EU police agency Europol gets wider powers

Written by on May 12, 2016 in Europe - Comments Off on EU police agency Europol gets wider powers

The European Parliament has voted to widen the powers of EU police agency Europol, including by obliging EU countries to provide the agency with data it needs, in a move billed as stepping up efforts against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organised crimes.

Members of the European Parliament (EP) have ensured that Europol’s new powers will go hand in hand with increased data protection safeguards, democratic control and parliamentary scrutiny, the EP said. The regulation will enter into force on May 1 2017.

Europol is the EU’s law enforcement agency, assisting national authorities by exchanging information, intelligence analyses and threats assessments. The agency deals with terrorism and international crime such as cybercrime, drug smuggling and people trafficking. Europol, which has 1000 staff members, has its headquarters in The Hague in the Netherlands.

The draft new rules were agreed on by European Parliament and Council negotiators in November last year.

Europol will in some cases be able to exchange information directly with private entities, such as firms or NGOs, so as to work faster. For example, Europol’s Internet Referral Unit could contact a social network provider such as Facebook directly to ask that a web page run by terrorist group Daesh be deleted, thus halting the spread of terrorist propaganda faster, a European Parliament statement said.

To avoid information gaps in the fight against organised crime and terrorism, the new rules make it the duty of EU member states to provide Europol with the data it needs.

To encourage information sharing, Europol is to report annually to the European Parliament, the European Council, Europeaan Commission and national parliaments on the information provided by individual member states.

MEPs have ensured that Europol’s new powers will go hand in hand with stronger data protection safeguards and parliamentary scrutiny. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) will monitor Europol’s work and there will be a clear complaints procedure for citizens under EU law, a statement said.

Europol’s work will also be overseen by a Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group, with members from both national parliaments and the European Parliament.

Europol’s Director Rob Wainwright said that Europol welcomed the final adoption of the new regulation by the European Parliament, and thanked the Parliament, European Council and the European Commission for placing their trust in a “reformed and stronger Europol”.

“The new powers will improve Europol’s ability to support EU Member States in the fight against terrorism and organised crime at a time when Europe faces many challenging security threats,” Wainwright said.

The new EU regulation will make it easier for Europol to set up specialised units to respond immediately to emerging terrorist threats and other forms of serious and organised crime.

It also includes clear rules for existing units or centres such as the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) and the European Union Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU), both hosted at Europol.

The new regulation will enhance Europol’s mandate to ensure that it is fully equipped to counter the increase in cross-border crimes and terrorist threats.  The new powers will also improve Europol’s ability to act as the EU’s information hub in the fight against terrorism and serious organised crime, Europol said in a statement.

“The new rules for Europol are a powerful legislative tool that will help to enhance security for European citizens”, the European Parliament’s lead MEP on the issue, Spanish centre-rightist Agustín Díaz de Mera, in the debate ahead of the vote.

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