Concern over Europol commitment

12 November 2008

In their 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 Vallance, Chairman of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, said:

"We accept that the UK Government, along with others, must take steps to reduce carbon emissions. However we are concerned that the dash to meet the EU’s 2020 targets may draw attention and investment away from cheaper and more reliable low carbon electricity generation - such as nuclear and, potentially, fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage. Equally, the Government’s focus on renewable electricity generation should not be allowed to overshadow other, more promising roles for renewable energy, such as renewable heat.

"The UK is most likely to adopt wind power as its main means of producing more renewable electricity. This has an inherent weakness in that it cannot be relied upon to generate electricity at the time it is needed. Current policies would take the UK into uncharted territory, with a dependence on intermittent supply unprecedented elsewhere in Europe. To guard against power shortages, wind turbines would need to be backed up with conventional generation. Together with the requirement to replace almost a quarter of the UK's older generating capacity by 2020, this represents a massive investment programme. Whether it is achievable in the time available is open to doubt.

"In addition, the Government should not allow its pursuit of the immediate 2020 target to take its eye off the longer term. Much more research needs to go into more effective and economical forms of renewable energy, and into electricity storage technologies which could mitigate the inherent problems associated with intermittent supply."

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