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8th Aug 2022

EU gearing up for even more anti-crime measures

  • Europol's HQ in The Hague. The EU commission wants to make it more powerful (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission is preparing a raft of what it describes as new measures against terrorism, drugs, and crime.

Speaking to reporters in Zagreb after meeting EU interior ministers on Friday (24 January), the European Commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson announced she is also "preparing to reinforce the mandate of [the EU's police agency] Europol", based in The Hague.

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On drugs, Johansson said a new EU agenda will be proposed noting that illicit substances have become more widespread, cheaper and more potent. On crime she said plans are underway to freeze and recover assets. And on terrorism, she wants new plans to protect critical infrastructure, such as energy, transport, finance and health.

All these issues have been dealt with in the past, posing questions on why more measures are now needed - and whether those already in place are working at all.

EU proposals dealing with terrorism alone stretch back to 2001, when the Belgian EU presidency announced its big plans in the aftermath of the attacks in New York. This was followed by more proposals in the wake of the Madrid bombing 2004 and then again after the London attacks in 2005.

By 2007 some 88 legally binding measures had been proposed covering familiar areas like improving external border controls, cracking down on terrorist financing and helping prevent the "next generation of terrorists from emerging".

Few received any public input.

But in Zagreb, Johansson maintained that even more needs to be done to "protect citizens and people against terrorists."

She then announced, citing Europol, that there are more than 5,000 organised criminal groups currently under investigation in the European Union.

"We will improve EU police cooperation and information exchange by modernising the law enforcement cooperation framework and simplify the operational cooperation among member states," she said.

'10,000' smuggled to UK in refrigerated lorries

Those comments come on the back of a joint operation between France and the Netherlands, who had dismantled a gang last week that had managed to transport some 10,000 people in refrigerated lorries into the United Kingdom, according to EU Hague-based agencies citing French police authorities.

But when pressed to confirm, police in the Netherlands who were part of the sting operation along with their French counterparts to dismantle the network said they could not say where the 10,000 figure originated.

"I don't know where that number comes from," said a spokesperson from the Dutch police.

"The only thing I know is from the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee [armed forces] was that we made four arrests this week," he said, adding the four were Dutch citizens, dealt in drugs, and had been arrested in the Rotterdam region.

The French arrested 19.

Meanwhile, both Europol and the EU's judicial co-operation body, Eurojust, were also unable to provide any details on the time span of the reported 10,000 figure.

"I can't exactly say for which timespan the French figures have been given," said Ton van Lierop, a spokesman for Eurojust, noting the total figure is based from the operations in the Netherlands and France.

They say it comes from the French national police, which were not available to comment.

They also note, in a press release, that those smuggled included Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi-Kurdish and Syrian migrants from the French areas of Le Mans and Poitiers to the United Kingdom. Some had paid up to €7,000. The investigation is still on-going with more arrests expected.

Analysis

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The 22 March anniversary of the Brussels bombing will trigger a lot of soul searching. But EU counter-terrorism strategies over the past 10 years have been crisis-driven with little follow through or oversight.

MEPs slam UK for violating EU police database

EUobserver's revelations of how the UK violates and abuses an EU police database sparked heated debate in the European Parliament's civil liberties committee - as the European Commission refused to respond to questions given the confidentiality of the leaked document.

EU states given right to police Facebook worldwide

National courts in EU states can order Facebook to delete content "worldwide", Europe's top tribunal has ruled, in what the US social media giant called an attack on free speech.

How the pandemic became an EU goldmine for crime

The recession set to hit Europe after the pandemic will help organised crime penetrate legitimate business and recruit out-of-work specialists, the EU's joint police agency, Europol, has warned.

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