Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Fourth Report


COM(02) 95

Commission Communication to the European Parliament and the Council — Democratic control over Europol.

Legal base:
Document originated:26 February 2002
Forwarded to the Council: 14 March 2002
Deposited in Parliament: 7 March 2002
Department:Home Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 2 April 2002
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: Date not set
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Not cleared; further information requested

The document

  8.1  The Communication begins with a brief outline of the history of Europol to date. It emphasises that Europol's work mainly involves the processing of information, including personal data, although there have been recent suggestions that it might be given real investigative powers.

  8.2  The document also notes questions raised by the EU institutions about democratic control over Europol. Most of these have emanated from the European Parliament which, since 1999, has called for greater parliamentary and judicial scrutiny of the organisation. According to the Communication, however, the first detailed discussion arose from the Swedish Presidency's overview of the existing legal provisions in May 2001. This was followed by an inter-parliamentary EU conference on Europol in June 2001, which was organised by the Dutch Parliament and focussed on the question of parliamentary control.

  8.3  There are two issues related to democratic control which the Communication does not address: judicial control and the financing of Europol through the Community budget. The Commission considers that it would be more appropriate to consider these if Europol were given greater powers. One of the premises of the document is that the controls exercised over Europol should not be disproportionate to those that exist in the Member States for national police forces which have much wider powers.

  8.4  Under the heading Existing controls, the Communication lists the following: the rules on data protection; the Management Board (composed of representatives of each Member State, with the Commission having observer status); and parliamentary control. On the latter, it accepts that parliamentary control over Europol, both at national and European level, takes a somewhat indirect form. It argues that the same is true of the control of police in most Member States, and, in relation to the European Parliament, that the situation is the same for the whole area of police and judicial co-operation, where there is no provision for co-decision. It notes, however, that parliamentary control is not only indirect but fragmented, since it is shared between the 15 national Parliaments as well as by the European Parliament.

  8.5  The Commission concludes that, although the current system cannot be considered as legally insufficient, the control needs to be clearer and more transparent. It considers that improvements could be brought about through a limited number of amendments to the Europol Convention itself, together with a co-ordinating mechanism for national Parliaments and the European Parliament. It warns, however, that if Europol were to be granted investigative powers, further measures would become necessary.

  8.6  The Commission then puts forward a number of recommendations, which we consider below.

The Government's view

  8.7  The Minister of State at the Home Office (Lord Rooker) comments in general on the Communication as follows:

    "We certainly welcome the Commission's contribution to the current debate, though democratic control is only one aspect of the wider issue of ensuring the most effective and accountable working of Europol. However, this has to be set against more immediate priorities. Our main priority is to ensure that Europol is able to work effectively in support of the EU's efforts against serious and organised crime. This would also include ensuring that Europol is able to participate in Joint Investigation Teams, in a support capacity. Agreement has been reached on the need for a simplified procedure for the amendment of the Convention so that for example Europol and Eurojust can keep in step. A study is currently taking place on the most appropriate way of simplifying the procedure, by identifying which of the Articles to the Convention should be transferred to a Council Decision, and which should remain in the Convention. The exercise does not currently include plans to amend Articles, or to add new ones. To do so would result in considerable delay to what is regarded as one of the main priorities for Europol.

    "As Europol is currently funded by contributions from Member States, the European Parliament does not have the role which it might if Europol were to be funded from the Community budget. It is for the Management Board as the representatives of the Member States to maintain a close overview of Europol's activities."

  8.8  The Minister then lists the recommendations, and gives us the Government's view of each:

    "i.  That a formal mechanism be established for information exchange and co-ordination between national Parliaments and the European Parliament. ... This would be taken forward through the creation of a joint committee, of members of national and the European Parliament committees responsible for police matters, which would meet twice a year to exchange information and experience and to discuss Europol matters. It would maintain close contact with Europol through a smaller body of members nominated by the joint committee, and reporting to it.

    "Improved communication between national and the European Parliaments is not to be discouraged. We would need to consider whether changes to the Europol Convention could assist with this.

    "ii.  Amend Article 34 of the Europol Convention, so that a single Annual Report on Europol's activities can be presented for information to both the European Parliament and to the Council.

    "Article 34 of the Europol Convention provides only for a special report to be forwarded to the European Parliament. An Annual Report is presented to the Council, and is tabled for scrutiny by our own parliamentary committees. Presenting the Annual Report to the European Parliament would remove the need for Europol to produce different reports for different audiences.

    "iii.  Amend Article 34 of the Europol Convention, so as to give the European Parliament the formal right to request an exchange of views on the Europol annual report with the Presidency.

    "Consideration is already being given to providing for the Europol Director to appear before the European Parliament annually, on an informal basis, principally to answer questions on the annual report. There would not necessarily be a need to go further than this.

    "iv.  Amend Article 34 of the Europol Convention, so as to give the European Parliament the formal right to request the Europol Director to appear before the competent Committee.

    "Informal agreement to the appearance of the Director before the Parliament is a measure to which we would accede. This annual appearance though would be for the Director to provide information, and should not be seen as recognising his accountability to the Parliament.

    "v.  Amend Article 24(6) of the Europol Convention, so as to make it obligatory for the Joint Supervisory Board (JSB) to draw up its activity report on an annual basis and to forward it to the European Parliament. It could be envisaged to include in these reports information on the controls carried out by the National Supervisory Bodies.

    "Article 24(6) currently provides for the JSB[12] to draw up activity reports at regular intervals, which are forwarded to the Council, the Management Board having been given the opportunity to deliver an opinion which is attached to the reports. This proposal would require careful further consideration. The JSB is intended to be an independent body, whose task is to review, in accordance with the Convention, the activities of Europol in order to ensure that the rights of the individual are not violated by the storage, processing and utilisation of the data held by Europol. In the performance of those duties the members of the JSB shall not receive instructions from any other body. Further, it is currently for the JSB to decide whether or not to publish its activity report, and also to determine how it should be published. We would not wish to see the independent supervisory body restricted in its operation, or to be subordinated in any way."


  8.9  We are pleased that the Commission has issued a Communication on this important subject.

  8.10  We do not totally share the Government's view that there are more important priorities, although we accept that amendments to the Europol Convention may not be appropriate at this time. The Government's suggestions in relation to Recommendations ii (a single Annual Report), iii and iv (the Director appearing before the European Parliament) seem to us satisfactory ways of meeting the spirit of the recommendations without recourse to amending the Convention.

  8.11  We are particularly interested in Recommendation i (the establishment of a formal mechanism between national parliaments and the European Parliament), which we may consider further in the context of our current inquiry into Democracy and Accountability in the EU. At this stage, we merely wish to express disappointment that the mechanism is proposed to be established for "information exchange and co-ordination". That seems to us to be a long way from "accountability" on the one hand and "control" on the other.

  8.12  In general, our criticism of the Communication is that it focuses on improved information-sharing, which, of necessity, is largely retrospective. While we would welcome better information-exchange, we do not think it will increase democratic control over Europol. In our view, a more radical change is needed, probably to the constitution of the Management Board. We ask the Minister to comment on the feasibility and desirability of adding a parliamentary representative, possibly drawn from the "smaller body of members" envisaged in Recommendation i, to the Board.

  8.13  In relation to the JSB, we do not accept that it would unduly restrict its operation, or impair its independence, if it were required to publish an annual activity report, as many independent bodies, such as Inspectorates or Ombudsmen, do. In this context, we ask the Minister why the activity reports it does produce are not deposited in the UK Parliament, since they would seem to fall within our terms of reference.

  8.14  We consider that our scrutiny of draft agreements between Europol and third states or non-EU related bodies represents probably the closest control we are currently able to operate over Europol. In that context, we remind the Minister of the need to supply us with draft documents, and with the JSB opinion, in enough time for us to scrutinise them thoroughly.

  8.15  We consider this document to be the starting-point of an important discussion, and one which we may wish to carry further. In the meantime, we will keep it under scrutiny until we have the Minister's response to the initial points we have raised.

12  The JSB (Joint Supervisory Body) monitors the activities of Europol in relation to data protection issues. Back

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