurojust, Michael G. KENNEDY, described the situation with moderate optimism: "Although there has been a series of successes lately that led to the arrest of criminals in Bulgaria, Belgium and the UK, there are still limits to the activity of Eurojust. Two member states (Greece and Spain) haven't transposed the Eurojust decision into their national legislation yet".

Hubert HAENEL, chair of the EU affairs delegation at the French Senate, pointed out that many new Member States have not enacted national legislation on Eurojust either. Mr Haenel also complained of the lack of coordination between Eurojust and Europol and called for the creation of a new European public prosecutor, to reinforce the role of Eurojust.

Europol: parliamentary scrutiny to strengthen trust

On the role of Europol in fighting terrorism and organised crime, Europol's deputy director Jens Henrik HOJBJERG acknowledged the system's shortcomings, saying "its activities are not supervised by the European Parliament or the European Court of Justice". Its sphere of action is laid down by protocols and he regretted that none of these had been ratified by all the Member States. He stressed the responsibility of of the national parliaments, some of which were more conscientious than others.

Lord CORBETT of Castle Vale, of the UK House of Lords, spoke of the need "to strike a balance between the national level and what we can do together".  Europol should complement the work of national police forces in certain areas. While Europol's work was not always what it might be, this was due to a lack of support and trust between governments and agencies in different countries. "National forces are cautious about sharing information and demand security guarantees", he said. Europol's future depended on "an increase in the powers of national parliaments" to supervise its work.

Bill NEWTON-DUNN (ALDE, UK) raised the question of public opinion and the poor media coverage of police cooperation in the Member States. "The public knows of Interpol but not Europol" he pointed out. Better media coverage would certainly give a boost to European cooperation.

Jacques FLOCH, rapporteur on Europol at the French National Assembly, was another speaker who underlined the need for greater supervision of Europol. "In the Member States, the police are under the control of judges ", he said. "Eurojust could take on this superivsory responsibility but has unfortunately not yet reached this stage".

The European arrest warrant

John DENHAM, chair of the House of Commons' Home Affairs Committee, in opening the debate on the European arrest warrant (EAW), recalled that, although it raised legal concerns in some countries, after 9/11 "we all went ahead because it seemed urgent to take action". He stressed the difficulties in the transposition of the European arrest warrant, adding that it represents a "practical measure of co-operation across the EU".

Kestius LAPINSKAS, representative of the Conference of European Constitutional Courts, emphasised that national constitutional courts play an important role in the protection of democracy and human rights. He mentioned that some courts had raised questions about the EAW's compatibility with their national constitutions. Nevertheless, the EAW's ultimate aim of improving justice and security was not questioned. For instance, the Polish Constitutional Court had urged the parliament to amend the constitution to comply with the EU measure, recognising the crucial role of the EAW in the fight against crime.

According to Adeline HAZAN (PES, FR), EP rapporteur for the implementation of the EAW, the European arrest warrant had already proved effective in combatting crime and particularly terrorism. Provisional figures showed that, in less than one year, 2603 warrants had been issued, 653 people arrested and 104 had surrendered. On 13 September 2005, the Italian judicial authorities handed over to the British authorities in only 10 days a person suspected in connection with the 21 July terrorist attacks in London. In the past this could have taken months. Nevertheless, the main difficulty in implementing the EAW, according to Ms Hazan, was the lack of trust between Member States, a point reinforced by Graham WATSON (ALDE, UK) and other speakers.


Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

Chair : Jean-Marie Cavada (ALDE, FR)

Meeting with national parliaments: Improving parliamentary scrutiny of judicial and police cooperation in Europe


REF.: 20051017IPR01529