EU: The spider's web: Europol goes global in the hunt for intelligence and analysis

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These articles examine proposals from Europol, the EU's policing agency, that it sign cooperation agreements with four different countries: Brazil, Mexico, Georgia, and the United Arab Emirates.

They were originally published in three parts over four weeks, on 14 March, 23 March, and 5 April. They are reproduced here together, albeit with separate footnotes for each article. Part 1 examines Brazil and Mexico, Part 2 looks at Georgia, and Part 3 deals with the United Arab Emirates.

Part 1

The "angular lines" used in Europol's logo, explains the agency, are "derived from a spider's web which represents exchange of information, networking and the cooperative nature of our work."

The logo is made up of a number of pieces that "fit together like a jigsaw and symbolise our core business - analysis. The upward direction of the points in the symbol signifies speed, progress, upward movement and precision." [1]

Europol is hoping to widen its web, and has sought permission to negotiate four new cooperation agreements so that it can formalise the exchange of information, intelligence and analysis with Brazil, Georgia, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Ensuring "internal security" in Europe - combating organised crime, human trafficking, drug smuggling, financial fraud and property crime amongst other things - makes the need for these agreements operationally urgent, Europol argues. Documents released by the agency also show that its own strategic interests and a desire to reinforce its status as a "major player" are also behind these proposals.

While Europol is obliged to ensure adequate levels of data protection in the countries with which it makes agreements, questions have been raised by MEPs, human rights organisations and activists over the nature of European cooperation with countries where political institutions and police forces have dubious human rights records, make use of questionable and sometimes illegal practices and techniques, and have track records of corruption and political repression.

Over the next three weeks a series of articles on Statewatch News Online will examine Europol's proposed new agreements. We will start with an overview of the context in which the agency is seeking these new agreements, before moving on to examine two of the four new proposed "external partners" - Brazil and Mexico. Next week the proposed agreement with Georgia is examined, and following that, the UAE.

Making lists

Europol's 2013 work programme outlined an "annual objective" to "maximise operational added value from all cooperation agreements with external partners." This objective is to be measured by the number of requests for information sent by and to Europol, and ties in with another goal: to "promote effective regional cooperation with relevant regional initiatives and key non-EU states." [2]

The agency currently has agreements with 18 non-EU states and three international organisations. Its operational agreements (with countries and organisations including Australia, Canada, the USA and Interpol) permit the exchange of personal data as well as more general data, while strategic agreements (with countries and organisations such as Colombia, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, the World Customs Organisation and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime) permit the exchange of strategic and general information. [3]

In October last year Europol's Management Board, made up of European Commission and member state representatives, recommended to the Council that it amend the list of third states with which the agency should sign agreements. This recommendation was in turn based on a series of "business cases" prepared by Europol, which attempted to make clear the "political and operational interest in concluding cooperation agreements with a limited number of priority countries."

The Cypriot Presidency subsequently prepared in November last year a Draft Council Decision that would permit amendment of the list. It was discussed at a meeting of the Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP), at which the Commission argued "against the suggested amendment of the list," reiterating a stance it had already taken at meetings of Europol's management board. [4]

The Commission's opinions were, however, put to one side, and the LEWP went to the European Parliament (EP) to ask its opinion on the proposed amendment to the list. Despite requesting that the EP deliver its opinion "as soon as possible", [5] it was not until the end of January that the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) appointed a rapporteur for the procedure (Philip Claeys from Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang). The other relevant forum for debating the proposed agreements, the Foreign Affairs Committee, decided it was unnecessary to give an opinion on the proposal.

A date has not yet been set for the LIBE Committee to examine the proposals, although when it does issue its opinion it will not necessarily affect the outcome of the process - the Council is obliged merely to take the Parliament's opinion "into account". It thus seems almost certain that the four new agreements will be given the green light. First to be examined are the proposed agreements with Brazil and Mexico.

Across the Atlantic: Brazil and Mexico

Both Brazil and Mexico are considered by the EU as "strategic partners", and there are a number of high-level agreements that guide relations between them.

The EU agreed a Joint Action Plan with Brazil in 2011 which made a number of statements regarding joint attempts to deal with organised crime and corruption, including agreeing to "cooperate in preventing the use of their financial systems for laundering proceeds arising from criminal activities in general and implementing Financial Action Task Force recommendations," and to "explore the possibilities of sharing experiences and best practices among Financial Intelligence Units (FIU) of Brazil and EU member countries."

There was also agreement on exchanging "experiences, cooperation and good practices with interested countries in fighting against organised crime activities," considering "inter-agency bilateral exchange of information and best practices on law enforcement," and "strengthening bilateral legal and police cooperation."

"Brazilian organised crime groups must be carefully monitored," according to Europol's "business case" for concluding an agreement with the country. That agreement should be operational - permitting the exchange of personal data - and given "high priority". [6]

Growing opportunities

The agency notes that rapid economic expansion, increased migration between the EU and Brazil (in both directions), growing trade links between the EU and Brazil and the forthcoming Olympics and World Cup in the Latin American state all lead to "opportunities for organised crime."

This is only too clear in Europol's assessment of the problem of migration from Brazil to the EU: "Brazilians represent an ongoing issue with regard to illegal immigration into the EU. In recent years Brazilians have become one of the main nationalities refused entry to the EU," while "Brazilian criminals are increasingly detected as facilitators of illegal immigration in the EU."

Europol maintains a file, AWF Phoenix, on "South American trafficking networks" and increasing amounts of data are being entered by Member States into the file, but it remains incomplete: "Information received from Brazil would be very useful to complete the picture that AWF Phoenix has in the EU on the Brazilian THB [trafficking in human beings] networks."

There are also concerns over drug smuggling, the trade in endangered species (which makes use of techniques developed for smuggling drugs), credit card fraud, counterfeiting of the Euro, and terrorism.

The issue of counterfeiting appears to have proved tricky for Europol in the past, with member states' own interests standing in the way of the agency's work: "In operational cases, use has been made of the services of EU bi-lateral Liaison Officers based in Brazil, but often, as they have their own priorities, this method of communication has depended very much on their will to cooperate."

Meanwhile, terrorism is an issue on which the EU and Brazil have not yet cooperated, but "a number of religiously motivated, extremist groups linked to Hezbollah and possibly al-Qaeda have reportedly been active in Brazil, specifically close to the Tri-Border area (TBA - Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay)."

However: "the topic remains very sensitive, since Brazil has been accused by the USA in the recent past of failing to cooperate in this area and denying the presence of known terrorists on its territory."

Terrorists, anarchists and traffickers

Terrorism also crops up as an issue in Europol's analysis of Mexico, with the agency noting that EU countries such as the UK and France are often used as transit points for smuggling people to Mexico. Moreover, "the immigrants detected are often from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq prompting concerns also in respect of potential links with terrorism." [7]

Under the name of combating terrorism Europol is also taking an interest in separatist and anarchist groups in Mexico. There are apparently reports of ETA (the Basque independence movement) presence in the country, and "Mexico is very relevant for Europol… as numerous anarchist extremist activities have been committed there, whilst often claiming solidarity with anarchists imprisoned in the EU."

Relations between the EU and Mexico have intensified over the last decade, and in 2010 a Joint Executive Plan saw the two countries agree to "encourage a set of specific measures" in areas similar to those on which the EU has agreed to cooperate with Brazil.

These include "combating transnational organised crime, drug trafficking, illegal manufacturing and trafficking of weapons, explosives, trafficking in human beings, and other public security and law enforcement issues," concerns which are reflected in Europol's business case for the country. [8]

The Joint Executive Plan also includes a commitment to "establish a sectoral dialogue on public security and law enforcement in order to stimulate bilateral cooperation" which will, amongst other things, allow the two parties to "exchange information, experiences, knowledge and intelligence"; "strengthen cooperation" on "public security, justice, crime prevention, police intelligence, training and equipment, prison policies and institutional development, and human rights."

The Plan also includes a commitment to "explore the opportunity and possible means to initiate cooperation between Mexico and Frontex on border security related issues."

So far there are no signs that Mexico and Frontex have initiated cooperation, but Europol is particularly candid in its business case when discussing one issue which may attract the attention of the EU's border agency - human trafficking:

"Mexican authorities have detected a growing number of Eastern European women… being trafficked to the main cities… They also mentioned an ongoing investigation linked with Germany as well as another related to Bulgaria in which high ranking officers of the Bulgarian authorities are allegedly involved."

Meanwhile, although it is "far from being clear" whether "a notable increase in cocaine trafficking from Mexico to the South West hub" - Western Africa and Northwest Africa and Southwest Europe - is due to Mexican organised crime groups, Europol's AWF Cola has some information on operations with "tentative links to Mexican suspects, although their involvement seems limited."

"Colombian sources… consider that cocaine trafficking is split along very identifiable lines with Mexican organised crime groups (OCGs) controlling trafficking to USA, and Colombian OCGs, controlling the networks to Europe," but Europol's discussions with Mexican authorities suggest that "Mexican cartels already control the distribution towards USA and are now turning their attention towards the EU markets."

The potential threat posed by Mexican OCGs to the EU "are sufficiently serious to justify priority attention being given to the possibility of concluding a cooperation agreement." Doing so "would be beneficial to Europol and its Member States in the long term." There is no indication whether such an agreement would be strategic, or operational (and thus permitting the exchange of personal data).

Fact and friction

Europol's business case for Mexico discusses the Mexican Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) and the General Procurator of the Republic (PGR) and notes that "friction exists between the two organisations."

"The Mexican law enforcement landscape remains very fragmented and Mexican intentions have to be cautiously evaluated and assessed," says the agency.

However, the "friction" referred to by Europol is, according to Octavio Rodriguez's from the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute, largely a thing of the past.

At the beginning of the administration of former president Felipe Calderón (of the National Action Party, PAN, and in office from 2006 to 2012) there was huge disagreement between the PGR and the SSP, which even involved the PGR launching an investigation into the SSP. Following what Rodriguez called "some political adjustments" which saw the head of the PGR shifted to Mexico's embassies in the UK and then the US, the differences between the agencies are apparently "largely solved".

Corruption, crime and violence

Meanwhile, it seems Europol will have to undertake further evaluation and assessment of the "Mexican law enforcement landscape" as last month, the SSP was disbanded by the President, Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). [9]

Octavio Rodriguez told Statewatch that while the SSP is now "formally dismantled", it has been reconstituted with "basically the same" functions in a new body, the National Commission of Security, which retains intelligence, crime prevention, rapid reaction and special forces functions.

The transfer of the SSP's functions is related to a bureaucratic streamlining of Mexico's security forces. "The thing here is that the president is intending to create a national gendarmerie," said Rodriguez, with the aim of ending the military's role in public security.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report from November 2011 notes that "more than 50,000 soldiers are currently involved in large-scale counternarcotics operations across Mexico," and where they are deployed they "have taken on many of the responsibilities of both police and prosecutors - from patrolling neighbourhoods to responding to shootouts, from investigating individual crimes to gathering intelligence on criminal groups." [10]

Research by HRW found that Caldéron's policy of launching a "war" on Mexican organised crime groups, in which the military were the "centrepiece" of a strategy "almost entirely focused on confronting the cartels with force," led to "a significant increase in human rights violations."

This included security forces "systematically [using] torture to obtain forced confessions and information about criminal groups," as well as evidence pointing "to the involvement of soldiers and police in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances around the country."

Rodriguez said that alongside moves to end the military's role in public security, new emphasis has been placed on human rights standards, and "the president has said that the new forces… are going to put more emphasis on training police in human rights. They do want to train the forces - or at least that's the public discourse - and to make it more respectful of rights."

But while there are still massive profits to be made from the trade in drugs, this may prove difficult. While under Calderón 3,200 officers - nearly 10 per cent - from the federal police force were fired in attempts to rein in corruption, [11] suspicions remain that "the drug business is just too lucrative for some to pass up." [12] In the late 1990s, a former government drugs chief "was on the payroll" of a major cartel. [13]

Brazil's law enforcement authorities have a similarly dubious human rights record to those in Mexico. A Freedom House report notes that "corruption and violence remain entrenched problems in Brazil's police forces, where torture is used systemically to extract confessions and extrajudicial killings are portrayed as shootouts with dangerous criminals." [14]

A European Parliament report from 2011 noted that "Europol's cooperation with a number of third countries with poor human rights records under international law and the Council of Europe system, such as Russia, requires close monitoring." [15]

However, in terms of its legal obligations, the agency is only required to assess whether a third state with which it has an agreement applies "adequate" data protection standards; and whether data can be considered acceptable in line with Europol's "4x4" grading system, which assesses the quality of source against the quality of information. [16]

The European Parliament's analysis ended with an open question: "could Europol receive strategic information obtained under torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment (in breach of Article 4 of the Charter and Article 3 ECHR) or in turn facilitate law enforcement operations in third states which impact on fundamental rights?"

America's back yard

Europol's liaison bureau in Washington DC has had significant involvement in contacts between Europol and its two potential new partners. Brazil sought out bilateral contacts with the agency in June 2010 and they subsequently met in Washington.

The Washington bureau was also "tasked to identify areas for possible cooperation, in particular the possibility that Europol/LB [liaison bureau] Washington receive operational data from Mexico with focus on Mexican organised crime activities in and towards Europe."

Mexican representatives have travelled to Europol's headquarters in The Hague, and Europol Director Rob Wainwright met Ambassador Sandra Fuentes-Berain in December 2011 at the Mexican embassy in Belgium. Unspecified "experts" from Europol's Operations Department have also travelled to Mexico City, where they met representatives of the SSP in May 2012.

"Strengthening of ties" with Mexico is "supported by a number of MS and partners, in particular the United States," say's Europol's business case for an agreement.

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show that in December 2008, US officials felt that "discussions at the November 14 [US-EU] Troika meeting on Drug Issues confirmed US-EU convergence on most drug issues." There is "much more transatlantic agreement than disagreement on drug issues." Indeed, the only real sticking point appeared to be the EU's insistence on maintaining a slightly less punitive approach than the US by retaining the concept of "harm reduction" as part of its drugs policy. [17]

A new approach?

The increased interest of Europol in South American drug production and trafficking comes at the same time that many political leaders in Latin America are shifting their rhetoric and policies on drugs.

In January 2010, "many Latin American countries" began arguing that "the war on drugs has failed," and began to adopt "more permissive drug laws, including the decriminalisation of personal use." [18]

In early 2012, The Economist reported that then-president of Mexico Félipe Calderon "called for a 'national debate' about legalisation, though he then seemed to forget about it." Juan Manuel Santos, Colombian president, argued in November that "if [taking away traffickers' profits] means legalising, and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it." Guatemala's president has called for drug trafficking to be decriminalised, saying that "you would get rid of money-laundering, smuggling, arms-trafficking and corruption" - some of the very problems which Europol is hoping to try and address by expanding its reach. [19]

This article was originally published on Statewatch News Online on 14 March 2013.

Part 1 - Sources
[1] Europol, Corporate Identity
[2] Europol, Europol Work Programme 2013, 12667/12, 17 July 2012; see also "Ambitious, yet realistic": Europol seeks to further increase its role in European policing, Statewatch News Online, September 2012
[3] Europol, External Cooperation
[4] Law Enforcement Working Party, Summary of discussions, 16346/12, 20 November 2012
[5] General Secretariat of the Council, Draft Council Decision amending Decision 2009/935/JHA as regards the list of third States and organisations with which Europol shall conclude agreements - transmission to the European Parliament, 17043/12, 18 December 2012
[6] Europol, Business Case: Cooperation with Brazil, 4 April 2012
[7] Europol, Business Case: Cooperation with Mexico, 4 April 2012
[8] Council of the European Union, Mexico-European Union Strategic Partnership Joint Executive Plan, 9820/10, 16 May 2010
[9] Peña Nieto announces initiative to dismantle SSP and SPF, Justice in Mexico Project, 16 November 2012
[10] Human Rights Watch, Neither Rights Nor Security: Killing, Torture, and Disappearances in Mexico's "War on Drugs", November 2011
[11] Mexico fires thousands of police to combat corruption, Reuters, 30 August 2010
[12] Sarah Carlson, Mexico's Future Strategy Shrouded by Ongoing Drug War: Will Nieto's Strategy Prevail?, The International, 11 February 2013
[13] Ted Galen Carpenter, Is the Mexican Government Going Easy on the Sinaloa Drug Cartel?, CATO Institute, 10 February 2011
[14] Sarah Trister, Assessing the 2012 UN Human Rights Council Elections: One-Third of Candidates Unqualified for Membership, Freedom House
[15] Elspeth Guild, Sergio Carrera, Leonhard den Hertog, Joanna Parkin, Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and its Impact on EU Home Affairs Agencies: Frontex, Europol and the European Asylum Support Office, August 2011
[16] Europol: "4x4" intelligence handling codes includes "dodgy data", Statewatch News Online, January 2013
[17] USEU Brussels, Discussions at November 14 US-EU troika meeting on drug issues demonstrate overall transatlantic convergence on drug issues, Wikileaks, 12 December 2008
[18] FACTBOX - Drug policy reforms in Latin America, Reuters, 29 January 2010
[19] Burn-out and battle fatigue, The Economist, 17 March 2012

Part 2

In November last year, following a meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the new Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said that "the priority for the Georgian government is European integration, and integration into NATO, into Euro-Atlantic area. We will do everything possible to speed up this process." [1]

One step in the direction of European integration will be the conclusion of a cooperation agreement between Europol and Georgia. It is also an unavoidable step: following the establishment of the Eastern Partnership negotiation framework in 2009, signing an agreement with Europol became "one of the preconditions to be met by Georgia before it could start the negotiations on a visa-liberalisation agreement with the EU," says Europol's business case for the country. [2]

This conditionality "has substantially increased the political and strategic significance of a cooperation agreement," according to Europol, and "Georgian authorities have shown considerable interest," making "several contacts… to acquire about legal and practical options", including in the context of numerous visits to Europol.

Georgian organised crime groups are "steadily growing in scale"

The South Caucasus nation, which has a population of around 4,500,000, is of interest to the EU's policing agency because of its associations with a wide number of "threats to EU internal security" - drug trafficking, organised property crime, smuggling, illegal immigration, counterfeiting, money laundering, extortion, and fraud.

Of particular interest to Europol are Georgian organised crime groups (OCGs), which have "been active in the EU for more than a decade, steadily growing in scale over that time."

"Currently, several member states" - including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Spain - "are facing serious issues with criminality caused by Georgian organised crime, which by its nature is very international and has interlinked clusters in many countries," says the business case.

The "ultimate goal": intelligence and analysis

Europol wants to conclude "a strategic cooperation agreement", which would not permit the exchange of personal data, in order "to get a better strategic overview of Georgian organised crime impacting on the EU and its Member States."

If possible, though, the agency wants more: "the ultimate goal would be to conclude an operational cooperation agreement, which would allow for the exchange of intelligence and analysis."

The legal framework governing Europol's relations with third countries requires an assessment of data protection to be carried out before the conclusion of an agreement, in order to ensure that it is "adequate", a conclusion it seems likely to reach in the case of Georgia.

The Georgian Law on Personal Data Protection entered into force on 1 May 2012 "and it is by and large in line with EU Personal Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC)," a representative of the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) told Statewatch.

As in the EU, Georgia's general data protection legislation "does not apply to the activity of police in Georgia and this issue is regulated by the existing criminal law rules." In the EU, national legal regimes cover data processing by the police and law enforcement bodies, while cross-border exchange is regulated by a separate European law. [3]

Nino Gvedashvili from the Tblisi-based NGO Human Rights House told Statewatch that under the previous government, data protection issues were neglected in practice and "in some cases, even in law as well."

The new government under Prime Minister Ivanishvili came to power in October 2012, nearly six months after the new data protection law was passed, and Gvedashvili says that they have promised to improve upon the previous government's record. Currently, however, it is "hard to evaluate the practice of Georgian police."

The European Commission clearly feels that Georgian law enforcement data protection standards are sufficient - a document from last year on the "Eastern Partnership Roadmap 2012-13: the bilateral dimension" makes no mention of any need to improve the legal or policy framework. [4]

Instead, Georgia should "enhance the efficiency of the fight against crime" by ratifying UN and Council of Europe conventions, adopting and implementing "effective standards of protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in order to combat counterfeiting."

The Commission also feels that the country should "enhance regional cooperation," as well as "cooperation with CEPOL [the European Police College] and Europol."

Covert operations

The requirement for Europol to ensure "adequate" data protection standards in making cooperation agreements, however, means that other concerns may be left unexamined. The GYLA told Statewatch that the law governing information-gathering by the police "features a number of legislative flaws, which explicitly jeopardises protection of human rights."

The law does not "guarantee protective mechanisms, which on its turn requires specifically and strictly prescribed regulation," the Association said. While courts have a say in the lawfulness of initiating covert surveillance operations, judicial oversight then ceases and is not taken into account for the process of covert surveillance.

Georgian law currently gives the police significant powers to gather information on a variety of people, without clear judicial or democratic oversight, according to the GYLA. They say that "the monitoring terms and appeal mechanisms should also be defined as well as the scope of individuals who might be subject to secret overhearing," and that "interdepartmental normative acts regulating specific rules for conduct of secret overhearing should be publicised."

Problems are not only to be found in the "legislative flaws", they say. In recent years "the police abused their power and eavesdropped illegally on a lot of people."

In 2010 Nino Gvedashvili of Human Rights House warned that new legislative amendments "do not increase protection of civil rights, but the reverse," while the director of the NGO Human Rights Centre warned that "the legal amendments allow the creation of a police state." [5]

It appears that now - for the time being - the situation has improved somewhat. The GYLA said that the change in government has led to "quite a few high rank police officials" facing prosecution for "illegal interception and illegal gathering [of] the private communication information."

Once you're in, you're in?

Questions remain over what happens to data gathered by police using methods that even at a time of limited legal standards were later deemed illegal. Third countries that transmit information to Europol are obliged to provide an assessment of the information and its source, in line with the standards Europol itself uses. If they do not do so, Europol has to undertake its own assessment.

This assessment of quality, however, is not accompanied by an assessment of legality. [6] Europol has been criticised in the past for holding data on a group of 33 young women "indicating they were prostitutes and suspects of criminal activity," according to a report produced for the European Parliament in 2011. [7]

"However, when these entries were traced back to the Member State," says the study, "it appeared that the majority of women were in fact likely victims of trafficking, and that there was not sufficient evidence to hold them in the Europol system as suspects."

A year later, this "erroneous data" was still being held within Europol's systems, despite the agency being made aware of the issue by the UK representative on the Joint Supervisory Board. Problems in obtaining redress for individuals whose information is held on multinational or networked national databases have been found in numerous other instances over the years. [8]

The European Parliament's report noted that there is "a worrying scope for erroneous data, which could have serious repercussions for individuals in a particularly vulnerable position, implying not only a violation of the right to data protection, but, if this were to lead to their treatment by national authorities of Member States as criminals rather than victims, then also a breach of their right to good administration and an effective legal remedy."

It goes on to criticise Europol for its history in upholding the rights of the data subject, saying that its track record with regard to allowing subjects access to and correction of data "has been mixed."

A vote in favour?

Human rights advocates in Georgia have made clear that while there have been some improvements in the policies governing and practices of the country's law enforcement agencies, many problems still remain. Meanwhile, the largest political group in the European Parliament has launched a blistering attack on the country's respect for human rights and democratic standards.

In February the conservative European People's Party (EPP) condemned Georgia for continuously "breaching democratic rules" since the October 2012 elections.

Violent clashes followed a Presidential speech outside Georgia's National Library in early February, and the EPP was quick to issue a damning statement on what it called "intolerable acts". The Party's press statement went on to say that:

"The relations between the EU and Georgia are based on the conviction that we share the same values and principles and on our joint commitment to promote them. The current negotiations of the Association Agreement between the EU and Georgia are conducted in this same framework. Unfortunately, we all must admit that the conditions to continue such a dialogue between the EU and Georgia are not met anymore. This is very regrettable but the EU cannot compromise its basic values and democratic standards." [9]

Pushing ahead

Despite these protestations, at the end of February the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström presented the Georgian government with its "Action Plan on Visa Liberalisation" which is "structured in four blocks of measures dealing respectively with document security, border and migration management, public order and security, and relevant external relations issues."

"Georgian authorities are encouraged to continue working hand in hand to pursue the necessary reforms in all the areas relevant for the visa liberalisation dialogue, including: fight against corruption and organised crime, data protection, anti-discrimination and protection of minorities, as well as judicial reform aiming at ensuring the independence of the justice system," said Malmström. [10] The Action Plan and related documents will only be released to the public if the Georgian government decides to do so, the Commission told Statewatch.

The delivery of the EU's Action Plan seems to have shocked the EPP into silence. Statewatch asked the party whether it would be voicing a negative opinion on Europol's proposals for a cooperation agreement with Georgia when the issue comes up for discussion in the LIBE Committee, but received no response. It seems that Europol may soon have one more partner in the Black Sea region, alongside Moldova, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

This article was originally published on Statewatch News Online on 23 March 2013.

Part 2 - Sources
[1] Georgian Prime Minister reiterates country's Euro-Atlantic integration, Trend, 12 November 2012
[2] Europol, Business Case: Cooperation with Georgia, 4 April 2012
[3] Council Framework Decision 2008/977/JHA of 27 November 2008 on the protection of personal data processed in the framework of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters
[4] European Commission, Eastern Partnership Roadmap 2012-13: the bilateral dimension, 15 May 2012
[5] Shorena Latatia, "Police State" Fears in Georgia, Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 4 March 2011
[6] Europol: "4x4" intelligence handling codes includes "dodgy data", Statewatch News Online, January 2013
[7] Elspeth Guild, Sergio Carrera, Leonhard den Hertog, Joanna Parkin, Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and its Impact on EU Home Affairs Agencies: Frontex, Europol and the European Asylum Support Office, August 2011
[8] Commission failing to follow the rules on the operation of EURODAC, Statewatch News Online, 5 July 2012; Still 46 EU citizens wrongly on the Schengen Information System, Statewatch News Online, February 2007; Still a total of 414 EU citizens wrongly put on the Schengen Information System - Switzerland tops the list by a mile, Statewatch News Online, April 2006; Football fans taken off records, Statewatch Bulletin Vol 6 No 4
[9] European People's Party, Georgia: EPP shocked by violent acts against UNM parliamentarians; conditions for EU-Georgia dialogue not anymore met, 13 February 2013
[10] Commissioner Malmström presents Action Plan on Visa Liberalisation with Georgia, European Commission press release, 25 February 2013

Part 3 (originally published 5 April 2013)

Going to the Gulf: the United Arab Emirates

Europol's interest in signing a cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - a small, politically repressive and geopolitically important state - rests on the fact that it is "increasingly relevant as a hub and a sanctuary for organised crime" and is "becoming a growing hub for economic and financial crime." [1]

"Proceeds from criminal activities such as Value Added Tax (VAT) fraud, Missing Trade Intra Community (MTIC) fraud and money laundering have been reinvested in the UAE and key criminals involved in these frauds have sought refuge there," according to Europol's "business case" for signing an agreement with the country.

The UK and Europol worked together in February 2010 to address MTIC fraud perpetrated by individuals in Dubai, and in May 2011 a meeting involving the UK and other participants in the Analysis Work File on MTIC "hosted a meeting at Europol" which "established a Europol-facilitated network."

At the end of July 2011, this led "to the arrest of a French national involved in cocaine trafficking and VAT fraud in emissions trading," but there is concern that individuals located in Dubai and involved in the "short 2008-09 bubble of fraud" in emissions markets are now "turning their attention to other commodities, such as wholesale gas and electricity or metals markets."

No smoke without fire

Europol also give significant attention to the issue of cigarette smuggling: "A significant number of illicit cigarettes seized in the EU are produced in the Middle East, particularly in FTZs [free trade zones] in the UAE."

Free trade zones are areas in which the import, export and processing of goods can take place without any intervention by customs authorities. In 2010 the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) - a body that emerged from a 1990 G7 initiative and which was critically examined last year in a Statewatch and Transnational Institute report [2] - estimated that there are "approximately 3,000 FTZs in 135 countries around the world with a total turnover in the billions of dollars." The FATF says they "are misused for money laundering and terrorist financing." [3]

Europol quotes claims made by British American Tobacco that "the UAE facilities have a manufacturing capacity of over 55 billion sticks per year and produce over 50 different brands. Four of the manufacturing facilities located within the UAE FTZs are problematic."

Counterfeiting of other goods is also a problem, and the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai is marked out for special attention. Here, "the real origin of goods is concealed to avoid EU Customs risk profiling. This concerns all types of goods, including those potentially dangerous for consumers' health, such as medicines."

Building bridges

Europol has recommended that high priority be given to concluding an operational agreement with the UAE (which would allow the exchange of personal data). Along with its links to organised crime, fraud, money laundering, intellectual property crime and cigarette smuggling, the Emirates "are potentially a key partner in the Gulf region in the fight against terrorism and could be a valuable source of information for EU security bodies."

"Only 0.01% of the information stored in the [counter-terrorism Analysis Work File] is related to the UAE," says Europol. The UAE has not so far spontaneously offered information, and no EU member state has "acted as a bridge for data exchange."

Some member states have provided data, but "there are many limitations when it comes to sharing intelligence on the UAE with other member states. An operational agreement would provide member states with an invaluable connection to any area which is becoming increasingly relevant as a hub and a sanctuary for organised crime."

The EU's policing agency is also interested in reinforcing its own role: "an operational agreement would reinforce Europol as the major player in the fight against financial fraud throughout the EU, especially vis-à-vis a region with which member states have had difficulties in establishing operational cooperation in the past."

While the EU has diplomatic links with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with whom it signed a Cooperation Agreement in 1988 and of which the UAE is a member (along with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia), "security issues and, in particular, the fight against organised crime are not generally part of the regular dialogue," Europol says.

Bilateral relations

Some EU member states clearly have had less difficulty in establishing operational cooperation than others. The British state has strong and longstanding links with the UAE, including bilateral agreements between the Metropolitan Police and the Abu Dhabi Police, and New Scotland Yard's Crime Academy and the Dubai Police Academy.

The agreement between the Metropolitan and Abu Dhabi police forces apparently foresees "cooperation in the areas of public relations, training, exchange of expertise and information," [4] while the other allows "cooperation in training, expertise sharing and capacity building." [5]

Strategic relations outside of the policing sphere are also firmly established - defence cooperation appears to be thriving between EU member states and the UAE. The EU's own figures show that in 2010, 1,438 export licences were granted worth a total of €1,462,682,754. [6] In 2011 the number of licences dropped to 887, but the value of the licences increased to €1,904.032,990. [7]

Put human rights "at the centre" of relations "with all third countries"

In October last year the European Parliament issued a resolution on the human rights situation in the UAE, concluding that the EU should:

"Take concrete actions, together with the 27 Member States, to ensure a clear and principled policy vis-à-vis the UAE that addresses the ongoing serious human rights violations, through demarches, public statements and initiatives at the [UN] Human Rights Council."

It called for the EU "to place human rights at the centre of its relations with all third countries, including strategic partners, with special emphasis on the next EU-GCC meeting." [8]

The Parliament noted in a recent resolution the acceleration of a "crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society activists in 2012, bringing the number of political detainees to 64," most of whom "are in incommunicado detention." It is also alleged that the detainees have been tortured and denied legal assistance. Human Rights Watch has reported other allegations of torture in the country. [9]

"The evidence indicates that national security is the pretext for a crackdown on peaceful activism designed to stifle calls for constitutional reform and reform on human rights issues such as statelessness," the Parliament's resolution said.

The UAE subsequently claimed that the Parliament's resolution was "biased and prejudiced", leading to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, an NGO, to undertake an investigation, in conjunction with Human Rights Watch, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and IFEX, and issue a separate report.

The report contains extensive evidence of political repression, a lack of procedural rights and inadequate detention conditions, and heavily criticised the legal system, the judiciary and the jury system used in the UAE. [10] It found that:

"The conclusions of the European Parliament are clearly accurate in the absence of any evidence to the contrary… International intervention is urgently required and the Western world should be reviewing human rights commitments in its dealings with the UAE, whilst the UAE continues to sanction such significant breaches of basic human rights."

As noted in the other articles in this series, it is not necessary for Europol to assess the human rights situation in the countries with which it makes agreements, and it is not obliged to consider human rights issues - although its founding legislation does say that "this Decision respects the fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised in particular by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union."

Nevertheless, only the appropriate quality of sources and "adequate" data protection safeguards are required for "an operational agreement between Europol and the UAE," which would "enable a direct information flow."

Widening the web

The proposed agreements with Brazil, Mexico, Georgia and the UAE would significantly increase the flow of information into the agency's computer systems, assisting it in the objective of "maximis[ing] operational added value from all cooperation agreements with external partners," as in Europol's 2013 work programme. [11]

Europol is clearly keen for this to happen as soon as possible - the agency requested that the list of states with which it can conclude agreements be changed despite acknowledging that it was "difficult" to undertake such a procedure "pending adoption of the new legal basis of the agency." The Commission is due to publish a proposal for a new legal basis for Europol this year.

Member states' representatives within the Council also are clearly interested in ensuring that negotiation on the new agreements can begin - in late December the European Law Enforcement Working Party called for the Parliament "to deliver its opinion as soon as possible." [12]

With a date yet to be set for a debate on the proposals within the European Parliament's civil liberties Committee, it has perhaps taken longer than Europol and member states' representatives would like. But whether the Parliament issues a positive or negative opinion, the Council is obliged to merely take it "into account", and it can have no binding effect on the outcome.

The Parliament has an opportunity to raise numerous issues with regard to the policies and practices of law enforcement authorities in Brazil, Mexico, Georgia and the UAE. These have been highlighted by its own members as well as by NGOs, human rights activists and others. Whether it will do so remains to be seen, but in any case, it seems almost certain that Europol will continue to spin its web of intelligence further across the globe.

This article was originally published on Statewatch News Online on 5 April 2013.

[1] Europol, Business Case: Cooperation with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 18 June 2012
[2] Ben Hayes, Counter-terrorism 'policy laundering' and the FATF: Legalising surveillance, regulating civil society, Statewatch/Transnational Instititute, February 2012
[3] FATF, Money Laundering vulnerabilities of Free Trade Zones, March 2010
[4] Abu Dhabi, London police seek close ties, New Kerala
[5] Dubai police's academy, New Scotland Yard's crime academy ink MoU, UAE Interact, 24 July 2011
[6] Council of the European Union, Fourteenth Annual Report according to Article 8(2) of Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment, December 2012
[7] Council of the European Union, Thirteenth Annual Report according to Article 8(2) of Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment, December 2011
[8] European Parliament resolution of 26 October 2012 on the human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates
[9] United Arab Emirates, Human Rights Watch World Report 2013
[10] Gulf Center for Human Rights, European Resolution on the UAE: "Biased and Prejudiced?" / Mission to UAE investigates crackdown on free expression in which 64activists have been detained, 10 December 2012
[11] Europol, Europol Work Programme 2013, 12667/12, 17 July 2012; see also "Ambitious, yet realistic": Europol seeks to further increase its role in European policing, Statewatch News Online, September 2012
[12] General Secretariat of the Council, Draft Council Decision amending Decision 2009/935/JHA as regards the list of third States and organisations with which Europol shall conclude agreements - transmission to the European Parliament, 17043/12, 18 December 2012

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