EU police agencies reject cost-cutting merger
The European police college Cepol and the EU police agency Europol both formally rejected on Tuesday (7 May) a proposal by the European Commission to merge the two in a cost cutting measure.
Both agency chiefs and their boards expressed opposition to the idea at a hearing organised at the European Parliament in Brussels.
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They argue the two agencies’ core mandates do not overlap though they co-operate on some training issues relevant to serious crime.
Europol says the merger would affect its capacity to fight serious crime on top of its latest responsibilities to run the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3). The facility launched its operations in January without any additional funding for Europol’s budget.
But the commission in its draft proposal in March says the merger would save an estimated €17.2 million between 2015-2020 and create “synergies and efficiency gains.”
The UK-based police college would move into the Europol building located in The Hague, according to the plan.
“The terms of merger would have to be carefully assessed, certainly in terms of the resource impact it would have on Europol,” said Europol chief Rob Wainwright.
He said it is important that any significant new task to Europol would need to be balanced with more resources. He noted, for instance, that the availability of space at the Europol headquarters is limited.
“We have a capacity for 865 employees,” he said. The building is currently occupied by 720 people, but will expand by the end of the year to 760.
“We are working on the hypothesis of about a 100 free spaces,” he said.
The commission proposal estimates an additional 53 new posts for EC3 and 40 for the new police training staff.
“Simple mathematics show that we are right on the limits of whether this is possible,” said Wainright.
He said greater efforts should be spent on getting members states to share more data with the agency and to increase its awareness among investigators.
“I see it everyday at Europol where still we have to convince investigators in every country, even that they should be aware of Europol, let alone use it,” he said.
Cepol, for its part, said the two agencies differ, especially in terms of governance.
The police training college has been audited 14 times in the past three years.
The European Parliament docked its budget in 2010 because of administrative difficulties stemming from bad budget management, human resources, procurement procedures and rules governing expenditure on courses.
The agency’s budget for 2012 was €8.4 million.
“I am happy to say we are the most audited agency in the Union but we are extremely happy to come to the conclusion that all 14 external audits confirmed that Cepol is legal, regular, and operational,” said Cepol director Dr Ferenc Banfi.
Banfi said the college is expanding its courses and now also offers online classes. He says co-operation with Europol is strong.
The two work together on the content of post-training portfolios when it comes to serious crime and organised crime threats. Europol, he said, also provides around 40 experts throughout the year in its training courses.
The parliament’s rapporteur on the dossier, Spanish centre-right MEP Agustin Diaz de Mera Garcia Consuegra, is also opposed to the merger but praised the commission’s suggestion in its proposal to allow the European Data Protection Supervisor to oversee data protection rights at Europol.