Public order policing in Europe - policy backlash expected


After the confrontation between police and protesters in Gothenburg last weekend, some European governments have called for new public-order legislation, both at national and EU level. Most states already have extensive statutory powers to deal with 'live' public order situations (crowd control, special powers of arrest and detention etc.) but are now looking to step-up international cooperation and introduce measures aimed at preventing protesters from different EU states coming together.

Preventing people travelling

A key objective for some EU governments is preventing known 'trouble-makers', part of an "anarchists' travelling circus" according to the UK prime minister Tony Blair, leaving their own country to join a protest in another.

Italy's new prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, says he wants to prevent people reaching Genoa when representatives of the G8 countries (USA, Canada, Italy, France, Germany, UK, Japan and Russia) are meeting there. His stated intention is to cancel international transport into the city. Anti-debt campaigners are among those who have already had their flight tickets withdrawn or diverted to Turin on the orders of the Italian authorities. It is also likely that people will be prevented entry at Italy's borders, a tactic used recently by Czech (IMF protest in Prague) and Slovenian (for USA President Bush's meeting with Russian premier Putin) authorities.

If it is not possible to prevent 'trouble-makers' leaving their own countries, the next best option appears to be expulsion from the protest area. In 1997 during the EU summit in Amsterdam, the Dutch police arrested and immediately deported 100 people without trial, and this model has been repeated for demonstrations in other countries.

From football 'hooliganism' to public order in general

The UK's Football (Disorder) Act gave police powers to arrest and detain people they believed might commit offences and empowered magistrates to issue banning-orders where there were "reasonable grounds" that it would "help" prevent disorder (see Statewatch vol 10 no 3&4 (June-August 2000)). Even though only three Britons were arrested in Gothenburg, 'emergency legislation' could extend the provisions following media reports that 4,000 people are intending to travel from the UK to demonstrations planned at the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy (next month). Civil liberties arguments were effectively dead and buried when the football provisions were rushed through parliament in just three weeks - in time for a friendly football match in Paris last September.

The banning orders were not used until last month when England played in Greece, when 450 people were prevented from travelling. According to the Football Supporters Association, 44 of these people have never been convicted of any football related offences. Germany is the only country with similar legislation, and confiscated the passports of 60 people before the European 2000 championships in Holland and Belgium. A further 1,100 were refused entry at the German-Dutch border.

Member states have already committed spectacular breaches of both the law (expulsion without trial) and spirit of the EC Treaty (by restricting free movement). Enhanced EU cooperation on football hooliganism was already being discussed, apparently with the view that it could apply to public order situations in general.

A joint discussion paper from Belgium and the Netherlands (co-hosts of the Euro 2000 football tournament) proposed a mechanism for "refusing entry to EU citizens and expelling EU citizens from EU Member States" on grounds of "public order". It does not say how this could be achieved, and it is hard to see how any EU system would be compatible with the EC Treaty. Nevertheless, the document notes that:

"the possibilities for refusing entry are greater than those for expulsion"

and goes on to suggest:

"drawing up further detailed common EU public order criteria"

as a basis for:

"Refusing entry to EU citizens and expelling EU citizens from EU Member States. In applying these measures it would be especially important to establish unequivocal criteria that could be applied by the member states concerned".

International cooperation arrangements for intelligence exchange

Despite different tactics in handling the protests by the authorities concerned, one theme has characterized the police approach: the extensive surveillance of groups involved in 'planning' protests and the systematic surveillance and recording of personal details of those present. Some of this information is then being shared between law enforcement agencies across the world, subject to little or no data protection rules.

Cross-border exchanges of intelligence between police forces have been taking place bilaterally on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis since international law enforcement cooperation began. More recently, provision has been made to allow exchanges to take place systematically through Interpol, Schengen's "Sirene" bureaux and Europol.

The EU has formalized bilateral cooperation with a number of agreements that oblige the member states to share information on people entering other states who are considered possible threats to public order. A 1996 EU Recommendation on football hooliganism which was expanded a year a later into a Joint Action on "law and order security" insisted on the provision of information on all large groups entering another member state to attend any event, such as "sporting events, rock concerts, demonstrations, and road-blocking campaigns" (see Statewatch vol 7 no 3 (May-June 1997). A network of contact points among agencies dealing with public order in the member states was also set-up. Data protection did not feature in the Joint Action, so there are no rules governing processing, retention, time limits, onward transmission, deletion, correction, access to information for the subject, or legal liability in the event that the exchange of data is unwarranted or damaging.

In 1997, the Schengen countries produced a public order manual almost identical to the EU Joint Action with the additional possibility of coordinated operations and on-site command centres; this has now been incorporated into the EU framework.

While it is certain that exchanges of information are taking place, it is only possible to speculate on how and where data is being stored. There are a number of possibilities. The Schengen Information System (SIS) contains details on people who member states have declared a threat to national security or public order. In 1998, Stephanie Mills, a Greenpeace activist from New Zealand who had flown into Holland, was denied access to the whole Schengen area because the French government had entered her name into the SIS (along with a number of other Greenpeace activists; see Statewatch vol 8 no 5 (September-October 1998)).

A second possibility is the involvement of Europol. Although a Europol official has reportedly said the protests do not fall within Europol's mandate, the agency is believed to be running an analysis file on "eco-terrorism". Analysis files can contain information on suspects, possible witnesses, contacts, associates and informants. Data on persons can include names and aliases, date and place of birth, nationality, sex, suspected and alleged offences and "racial origin, religious or other beliefs, sexual life, political opinions or membership of movements or organizations that are not prohibited by law". Since terrorism was not defined in the Europol Convention, it is basically up to the member states what information they give to Europol under the heading of "eco-terrorism".

Interpol is also reported to have a dossier on the recent protests and protesters and is known to have provided the FBI with information during the Seattle protests. There were also reports that the Czech police made people arrested during the Prague protest sign a consent form for their personal details to be sent to Interpol. An EU agreement at the end of May allowed Interpol and Europol to begin exchanging data.

Common strategies

Senior police and interior ministry officials in the EU have already discussed public order cooperation at length within the Council's Police Cooperation Working Party. In 1999, Staffordshire police in the UK (who were dealing with protests against the Birmingham Northern Relief Road) received European Community funding to discuss common strategies with their European counterparts (see Statewatch vol 9 no 5 (September/October 1999)).

One possible new venue for the strategic planning of operations, and for policy development in general, is the EU Police Chiefs Operational Task Force. The creation of the task force was one of the recommendations from the Tampere summit. Although no EU agreement followed, the Task Force has already held three two-day meetings hosted by the lasted three EU presidencies. One known priority is:

"defining strategies and joint operational actions in the field of maintaining public order whenever events occur that are likely to threaten it."

Before the latest confrontations in Gothenburg, the Dutch police had already planned an international conference in the Hague (3-5 October 2001) and have invited police forces from Europe, North America and Australia. The conference is titled "maintaining public order: a democratic approach", and the Dutch police intend to invite one member of the 'anti-globalization' movement to put their case, before the experts, who will be meeting behind closed doors, retire to consider the exchange of intelligence and a coordinated approach to policing the protests.

Sources: Joint Action of 26 May 1997 with regard to cooperation on law and order and security, OJ L 147, 5.6.97; Football championships : future international police cooperation - Note from the Belgian and the Netherlands Ministers of the Interior to the Informal Council (JHA) of 28.7.00 and to the Commission, Note from Belgian and the Netherlands delegations to Police Cooperation Group, 13030/00, ENFOPOL 73, 8.11.2000; Informal meeting of Chief Police Officers, Note from presidency to Article 36 Committee, 7753/00, CATS 22, 12.4.00; Council Decision authorising the Director of Europol to conclude a cooperation agreement between Europol and Interpol, 8803/01 EUROPOL 43, 18.5.01; Observer, 17.6.01; Guardian 18.6.01; Information note on the international police conference in the Hague (3-5 October 2001), Buro Jansen & Janssen, 18.6.01.



Statewatch News online

© Statewatch ISSN 1756-851X. Personal usage as private individuals/"fair dealing" is allowed. We also welcome links to material on our site. Usage by those working for organisations is allowed only if the organisation holds an appropriate licence from the relevant reprographic rights organisation (eg: Copyright Licensing Agency in the UK) with such usage being subject to the terms and conditions of that licence and to local copyright law.