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Public order policing in Europe - policy backlash expected
01 June 2001
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 Anti-debt campaigners are among those who have already had their flight tickets withdrawn or diverted to Turin on the orders of the Italian authorities.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: