EU: "Ambitious, yet realistic": Europol seeks to further increase its role in European policing

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Europol's Work Programme for 2013 outlines the agency's plans for the year ahead, and shows a significant focus on enhancing and expanding its role in European police intelligence, operations and training in order to support both Member States, and EU institutions in their increasing role in both internal and external security matters.

Four themes are outlined in the Work Programme: for Europol to become "the principal EU support centre for law enforcement operations"; to "develop as the EU criminal information hub"; to "expand its capabilities as an EU centre for law enforcement expertise"; and to undertake "activities needed to ensure that Europol has the right capabilities to achieve its workflows". The proposals are described as "ambitious, yet realistic" [1] and are based on the goals and objectives Europol Strategy for the years 2010-14. [2]

EU priorities

The recently-established EU Policy Cycle for organised crime - the priorities of which include the trafficking of drugs, illicit commodities and humans; illegal immigration; the production and distribution of synthetic drugs; cybercrime; and "mobile (itinerant) organised crime groups" - forms the backbone for much of Europol's proposed work.

The current Policy Cycle runs from 2011-13 and is seen as something of a stop-gap before one covering 2013-17 is introduced, the basis of which will be a new Serious Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA).

The current Policy Cycle has been further developed in a series of 'operational action plans' dealing with each priority. Despite the significant secrecy surrounding these, the Member States in charge of some of the priority areas are known: illegal immigration is being led by Italy in conjunction with Frontex ; human trafficking by the UK; mobile (itinerant) organised crime groups by Belgium; and cybercrime by Romania. [3]

There will be central implementation and monitoring of the action plans via the National Coordinators of a "multilateral co-operation platform", the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT), which in turn will be overseen by COSI, the Council's Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation in Internal Security.

The importance of the Policy Cycle priorities to Europol's work is made clear in the 2013 Work Programme:

"Europol will ensure that focus lies on supporting operations linked to prioritised crime threats. All operations resulting from the implementation of the 2013 EU operational action plans will thus receive Europol's full commitment and support."

Becoming "the principal EU support centre for law enforcement operations"

The agency will become "more proactive in initiating investigations" as part of an attempt to "develop its role as a default partner with Member States for the purposes of supporting the coordination of Joint Investigation Team activities," particularly for investigations that directly address Policy Cycle priorities and that can be coordinated from its headquarters in The Hague.

This will be backed up by a new Operational Centre allowing "strengthened information handling and monitoring components" for "trends and pattern detection", leading to a "substantial increase" in the volume of data processed by Europol

Under the EMPACT framework, Member States participating in operational action plans are encouraged to:

"Share all operational information and intelligence about ongoing investigations related to the threat in the relevant Analysis Work File (AWF) at Europol." [4]

Further cooperation will also be sought with other EU institutions and agencies such as the European Crime Prevention Network, Eurojust and Frontex. Recent legislative changes mean that Frontex can now process personal data, ensuring:

"Synergies for a joint role (including coordinated participation in joint operations) of Europol and Frontex in weakening the capacity of organised crime groups to facilitate illegal immigration to the EU."

It is foreseen that a focus on "priority regions" will also lead to greater Europol activity abroad. This will create opportunities to:

"Work more closely with CSDP [Common Security and Defence Policy] missions and potentially send Europol Liaison Officers to police missions and EU delegations in regions of interest."

A document drafted in October 2011 by the European External Action Service (EEAS) notes that there is a need to:

"Elaborate a legal framework for technical police cooperation with a host country, to allow a CSDP strengthening mission… to gather personal data in a host country and transfer those data to a Member State or to any relevant EU body." [5]

This would be a big step beyond any arrangements currently in place, aside from those between Europol and the EU's mission in Kosovo, EULEX. An "additional influx of data" will be obtained from third countries such as Russia, with whom a cooperation agreement was signed in 2012.

Europol will "develop as the EU criminal information hub"

Europol is investing significant effort and resources into improving its ability to gather and analyse information and intelligence, with spending of over €3.5 million on new or improved systems due to take place almost entirely in the first half of 2013.

There are plans to "optimise the operational impact of the new Analysis Work File concept" and "deliver the new generation of the Europol Analysis System."

Analysis Work Files consist of information and intelligence gathered by Europol on specific themes. The files have recently been reorganised, a process that included the controversial merging of a file on non-Islamist extremism and terrorism (AWF Dolphin, which also holds information on political activism) and terrorism in general (AWF Hydra). [6]

The reorganisation of AWFs will provide:

"Tangible operational benefits… as a result of storing and manipulating the entire wealth of crime intelligence at Europol's disposal in a single repository, with improved information processing and analytical resource allocation."

Upgrading the Europol Analysis System (EAS) will further contribute to this, at a cost €0.5 million.

It is also foreseen that Europol's information management capabilities will be enhanced via improved "interoperability between the data processing systems of Europol, Member States, Interpol and EU-related bodies."

SIENA (the Secure Information Exchange Network Application), the system used to exchange information and intelligence, will be given a €0.4 million upgrade to add "user-need driven functionalities" and confidential-level security.

"Structured information exchange" will also be introduced - that is, the provision of information in standardised forms - which is:

"An important enabler for enhanced cross-matching and will in addition facilitate the insertion of information into the EIS by third parties and Member State competent authorities, as well as stimulate the reusability of data within messages and insertion into national databases."

This is estimated to cost another €0.5 million, and will help to boost information exchange between EU Member States, non EU-Schengen states, and institutions such as Interpol, Frontex and Eurojust.

Europol clearly foresees a significant increase in the supply and circulation of information and intelligence across the borders of EU Member States, and the EU's own external borders.

Europol will "expand its capabilities as an EU centre for law enforcement expertise"

The first objective under this heading is to "enhance the overall crime intelligence picture maintained by Europol with input from non-law enforcement actors." This will require:

"Establishing long-term strategic partnerships with… commercial entities to enable: identification and disruption of synthetic drug production and distribution; disruption of trafficking illicit commodities in container form; prevention and detection of cybercrime… prevention and detection of environmental crime; identification and disruption of counterfeit medicines production and distribution."

A Green paper on commercial information relevant to law enforcement and information exchange models was due to be published this year, [7] although there is no mention of it in the Commission's 2012 Work Programme. It remains unknown when it will be issued, although Europol is excited about the prospects: "input from non-law enforcement actors will add great value and complete the intelligence picture in the concerned crime areas."

In line with the first objective, the agency is also seeking to:

"Consolidate its role in security-related research and developments projects at EU level… To this extent Europol will continue its representation of the Security Advisory Group of the Framework Programme 7 of the European Commission to advise on the prioritisation of research topics… in the area of security taking into consideration the law enforcement community's requirements."

Combating counterfeiting of the euro is the second objective, a line of work that has recently seen Europol working with the Colombian National Police and the US Secret Service to crack down on a counterfeiting operation in Colombia. [8] To expand upon this work, the agency will build a counterfeit currency print shop at its headquarters in 2012 and put it into use for training purposes in 2013.

Perhaps more controversial is the third objective, to "augment Europol's position as a central EU platform for capacity building in the fight against violent extremism." This will involve working with the EU's "informal radicalisation-awareness network" and providing "updated indicators for violent political extremism across the EU."

The proposal to develop these indicators followed the terrorist attacks in Norway in July 2011, although some commentators were critical of the EU approach to this field of work, stating that it consists of:

"[R]elying on the analysis of security experts, the massive gathering, exchange and transfer of information across Member States and with third countries by EU agencies and of assuming as an 'unchallenged mantra' the existence of a nexus between internal and external threats... [This] should be re-examined at EU level… in light of the inherent challenges they pose to rule of law, accountability and fundamental rights principles." [9]

Europol is instead pushing ahead: "These and other measures will enable Europol to help detect and prevent as early as possible any incidents of the scope and nature of the attack in Norway in July 2011."

This work will involve cooperation with the US: the agency earlier this participated in a conference on countering violent extremism with the Department of Homeland Security, although little else is known about this meeting. [10]

Further objectives are for Europol to establish the new European Cybercrime Centre; [11] continuing to "fulfil Europol's role in the EU-US terrorist finance tracking programme agreement and prepar[ing] to support any future equivalent system in the EU"; and developing training courses in conjunction with the European Police College. Once again, "priority will be given to training which is directly related to the EU's priorities and its related strategic goals for the fight against organised crime."

Undertaking "activities needed to ensure that Europol has the right capabilities to achieve its workflows"

The final goal deals largely with internal management and administration procedures, although plans to increase transparency are outlined:

"A public access management functionality will be made available... This will ensure the coordinated management of public access requests (internal and external coordination of replies, monitoring deadlines and responding to the requester) and will include a Europol public access Internet web-site, which will be populated (also retroactively) with public documents created by Europol."

It should be noted that this is only being considered over a decade after Regulation 1049/2001 on access to documents came into force.

Working towards a new legal basis

At the end of the year, the Commission will publish its proposal for a Council Decision renewing Europol's legal basis. The Work Programme for 2013 makes clear that prior to this, the agency is seeking to expand its work as far as possible within its current legal remit. Indeed, the Work Programme even states that once the proposal is available, Europol will:

"[M]ake a preliminary assessment of it and, through consultation with the MS, undertake selection actions in order to adapt to any proposed new legal framework when necessary, with a view to maximising any operational and strategic opportunities it could offer."

This would appear to be suggesting pre-emption of any amendments that may be made to the proposal during negotiations between the Council and the Parliament, in order to make the most of any benefits the initial proposal is perceived by Europol as offering. Despite the agency's significant and increasing role in European policing, it is clearly looking to do far more.

Further reading
- 'UK influence over EU internal security policy-making is "remarkable", says Europol chief', Statewatch News Online, 11 June 2012
- 'Europol boosts its reach, scope and information-gathering', Statewatch News Online, 1 June 2012
- Statewatch analysis: Europol: The final step in the creation of an "Investigative and Operational" European Police Force by Professor Steve Peers, January 2007

[1] Europol, 'Work Programme 2013', 11 July 2012
[2] Europol, 'Europol Strategy 2010-2014', 11 February 2010
[3] Partially declassfied notes on Operational Action Plans: 'C: illegal immigration' (17993/11 EXT 1); 'F: Trafficking in human beings' (17802/11 EXT 1); 'G: Mobile OC groups' (17827/11 EXT 1); 'H: Cybercrime and the criminal misuse of the internet' (17809/11 EXT 1)
[4] Note from Presidency, 'Amending the COSPOL framework into [EMPACT]', 3 November 2011 (15386/1/11), p.5
[5] Crisis Management and Planning Department, 'Strengthening ties between CSDP and FSJ - Elements of a draft Road Map', 17 October 2011, p.7; see also Richard Norton-Taylor, 'Eurospooks flourish as Euro flounders', The Guardian, 24 January 2012
[6] 'Europol boosts its reach, scope and information-gathering', Statewatch News Online, 1 June 2012
[7] 'Action Plan Implementing the Stockholm Programme', 20 April 2010, p.30
[8] Europol, 'Two counterfeit euro print-shops busted in Colombia', 13 August 2012
[9] 'Europol boosts its reach, scope and information-gathering'
[10] Working Party on Terrorism, 'Summary of discussions', 15 March 2012, p.3
[11] Europol, 'European Cybercrime Centre (EC3)'

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