Council of the EU: Impact of COVID-19 on law enforcement cooperation

The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact upon cross-border law enforcement cooperation in the EU, according to recent documents circulated to the member states by the German Presidency of the Council. However, the situation appears to be providing an impetus for a reassessment of existing laws, policies and procedures, with the aim of stepping up cross-border operational action.

Germany took over the Presidency of the Council on 1 July. One of its priorities is the establishment of a "European Police Partnership", through which "every police officer in every member state" would "have access at all times to the necessary information from every member state to avert present threats in a borderless Europe".

See: 'Working together to provide security for all' in: Together in Europe, Together for Europe: Work programme of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community for the German Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2020 (pdf)

Three recent documents summarising discussions between the member states give an idea of how this initiative is proceeding.

1. Enhancing cross border law enforcement cooperation: Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on EU law enforcement (9656/20, LIMITE, 20 July 2020, pdf):

"At informal video conferences on 15 May 2020 and 13 July 2020, COSI discussed the latest developments regarding the impact of COVID-19 on EU internal security. It became clear that the current crisis has had a significant impact on law enforcement authorities across the European Union and that internal security in Europe requires strong cooperation. Relevant in that context, the Presidency has suggested that a European Police Partnership be established – a concept already introduced during the informal meeting of home affairs ministers on 7 July 2020 and the informal COSI meeting on 13 July 2020.

The Presidency suggests that the discussion be continued, focusing on the experiences of Member States when dealing with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on law enforcement, with the aim of agreeing on steps forward, towards more effective crossborder cooperation in crisis situations."

The document describes, in general terms, some of the issues faced by national law enforcement authorities in the context of the pandemic - for example, having to step up border controls to enforce travel restrictions.

To inform discussions, the Presidency highlighted a number of issues for consideration:

a) Raising awareness about existing legal and technical tools
b) Amending or/and clarifying legal instruments
c) Enhancing secure communication and exchange
d) Coordination

An Annex also provides "a detailed explanation of several aspects of cross-border police cooperation that Member States have reported to be particularly challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic." These come under the following headings:

1) Operational cooperation
2) Legal aspects
3) Communication and information exchange
4) Coordination, covering: Structures for operational cross-border police cooperation/coordination in pandemic situations; Coordination regarding conditions of entry and procedures
5) Awareness and training

2. Enhancing cross border law enforcement cooperation: Best practices, current challenges and way forward (10313/20, LIMITE, 4 September 2020, pdf):

"In the questionnaire, the Member States were asked to provide insight on the functioning, challenges, best practices, and potential of cross-border law enforcement in general. 19 Member States, Switzerland and FRONTEX replied to the questionnaire.

The analysis below lists existing challenges and constraints reported by Member States. It outlines, too, the expectations expressed by Member States as regards changes that could be made to the legal framework with a view to improving the most common instruments of EU cross-border cooperation. This analysis is based, in particular, on the Member States’ replies to the second question of the questionnaire which relates to the issue of possible improvements in the area of cross border police cooperation. The analysis of Member States’ replies to the remaining questions is set out in the Addendum to this note, together with a thorough overview of the existing legal framework and its limits."

3. COVID-19 impact on law enforcement – follow up: Secure Communication (10315/20, LIMITE, 8 September 2020, pdf):

"An initial discussion of the parameters for a short-term improvement in secure communications took place at the LEWP VTC [Law Enforcement Working Party video meeting] meeting on 23 July 2020. The main findings are identified below and will be submitted to the IXIM WP [Working Party on Justice and Home Affairs Information Exchange] for further assessment. Meanwhile, Europol, in particular its Innovation Lab, is analysing existing solutions, operational requirements and possible gaps in secure communications, as tasked by the COSI at its meeting of 13 July 2020.

(...)

Generally, Member States are calling for:

• the improvement and extension of communication tools and solutions that already exist (rather than creating new ones);
• the complementarity of solutions at EU level with national information management structures."

Stated priorities include:

1. Secure Video Conferencing
2. Swift communication for operational purposes from mobile devices (“WhatsApp for law enforcement officers”)
3. SIENA Roll-Out

 

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