21st Oct 2016


Britain's harmful step

  • Organised crime and international terrorism do not stop at the British Channel (Photo: Andy Cunningham)

This week's announcement by UK Home Secretary Theresa May of a block opt-out of the United Kingdom from key EU cooperation projects in justice and home Aafairs has not been well thought through.

The British government is well under way to destroying the great amount of work that has been done over the last years in this field. Ironically it is also (ab)using an article on transitional provisions of the Lisbon Treaty to withdraw from a centre piece of the treaty, namely the highly fruitful cooperation in the transnational fight against crime which the same treaty originally intended to facilitate.

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It is a testament to the uncooperative behaviour of the British government that it simply sprung this move on its unsuspecting EU partners.

The increasingly eurosceptic government of Prime Minister David Cameron is not considering the consequences of this remarkable step for the EU and the UK itself.

In a time of increased transnational organised crime and international terrorism, Europe needs more and not less cooperation in the fields of police and justice.

London ought to acknowledge that organised crime and international terrorism do not stop at the British Channel. The op-out would concern no less than 130 criminal justice measures defining enhanced cooperation.

From the perspective of the other 26 EU members, it is simply not acceptable that British authorities might continue to receive information for the fight against crime from the Continent, for example, through the Schengen Information System (SIS), whilst not respecting open borders in the general Schengen framework themselves.

This is a form of cherry-picking that will have divisive effects on Europe. It could also serve as a dangerous example for other member states.

The almost stubborn intention of the British Government to "repatriate British powers from Brussels" is all the more disappointing as Home Secretary May herself was among the frontrunners of one of the most prominent recent EU home affairs projects, the Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement with the US.

The UK ought to re-consider its self-centred withdrawal plans drawn up for the mere sake of an increase in British sovereignty, and return to the European spirit of collaboration.

Above all, the UK's own security interests are at stake. The country would considerably undermine its capacity to police cross-border crimes and international terrorism by withdrawing from projects such as the Europol and Eurojust agencies or the SIS.

Moreover, why withdraw from one of the most important achievements in European police cooperation and information-sharing, the European Arrest Warrant?

London often says its police authorities are overloaded because of the exaggerated use of the instrument by other member states. But this could easily be fixed by setting an EU-level threshold on the seriousness of the crimes concerned.

EU justice and home affairs law has become a necessity for every member state and should not be watered down by one single government's backward thinking.

It is likely that once it has become aware of the consequences of its move, the British government will have to "opt back into" some of the measures it had withdrawn from in the first place.

This far-reaching British decision needs to be discussed by EU justice ministers. At the same time, it is up to the UK to decide now whether it would like to solve the "big" future home affairs questions in cooperation with its European partners or to slip into political isolation.

In any case, it should not be possible that individual members of the union continue to create their "Europe à la carte". This approach must not and will not lead anywhere. The UK is now at a crossroads.

The writer is member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of the Group of the European People's Party (EPP)


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