Merger of EU police agencies draws opposition
The European Commission may consider a recommendation to merge the European Police College, Cepol in the UK, with the EU police agency Europol in The Hague.
The commission’s spokesperson for home affairs Michele Cercone told this website in an email on Monday (18 February) that “the issue is currently being evaluated” but would not disclose further detail.
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EUobserver understands the commission could also propose a partial merger or recommend Cepol remains an independent agency. Cepol has a staff of around 30.
The merger idea was floated late January when Europol chief Rob Wainwright told UK ministers the commission’s proposal, scheduled to be tabled sometime in March, was already meeting resistance from some euro-deputies.
“At the moment the relevant committee in the European Parliament has so far expressed a relatively hostile opinion to that possibility,” said Wainwright on 29 January at a House of Lords committee hearing.
Wainwright said the merger proposal is part of a larger commission legislative regulation that “will modernise some of our capabilities to receive and exchange information.”
The Europol director opposes the merger. He said it would create an inter-institutional ruckus between member states and the parliament.
“I am not highly enthusiastic about it. That is not to say that I do not support it,” said Wainwright.
“If the deal is to take another large task but still no more funds, then I would rather not have it at all,” he said.
Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld said a merger would have some benefit. She noted that having the agencies in one location would facilitate exchange and cooperation.
"If Europol is to develop into a fully fledged "federal" police force, it would seem sensible to have high level in-house training facilities," she told EUobserver in an email.
But deputies in 2010 already refused to grant the UK-based police college discharge over administrative difficulties stemming from bad budget management, human resources, procurement procedures and rules governing expenditure on courses.
It was the first time the parliament had docked a EU agency budget.
Cepol’s next discharge report for 2011 is scheduled for a vote on Thursday in the parliament’s civil liberties committee before it moves onto the budgetary control committee who get the final say.
Cepol’s spokesperson Claire Bose told this website that the agency has since addressed all the shortcomings listed by the parliament’s critical discharge report.
“The next discharge should be smooth,” said Bose.
The two police agencies already work together on serious and organised crime training programmes. Last year, they coordinated 25 courses on joint investigation teams, trafficking in human beings, cybercrime and fraud and confiscation of assets.
The merger idea has yet to be officially debated within the parliament’s civil liberties committee.
"I'm still fairly sceptical about the merger. So far, Europol and Cepol have very different tasks," said German Green MEP Ska Keller. The MEP noted the commission, however, may produce a convincing argument.
"In any case, this would need a proper debate and not just a side note at the discharge procedures," said Keller.
Draft opinion amendments tabled in late January by the euro-deputies on Cepol’s upcoming discharge report note that the agency’s premises in Bramshill were also due to close at the end of 2012.
Cepol is still in Bramshill with a lease that ends in March 2014 but the UK home office plans to sell the site.
“The commission knows about this so I guess they will take that into consideration when they formulate their recommendation,” said Bose.
Bose pointed out that their lease is renewed annually and until the site is sold, they will remain in Bramshil.
The MEP amendments also note that Cepol's performance is better overall but that concerns still remain over its budget planning and recruitment transparency.