FACING THE CHALLENGES: STABILISATION AND CONSOLIDATION
Europol became fully operational on 1 July 1999, after the finalisation of a number of legal acts relating to the Convention. With an expanded mandate now including child abuse, terrorism and forgery of money, and the authority to enter into cooperation agreements with third states and international organisations, Europol was equipped to become a fully-fledged partner in fighting crime within Europe’s borders and beyond.
From the start, Europol was faced with a number of challenges, including the unstable situation in the Balkans and the related spread of drugs trafficking, illegal immigration and other forms of organised crime. The rapid evolution of information and communication technology presented threats and opportunities. There were preparations to be made for the further enlargement of the EU, and the organisation had to implement the changes in police cooperation in Europe heralded by the Amsterdam Treaty and consolidated later that year by the Tampere Council.
In November 1999, Europol and the European Commission held a joint forum to launch a ‘new approach in fighting organised crime’. The forum, based on the realisation that repression alone was not enough to prevent or reduce organised crime, brought together officials and experts from the law enforcement sector, the criminal justice system, the academic world, public administration and the private sector. It was seen as the first step towards a crime prevention strategy in Europe, as called for at the European Council in Tampere. The forum concluded that a comprehensive crime prevention policy should be based on a multidisciplinary approach and should encompass coherent and complementary measures at local, national and international level.
In the years that followed, under the leadership of former EDU Director Jürgen Storbeck, Europol focused on promoting this comprehensive approach to international crime prevention and establishing a niche for itself as an organisation. This process of first stabilisation and then consolidation was expressed in two key texts – the Paris Vision of December 2000 and the Rhodes Vision of April 2003.
CHANGING PRIORITIES, FLEXIBLE ORGANISATION
Europol’s legal status and organisation were laid out in Title V of the Convention. This established its system of governance and accountability, ensuring that the member states had an equal say in how the organisation is run and the strategies it pursues.
In the first year, Europol made the transition from strategic to operational activities. New departments were set up for intelligence and specialist knowledge, activities were initiated in the newly mandated areas of crime, and preparations were made for cooperation with third countries and organisations. Europol provided its first services in counter-terrorism and the forgery of money by seconding and recruiting experts, and provided training, mainly in support of EU programmes.
2001 brought a quite radical internal reorganisation in anticipation of a further extension of Europol’s mandate. The three operational departments – Investigation Support, Intelligence Analysis and Organised Crime – were combined into a single Serious Crime Department, bringing information exchange, analysis and expertise under one ‘roof’.
INFORMATION EXCHANGE AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS: CORE BUSINESS
The tasks entrusted to Europol were specified in Article 3 of the Convention. The keyword here is information. In December 2000 the Member States, through the Management Board, identified information exchange and operational analysis as Europol’s core activities and developmental priorities. This was reiterated in 2003 in the Rhodes Vision, which stated that ‘the core business of Europol is receiving, exchanging and analysing information and intelligence.’ In this first period, Europol set about developing a range of tools and products to enable it to become the ‘European centre for intelligence exchange, development, analysis, cooperation and support in relation to the fight against international organised crime’.
THE HAGUE PROGRAMME: POSITIONING EUROPOL AT THE CENTRE OF EU LAW ENFORCEMENT COOPERATION
In 2004, five years after the Tampere Council, the European Council adopted a multi-annual programme to further the aim, encapsulated in the Amsterdam Treaty, of creating a common area of freedom, security and justice in the European Union. The objectives of the programme included a more effective joint approach to cross-border problems like illegal migration, drug trafficking, trafficking in human beings, terrorism and organised crime. The programme urged the Member States to allow Europol to play a key role in the fight against serious cross-border organised crime and terrorism by ratifying and implementing a series of legal instruments that had been in the pipeline since 2000, providing Europol with high quality information and encouraging EU law enforcement authorities to cooperate closely with the organisation.
The Hague Programme specified a number of ways in which Europol could fulfil its role at the centre of this new approach to intelligence-led law enforcement at EU level. It introduced a new Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA) as a first step. Europol was also instructed to assist the Council and Member States to improve the quality of their law enforcement data and to get the Europol Information System up and running ‘without delay’.
Intensified Practical Cooperation. The core message of The Hague Programme was for the law enforcement agencies in the Member States to work closely together with Europol, Eurojust and other European law enforcement bodies like the European Police Chiefs Task Force to combat international organised crime. This included explicit reference to joint investigation teams (JITs).
The wording in the Hague Programme reflects the caution that continued to accompany Member States’ commitment to JITs and the potential involvement of Europol (and Eurojust) in them. The legal basis for Europol’s participation in joint investigation teams would not finally be laid until later in the decade.
Under the Hague Programme, the role of the European Police Chiefs Task Force was reviewed. It was invited to intensify practical cooperation between police, customs and Europol. This led to the development of COSPOL (Comprehensive, Operational, Strategic Planning for the Police).
CASTING THE NET WIDER: COOPERATION AGREEMENTS WITH THIRD STATES AND ORGANISATIONS
Under the provisions of the Convention, Europol was entitled to enter into discussions with non-EU states and international organisations in preparation for bilateral cooperation agreements.
In March 2000 the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council authorised the Director of Europol to enter into negotiations on these agreements with 23 non-EU states and three international organisations. The JHA Council had instructed Europol to give priority to accession candidate states to the European Union, the Schengen cooperation partners (Iceland and Norway), Switzerland and Interpol. The Director wasted little time: on 26 and 27 April Europol hosted a seminar for representatives of these non-EU states and international organisations.
By the end of 2004, seven operational agreements and ten strategic agreements had come into force. Strategic agreements make it possible for the two parties involved to exchange all information with the exception of personal data, while operational agreements also allow the exchange of personal data.
2005 was, in many ways, a key year for Europol. It had a new Director and a large infux of new Member States, and there were clear signs that the ground-breaking efforts of the first period were starting to bear fruit.
Europol’s first Director, Jürgen Storbeck, stepped down in 2004 and, after an interim period during which Deputy Director Mariano Simancas took over the helm, Max-Peter Ratzel was appointed new Director in the spring of 2005.
The accession of ten new Member States to the European Union on 1 May 2004 meant that several areas of organised crime that had been beyond the borders of the EU were now brought within them. It also meant that Europol gained a new pool of expertise and skill in the form of law enforcement officers from the new Member States, many of whom had considerable experience in combating these areas of crime.
The new members were largely incorporated into Europol’s organisation and structure by the beginning of 2005 and made a valuable contribution to Europol’s work as it made further steps towards establishing itself at the centre of international crime-fighting in Europe.
Invitations to attend a number of important meetings in Brussels, to advise on the fight against serious organised crime in the EU, illustrated the growing trust in Europol at a high political level. This was further confirmed by a Council Decision in 2005, which designated Europol as the Central Office for combating euro counterfeiting, making Europol the central contact point in the EU for euro counterfeiting for the entire world.
Europol’s IT systems started to come of age in this second period, enabling the organisation to provide a faster and more effective exchange of information between the Member States’ law enforcement agencies.
This was a welcome development as international organised crime became more sophisticated and the flow of information through Europol continued to steadily rise. When the Europol Information System was made available to law enforcement agencies in the Member States in October 2005, it took Europe a step closer towards a single automated information system to support the fight against international crime.
In 2007, Europol’s analysis system was updated when project OASIS (Overall Analysis System for Investigation Support) came into full operation. OASIS had been initiated in 2001 and was due for full implementation in 2003, but delivery was postponed to allow the addition of new functionalities. The analysis work files (AWFs) now ran under the new system, increasing their capability to match information from different sources.
In 2008, Europol was presented with a Professional Service Award by the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA) for OASIS. The award was for the ‘organisation making the most significant progress utilising intelligence analytical techniques to support law enforcement objectives at national/international level’.
In April 2007 three protocols amending the Europol Convention entered into force. The Money Laundering Protocol extended Europol’s mandate to tackling money laundering in general, regardless of the type of offence from which the laundered proceeds originated. The JIT Protocol allowed for the participation of Europol officials in a support capacity in joint investigations teams (JITs). The Danish Protocol introduced a number of changes to the Europol Convention. To accommodate the organisation to the changes brought about by the protocols, Europol started to replace the widely used Info-Ex with a new generation communication tool, the Secure Information Exchange Network Application (SIENA). The first release of SIENA took place in 2009. SIENA takes into account:
- the Danish protocol requirements for communicating with the Member States’ competent authorities
- the impact of the Europol Council Decision and the Council Framework
- Decision 2006/960/JHA on simplifying the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities of the EU Member States known as the ‘Swedish Initiative’.
A major achievement in 2008 was the security accreditation of Europol’s communication network. The Europol communication network connects all Member States to Europol and provides access to all Europol’s information and knowledge management services. Europol also deployed a secure video-conferencing service connecting all Member States’ national units with Europol. This service has been added to the already existing other secure communication facilities comprising of messaging and telephone systems which enable rapid, reliable, secure and efficient cooperation among all law enforcement agencies across the European Union.
In 2008, too, a crime scene website came online developed by Europol in collaboration with the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes. ENFSI is a multidisciplinary body concerned with the research, investigation and discussion of all aspects of the forensic process. Given the importance of forensic science in fighting crime, ENFSI had worked closely with Europol for some years and Europol was officially represented in several working groups on specific areas of crime-related forensic research, including DNA, firearms and nuclear trafficking. The crime scene website facilitates the sharing of knowledge related to scene of crime investigation amongst law enforcement authorities and the forensic science community. It was developed in the context of the EU-funded project ‘Development of Crime Scene Standards’. Europol hosts, supports and maintains the site.
Other significant advances in IT systems at Europol were the development of a ‘Check the Web’ application in the fight against Islamist terrorism and an updated version of ATLAS, a specialised law enforcement portal to enhance collaboration between anti-terrorism teams.
The Europol Convention, which came into force on 1 October 1998, provided the legal basis for Europol. Although the establishment of Europol was foreseen in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, Europol is not a ‘classic‘ EU agency. It was founded as an international organisation with its own legal acquis, funded directly by contributions from the EU Member States.
The Convention was amended three times by protocols, all of which entered into force in 2007. The first protocol, signed in 2000, substantially expanded Europol’s mandate to include money laundering offences, as long as the predicate offence falls into Europol’s competence.
This led to Europol creating a more efficient network for detecting and seizing assets and interrupting criminal networks. The second protocol, from 2002, established the basis for Europol’s participation in joint investigation teams (see above) and the third (Danish) protocol, signed in 2003, allowed for third states with a Europol operational cooperation agreement to become associated to AWFs. In 2008 a total of 36 association agreements were concluded, with the result that third states were active in all but one of the AWFs.
In 2007, the Justice and Home Affairs Council agreed in principle that the Europol Convention should be replaced by a Council Decision. That would mean that Europol would be financed from the Community budget, and be subject to the EC Financial and Staff Regulations. This would align Europol with other bodies and agencies in the Justice and Home Affairs pillar of the EU.
The text of the Decision received political approval on 24 June 2008 and was ultimately adopted by the Council on 6 April 2009. The change in the legal basis has led to an extension of Europol’s mandate and tasks, and improvements in data processing and protection as well as in Europol’s operational and administrative capabilities in general.
To ensure that the Council Decision was implemented in the best possible way, Europol instigated an internal Europol Council Decision (ECD) Programme. The programme implemented the Decision while safeguarding Europol’s operational capabilities.
The new legal framework came into force on 1 January 2010 when Europol became an EU Agency, under the direction of Rob Wainwright, the current Europol Director.
In June 2011, Europol moved to a brand new Headquarters, designed and purpose-built especially for Europol. The new building is located at Eiserhowerlaan 73 in The Hague.