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Embargo: 00:01 Wednesday 12 November 2008
Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659

IMPROVED SECURITY WILL HELP EUROPOL IN COORDINATING THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM AND ORGANISED CRIME - LORDS EU COMMITTEE

The House of Lords European Union Committee has today warned that EU efforts to tackle serious cross border organised crime, including drug and people trafficking, are being undermined by Member States' failure to engage sufficiently with Europol, the European Police Office.

In a report published today, the Committee emphasise the role Europol can play in developing a common understanding of the benefits of intelligence led policing across Europe based on Organised Crime Threat Assessments. They point to specific successes for Europol in tackling international terrorism, child abuse, armed robbery, and international counterfeiting networks operating across Europe and in South America.

However the Committee raise serious concerns about Member States' commitment to Europol. They are particularly critical of Member States for failing to use the European Information System (EIS), a mechanism for sharing information on individuals suspected of serious criminality within their own country. The report highlights that only five countries currently automatically load data onto the EIS. The UK in particular cannot currently take part in automatic loading as its IT data systems are not compatible with Europol's. The Committee call on the Government to take the necessary steps so that automatic data loading from SOCA to the EIS is implemented as a matter of urgency. This will be vital in ensuring that information on organised crime in the UK and across Europe is shared effectively between police forces.

The report highlights a lack of trust between national police forces and Europol, particularly in regard to the security of confidential information, as a cause of the reluctance to share information through the EIS. They point out that national police forces often share information bilaterally rather than through the EIS. This undermines efforts to ensure that police forces Europe-wide are able to access important information to predict and prevent serious crime. The Committee call on Europol to take steps to ensure that national police forces are confident in the security of information they enter in the EIS. To achieve this they recommend that all staff at Europol should have the highest necessary level of security clearance as a matter of course. They also recommend that the Director of Europol, rather than a deputy, should have and exercise overall responsibility for security at Europol.

The Committee raise concerns about the effectiveness of communication between the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and the UK's 52 police forces. The Committee assert that responsibility for ensuring effective communication lies with SOCA, a task they feel the Agency is currently failing in. They also criticise SOCA for failing sufficiently to inform local police forces about Europol's role. The Committee argue that when local police forces seek help from SOCA over crimes with an international element, it is vital that they are made aware of whether the information that reaches them originated with SOCA or Europol as this will have an impact on how that information in interpreted.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Europol should adopt a management structure similar to that in place for Frontex (the European Borders Agency), with the Chairman of the Management Board elected by and from his colleagues and serving for a term of two years renewable, rather than the current system with the Chairman a national of the Member State holding the EU Presidency and only serving for six months.
  • The Committee are disappointed that following recent moves by Europol and Eurojust the two bodies where not able to be accommodated in the same building. They feel this would have facilitated greater cooperation between the two bodies.
  • To ensure that the highest quality police officers are attracted to working at Europol it should be the norm that a secondment to Europol takes place on promotion.

Commenting Lord Jopling, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"Europol is an important institution in the battle against organised crime, which is increasingly international in nature. However for Europol to be effective it needs to have access to a wide range of information from Member States, and at present not enough is being made available via the European Information System.

"It is vital that national police forces have confidence in Europol, particularly as regards the security of information shared, and we recommend that all staff at Europol should have the maximum necessary level of security clearance.

"The current structure might be designed to make it as difficult as possible for the Director and the Management Board to operate as a team. Individuals must be chosen for their quality and not their nationality.

"We were concerned that there seems to be a lack of communication between SOCA and our national police forces. As SOCA is the main body responsible for liaising with Europol it is very important that they receive timely and accurate information on police investigations with an international element. SOCA must take steps to ensure that this is the case."

Notes to Editors

  1. The report Europol: Coordinating the fight against serious and organised crime, is available from The Stationery Office, House of Lords European Union Committee (Sub-Committee on Home Affairs), 29th report of 2007/08, HL Paper 183.
  2. The report will be available online shortly after publication at: http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/lords_s_comm_f.cfm

For copies of the report or to request an interview with Lord Jopling, please contact Owen Williams, Head of Press and Media at the House of Lords, on 020 7219 8659.