Europol may have helped forge a new era in cross-border
police co-operation but it is not without its critics. The majority of
concerns focus on the operation of Europol’s data information systems
and the information it contains. There is also some concern as to the
implications of the structure and operation of Europol in conducting
investigations mainly stemming from their immunity to prosecution as
outlined in Europol
Convention. The concerns expressed about Europol can be summarised
Concerns as to the security
of data held in the
Europol Computer System and other issues relating to data
Concerns over the type of
data held by Europol and how this data is used and analysed by TECS.
Concerns as to the input of
data by third countries and third parties
Concerns as to the immunity
from prosecution of Europol officials and seconded liaison officers
Concerns over the level of
political and judicial accountability of Europol
Concerns relating to the
staffing and level of competence of Europol.
Matters relating to the
possible development of Europol into a European FBI.
and Data Protection
Concerns over the security and use of data and
personal information held on the Europol Computer System emerged very
early on in the development of the European Police Office.
In theory data held on European databases is subject to the 1981 Council
of Europe Convention on the Protection for Individuals with regard to
the Automatic processing of Personal Data.
However, the Europol Convention only stipulated that Europol has to
“take into account” the 1981
Council of Europe Convention and is not bound by it. This has raised
some serious questions as to the data that Europol can store and the way
in which it can be used. Having previously resolved problems over the
fifteen types of national data protection law to adhere to, civil
liberty groups expressed concern that this convention was not being
Parliament, for example, in 1996 called upon national governments of
the member states in ratifying the Europol
Convention to ensure that fundamental rights and freedoms were not
put at risk from the activities of Europol. It called for data
indicating the religion, race or political beliefs of suspects not to be
included on their data records for fear that it would set a dangerous
precedent and compromise individual’s human rights.
Another concern held by civil liberty groups and the
European Parliament was the inclusion of data from third countries and
third parties. In its early stages of development the EDU formed
associations with not only member states national criminal authorities
but also those of applicant states to the European Union such as Cyprus
and Poland and further a field with links to American and Russian
As cited by Keane, the Meijers Committee in the United Kingdom argued
that “since Europol could store data received from non-member states
or through circuitous channels, there [are] serious risks of inaccuracy
and the right to information may well be illusory”.
In addition to having links with Interpol, Europol also
operates associations with EIS, SIS
and CIS as well as other European databases. This, however, conflicts
directly with Article 6 of the Europol
“the computerised system of collected information
operated by Europol must under no circumstances be linked to other
automated processing systems except for the automated processing systems
of the national units”.
According to Keane it is yet to be resolved whether
having access to data held by other European agencies and being linked
to them are the same. Clearly, however, as long as this is unresolved
there is the possibility that errors can be made and individual’s
civil liberties placed at risk because of a mistake or miscalculation.
Finally, there has been concern expressed as to the
possibility that data collected on individuals may be analysed in such a
way that it compromises their freedoms. A case in question relates to
the sheer amount of data that can be analysed. TECS is capable of
analysing 5,000 records at a time each containing nearly 1000 records on
individuals. With a maximum storage of 1,000,000 records, there is a
concern that this data may be used to profile or map the movements of
Europol has acquired the image of a clandestine
organisation intent on robbing citizens of their civil liberties. While
this may not be true, it is symptomatic of concerns amongst some members
of the European demos relating to the activities of centralised law
enforcement agencies. Statements such as “In
France 60% of all police vehicles now have mobile data terminals linked
to both Europol and Schengen databases,”
are becoming increasingly common on the internet.
It seems likely that without a clear system of political and judicial
accountability related to Europol, the regular statements concerning its
future role and expansion of its competences will be subject to much
suspicion and distrust.
and Judicial Accountability
Matters relating to the political and judicial
accountability of Europol remain massively unresolved despite the
efforts of the European Court
of Justice and the Civil Liberties Committee. At present Europol is
required to only submit an Annual Report to the European
Parliament to satisfy the conditions of probity outlined in the
Although this may smack of the democratic deficit that plagues the
operation and structure of European Union institutions this is not the
case. Europol is not a supra-national European institution in the same
way as the European Parliament or European
Commission are. It is instead classed as an inter-governmental
organisation. Indeed, as is discussed in the ‘role within the
integration section’, Europol’s structures prohibits from being
regulated by ‘Europe’. It is rather, the responsibility of national
governments to supervise its activities. This judgment stems from the
report by the Civil Liberties Committee titled “Europol: Reinforcing
Parliamentary Controls and Extending Powers”, which admits that
Europol is not an EU but an international organisation and “under the
present system” it must remain in the hands of national parliaments of
the member states.
Prescriptions for the future:
Transfer of the
responsibility for “cross-border
operations” from the intergovernmental sphere to the community
Greater transparency in the
operation and accountability of Europol.
Greater access to the data
held by Europol and ‘connected’ databases.
Greater public awareness of
the duties and operations of Europol.
One area of Europol that has caused significant concern
is the immunity from prosecution of any Europol official or seconded
officer giving Europol a virtual carte blanche to perform
investigations as they see fit without the risk of comeback. This is of
significant importance when one considers the role of Europol in
fighting trafficking in hazardous materials, drugs, firearms and people
smuggling where people’s lives can be put at risk by any blunder by
Europol and the authorities it is operating in conjunction with. This
area of Europol is in need of revision to install a greater degree of
accountability into its structure and operation, but it is likely that
such changes will be resisted.
While transfer of certain intergovernmental functions
of supervision from national governments to the central institutions may
increase the overall accountability of Europol, only a full re-appraisal
of its duties will satisfy some critics. Short of incorporating Europol
directly into the remit of the European Union in preference to
maintaining its ‘in and out’ Third
Pillar status, creating a full system of political and judicial
accountability will be very difficult. Under Article K1 of Title VI of
Treaty police co-operation is restricted to ‘exchanging
information with a European Police Office (Europol)’,
as such any further police co-operation will necessitate further
amendments to not only the Convention but also the Treaty on European
Union, which suggests that this system will continue for the foreseeable
Europol up to the job?
Tupman argues in his book ‘Policing
in Europe, Uniform in Diversity’ that in the early stages
of the formation of Europol there were concerns that it may not actually
be up to the job of coordinating Europe’s cross-border fight against
crime due to its low level of resources and staffing.
Indeed, he argues that prior to the Amsterdam
Treaty Europol was chronically understaffed. The provision of fifty
extra officers at the Treaty of Amsterdam no doubt helped correct some
of this deficit, but there remains a concern that not enough expertise
is based in Europol’s Hague Headquarters to cope with the workload. Europol’s
website professes, however, to having
fast and multi-lingual service 24 hours a day”,
which is likely to be further enhanced with staffing levels rising to
350 dedicated officers by 2003. It must be remembered
that Europol is at time of writing only two years old, and despite the
Europol Drugs Unit being operational for eight years, there are still
‘teething’ problems to be resolved before Europol can cut itself a
clear and commanding niche in the European fight against crime.
- a future European FBI?
Much of the concern with the future development of Europol relates to the possible transformation of Europol into a European-style FBI. For a greater discussion on this topic follow this link to an online article or click on the above link for a page on the future of Europol in this site.
Concerns about Europol justified?
Europol is fast becoming an integral part of
European police efforts against cross-border crime in Europe. The
concerns that are addressed in this section represent a small portion of
the worries and reservations held by individuals and organisations
regarding the operation and structure of Europol. For the most part the
concerns that have been raised are valid and in need of being addressed
rapidly. Part of the problem in forging an accountable and efficient
European police office that operates to support not compromise civil
liberties is the tension between Europol as a coordinating body, as
pushed for by the British, and as a pro-active investigative
organisation, as the Germans prefer. It seems inevitable that
integration within Europe will require an intensification and expansion
of the duties and roles of Europol, but if the concerns as illustrated
above are not addressed it seems likely that they will continue to
plague European police cooperation, devaluing its work.
 Orlandini FB 'Europol and the Europol Drugs Unit: A Cooperative Structure in the Making' in Monar J & Morgan R 'The Third Pillar of the European Union' (Brussels, European Interuniversity Press, 1994)p213
 Subhan A (ed.) 'Impact of the Treaty of Amsterdam on Justice and Home Affairs Issues' (Brussels, European Parliament, 2000) p44
 Ibid. p100
 Ibid. p92
 Ibid. p96
 Ibid. p100
 Subhan A (ed.) 'Impact of the Treaty of Amsterdam on Justice and Home Affairs Issues' (Brussels, European Parliament, 2000)p102
 Ibid. p93
 Ibid. p93
 Article K1 Section 9, Title VI, Treaty on European Union.
 Tupman B, 'Policing in Europe, Uniform in Diversity' (Exeter, Intellect, 1999) p84