EU institutions want Justice and Home Affairs agencies to "fly the EU flag" abroad

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15.02.2013 - "More and better use" could be made of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) agencies in "operational or capacity-building" and "advisory" roles in foreign policy operations, according to a report from the recent annual meeting of JHA agency chiefs, which says that bodies such as Europol and Frontex are "in an excellent position to 'fly the EU flag' vis-à-vis the Third Countries" in which they operate. [1]

The suggestion comes at a time when significant work is being undertaken within the EU institutions to better coordinate "internal" and "external" security activities. Suggestions have been made for the mandate of the EU's foreign police missions to be broadened so that officers operating in places such as the Occupied Palestinian Territories or Afghanistan could gather personal data and pass it to EU agencies concerned with internal security, such as Europol and Frontex. [2]

Documents concerning this work argue that the EU's foreign police missions should implement "intelligence-led policing" frameworks as a "building block [to] further serve the purpose" of developing "comprehensive situational awareness and intelligence support to the EU." [3]

However, frequent concerns have been expressed over the accountability of agencies such as Europol and Frontex, which would likely only increase if their abilities to gather personal data were increased even further. A December report from the Polish Institute of International Affairs calls for "training on ethics and an expansion of the membership of Frontex's consultative forum to include representatives of border personnel." [4] Oversight of Europol's activities is currently mostly undertaken by the Council of the EU, although greater levels of scrutiny may be introduced by a new Europol Council Decision, on which negotiations should begin in the next few months.

The report from the annual head of agencies meeting, issued in early December, also suggests that the introduction of a "mechanism for regular exchange of information, consultation and coordination among the Agencies, Commission and External Action Service" in the field of foreign policy ("external relations" in EU parlance) would "enhance the effectiveness of the EU External Action and deliver more against the JHA and External Relations Policy objectives."

Data protection training "to be decided"

Other topics discussed at the meeting included data protection, on which "all participants agreed on the importance of supporting each other" which would require "appropriate consultations with Data Protection Officers and Supervisory Authorities and tailored made [sic] training activities."

A "multilateral scorecard" examining cooperation amongst EU agencies notes that possible training for JHA agencies on data protection, to be organised by the European Police College, CEPOL, "in cooperation with Commission and other JHA agencies as well as external partners," is "to be decided." [5]

CEPOL, which offers training on European police cooperation policy and practice, has never offered dedicated courses on data protection, although it is yet to release its Work Programme for 2013. Negotiations are ongoing on new EU legislation covering both general data protection issues, and the more specific area of criminal justice and policing.

"Considerable progress" on human trafficking

Cooperation on the issue of human trafficking was also discussed, and the agencies "renewed their commitment to their Joint Statement" made on the EU's Anti-Trafficking Day in 2011, on which they have apparently made "considerable progress."

Last year an 'Operational Acton Plan' (OAP) that seeks to address human trafficking was introduced as part of a new EU framework, the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT), overseen by the Standing Committee on operational cooperation on internal security (COSI).

The OAP is led by the UK and involves sixteen other Member States as well as Interpol, Eurojust, Frontex, CEPOL and the European External Action Service (EEAS), and aims to "combat all forms of trafficking in human beings and human smuggling by targeting the organised crime groups conducting such criminal activities in particular at the southern, south-western and south-eastern criminal hubs in the EU." [6]

The activities that make up the Operational Action Plan remain unknown, although the decision to appoint the UK as the lead state is notable considering that the coalition government has sought to highlight its policies on human trafficking since its election in May 2010. A new government strategy was introduced in 2011 which the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said "will make a real difference to the lives of those at risk of human trafficking." [7]

Charities, however, criticised new measures introduced as part of the strategy, saying that it "places too much emphasis on border control and not enough on victim protection," and that it represented an "immigration-dominated focus on addressing the symptoms and not the causes of the trade in human beings." [8]

"Governance, efficiency, accountability and overall coherence"

The December meeting also saw senior EU staff discuss the "Common Approach to the EU Agencies" which was adopted by the European Parliament, Commission and Council in July 2012, intended to "streamline and further improve the governance, efficiency, accountability and overall coherence of the Agencies."

Statewatch noted at the time that "the agreed text seems to fall short of the Commission's objectives of greater transparency and accountability." Heads of agencies at the meeting were keen to highlight "the importance for the Agencies of maintaining the required operational and legal autonomy in order to effectively implement their mandates and respond flexibly to operational needs of the Member States."

The EU's internal security committee, COSI, discussed at a meeting last week how the committee "could improve its monitoring of the functioning of co-operation between the Agencies, and the Member States' interaction with them," in the field of "operational co-operation in the field of internal security." [9]

The paper notes that the willingness of JHA agencies "to co-operate more closely together and to take on more responsibilities is a welcome characteristics and a signal of strength," but can "prove a challenge to give practical effect to these demands."

Member States and agencies are invited to address the "structural issues" that prevent better inter-agency cooperation, caused for example by "the relationships between the different 'corresponding' authorities at national level."

"Lessons learned at national level with regard to co-operation between different authorities should now be applied at EU level," says the document.

Attempts at improving cooperation between JHA agencies were formalised following an October 2009 request from the Swedish Presidency for CEPOL, Eurojust, Europol, and Frontex "to produce a report on how to further improve their cooperation." [10]

This work has moved beyond the original four agencies and now also includes the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGI), the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), and the European Agency for the Management of Large-Scale IT Systems, which since December last year has been responsible for management the Visa Information System (VIS), EURODAC, and from spring this year will oversee the Schengen Information System II (SIS II).

[1] General Secretariat, Report of the Annual Heads of JHA Agencies Meeting on 3 December 2012, 1 February 2013
[2] Plans emerge for the collection of personal data outside European borders to obtain "comprehensive situational awareness and intelligence support", Statewatch News Online, 30 October 2012
[3] Ibid.
[4] Roderick Parkes, Frontex: An accountability problem, Polish Institute of International Affairs Bulletin, No 114 (447), 4 December 2012
[5] General Secretariat, Multilateral Cooperation Scorecard, 4 February 2013
[6] Presidency, EU Policy Cycle: Monitoring of the Operational Action Plans 2012, 16014/12
[7] UK Home Office, Human Trafficking: The Government's Strategy, 2011
[8] ECPAT UK, Focus of government's new trafficking strategy will not help victims, 2011
[9] Presidency, Cooperation between JHA agencies: issues for discussion, 7 February 2013
[10] General Secretariat, Interim report on cooperation between JHA Agencies, 29 January 2010

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