MEPs have voted in favour of increasing the powers of the EU’s police agency, Europol. On 11th May, the Parliament approved a draft set of governance rules agreed by Parliament and Council negotiators in November 2015. The aim of these new rules is to provide Europol with the tools necessary to counteract increasing levels of cross-border crime and terrorist threats.
Key elements of the new framework include facilitating the creation of specialised units in response to emerging threats and clearer rules for existing units or entities such as the European Counter Terrorism Centre. In specific circumstances, Europol will also now have the option of exchanging information with private companies or NGOs directly, thus enabling them to act and react more quickly. This would mean that they could quickly work to remove online terrorist propaganda, for instance.
Indeed, information sharing is an important theme of the new rules. In an attempt to counteract so-called “information gaps” – a significant criticism in reactions to the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks – Member States now have a duty to provide Europol with the data it needs. Moreover, in the hope of encouraging better information exchanges, Europol will also report on the information provided by Member States to the Parliament, Council, Commission and national parliaments each year.
As the regulation – which will take effect as of 1st May 2017 – significantly increases Europol’s powers, measures aiming to ensure sufficient oversight and increased data protection have also been foreseen. Thus, a citizens’ complaints procedure will be put in place and the European Data Protection Supervisor will keep Europol’s work under surveillance. This monitoring will also be provided by a Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group, whose members will include both national and European deputies.
According to rapporteur Agustín Díaz de Mera (EPP, Spain), “The new rules for Europol are a powerful legislative tool that will help to enhance security for European citizens.” Nevertheless, the new measures have already attracted criticism from some quarters, notably due to the fact that Europol will remain a vessel for information sharing and will not gain any investigative powers. It therefore remains to be seen whether this new step will really be enough to make a difference and ensure the enhanced cooperation so needed if Europe is to protect itself from the very real security threats it is facing.