21st Oct 2016

EU wants stronger police agency

  • Europol's 800 staff deal with around 9,000 cases each year (Photo: © European Community, 2005)

The EU police agency in The Hague, Europol, is to see its powers expand and its performance put under stronger oversight under a European Commission proposal set out on Wednesday (27 March).

The draft regulation would require member states to feed the agency more data and to enhance their co-operation in cross-border crimes and investigations.

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“The EU needs an effective and cost-efficient agency to help member states fight serious cross-border crime and terrorism,” EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement.

The agency’s data processing structure will also be re-engineered to produce more conclusive results from data already in its possession.

The regulation calls for the agency to adopt a "privacy by design" approach, with additional safeguards that will allow "Europol to adapt its IT architecture to future challenges and the needs of the law enforcement authorities in the EU.”

Malmstrom said the changes will reinforce personal data protection and increase Europol’s accountability to the European Parliament and national parliaments.

Meanwhile, the European Police College, Cepol, will be moved from the UK and merged with the Hague-based agency. The commission says the merger would save an estimated €17.2 million over the 2015-2020 period.

The college was the first EU agency to have its budget discharge blocked by the European Parliament in 2010 over bad management.

Europol chief Rob Wainwright had previously voiced reluctance over the Cepol merger. In January, he told UK ministers that Europol was already squeezed for funding when it launched its new cyber crime fighting facility.

“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 at the time.

Malmstrom announced the cyber crime centre precisely one year ago. It went live on 11 January.

The commission now wants to turn Europol into a hub for information-sharing and analysis on serious crimes. The reform should include police training, says the Brussels executive.

For its part, the London-based civil liberties group Statewatch has in the past voiced reservations on how data is used by Wainwright's people.

They cite a 2011 European Parliament report which notes that Europol held data on a group of 33 young women "indicating they were prostitutes and suspects of criminal activity.”

It later turned out that most of the young women were likely victims of human trafficking and that “there was not sufficient evidence to hold them in the Europol system as suspect.”

Europol’s UK representative notified the agency of the issue. But the women’s information was still stored in Europol’s database a year later despite the UK alert.

The new regulation hands over the external data protection supervision of Europol to the European Data Protection Supervisor.

“The rights of individuals affected by data processing by Europol will be strengthened,” the Commission said.

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