EU races to meet Denmark-Europol deadline
By Lisbeth Kirk
“Why the hell was such a point put to a referendum?”, German social democrat MEP Birgit Sippel said at an European Parliament (EP) hearing on Denmark and Europol, the EU’s joint police agency, on Tuesday (24 January).
She could barely hide her frustration with national votes that forced the EU to make convoluted derogations to keep people happy.
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“Now we are in a situation where we need to find tricky ways to make Denmark part of Europol,” she told the EU parliament’s committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.
Denmark opted out from the EU’s justice and home affairs treaty obligations in 1992.
The old opt-out means that it was unable to take part in a new and more integrated model for the joint police body in The Hague.
A referendum in December 2015 was intended to turn the opt-out into an opt-in, but it failed, leaving Denmark scrambling to find a new deal on Europol participation before 1 May, when the agency’s new rules enter into force.
The paradox is that a majority of Danes, according to polls, voted to keep the opt-out as a whole, but never wanted to leave Europol as a consequence.
Europol now stands to lose one of its most active member states in spring.
Despite being one of the smallest EU member states, Denmark is a key contributor to Europol databases.
It ranks seventh among countries contributing information to Europol Information System (EIS) and it ranks fourth in terms of searches in the database, according to 2016 figures.
Denmark also exchanged 25 percent of all messages on robbery, 16 percent on terrorist offences, and 13 percent on illegal immigration in Europol's Secure Information Exchange Network Application (Siena) in 2016.
“Denmark should not become a blind spot on the EU map of law enforcement co-operation,” Luigi Soreca, a senior commission official, said at Tuesday's committee hearing.
A joint declaration to minimise the negative effects of the Danish opt-out was signed by Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, Council president Donald Tusk and Danish prime minister Loekke Rasmussen on 15 December last year.
The agreement with Denmark would technically have to be adopted in two steps, according to the Commission’s representative.
Under the “tricky” deal, Denmark would first be listed as a third-state in relations with Europol, on the same level as China, Norway, Canada and other countries.
A concrete co-operation deal could then be worked out, securing that the police co-operation continues in practice.
Denmark would no longer have direct access to Europol databases nor participate in decisions in Europol’s governing bodies, but would still be able to “exchange information subject to certain guaranties,” David Ciliberti, another EU official, said on Tuesday.
Denmark would also have to commit to remain a member of Schengen, the EU’s passport-free travel zone, to adopt the EU directive on data protection in police matters by 1 May 2017, accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the competence of the European Data Protection Supervisor.
The European Parliament must be consulted on the deal as well, and Tuesday’s debate gave a first indication of the mood in the house.
MEPs from the centre-right EPP, Alde and from the anti-federalist ECR groups were largely positive towards striking a practical deal, while centre-left MEPs appeared less forthcoming, fearing that too many exceptions will make the European Union even more complex to govern.
“If you are a member of a club you have to accept the rules. But in the European Union, this is not the case. We have again and again, in different areas, opt-outs ... I think we should rethink this way of co-operation,” said Sippel.
“I would like to see Denmark as a full member of Europol in the long run,” she added.
She suggested that a sunset clause should be incorporated in the deal to secure that Denmark’s relations with Europol would be subject to a future review.