FECL 15 (May 1993):

EUROPOL VIA INTERPOL: THE 'SWISS CONNECTION'

130 senior police officials from 40 European countries participated at Interpol's 22nd European conference, from 31 March to 2 April in Berne (Switzerland). The relationship between Interpol an the new policing bodies of the EC, as well as cooperation with the Eastern European countries were at the central items of the conference.

A Swiss proposal to link new European police bodies as closely as possible with Interpol were favourably commented by most participants. After the Swiss peoples No to membership in the European Economic Area (EEA) the chances for an early membership of this country with the EC are poorer. Swiss police experts now warn that the Alpine confederation's solo run will result in a security deficit for the country, if it is excluded from the arising "European security space".

Schengen, TREVI/K4, European Drug Unit, Europol... European police co-operation is developing at high speed. But frustrated Swiss police officials feel they have missed the train. They are excluded from participation in any of these new structures of European policing. For the time being they have to put up with good old Interpol. At Interpol's headquarters in Lyon, the alpine confederation still counts for much. With an impressing 35'000 contacts per year, Switzerland ranks fifth among the users of Interpol's information system. This is less astonishing than it might appear. The real "super-powers" in policing have, since long ago, set up their own contact-networks around the world. Interpol has a reputation of slow-working bureaucracy and with its 169 member states (from Albania to Zimbabwe) it is not always considered as very reliable by police forces in highly developed countries.

In his opening adress at the Berne conference, Lutz Krauskopf, Director of the Swiss Federal Office for Police Matters (FOP) deplored that the European police information flux was graduously flowing aside of Interpol and thus of Switzerland.

His proposal is to revalorise the National Coordination Bureaus by making them liaison stations with the new European policing bodies. The Swiss police director made no secret about his motive for the proposal, which is to obtain access for his country to the police co-operation structures of the EC, despite Switzerland's non-membership with the Community.

The response to the Swiss proposal seems to have been generally favourable. The Swedish police chief, Björn Erikson said it was a good idea to put all European police organisations "under one umbrella", and Hans-Ludwig Zachert, head of the German BKA (Federal Office of Criminal Investigation) also expressed support for the Swiss initiative: "International crime can be combatted only as an entirety and not subdivided into Interpol, the Schengen Agreement or Europol". Although criminal investigations in the framework of Schengen legally prevailed Interpol investigations this should not affect practice, Mr Zachert said and comforted his swiss colleagues by promising that the BKA would treat Switzerland "not a bit less well than the others".

Yet, it is only in autumn Interpol's general assembly will decide definitively on the Swiss proposal. Misgivings about the initiative were dispelled by police chiefs at a press conference. Other European organisations had no scruples in exchanging sensitive information with Interpol, they said, and every state was free, after all, to select the information it handed out to this body.

According to its statutes, Interpol is prohibited from investigating politically motivated crimes. This has led to calls for a modification of the organisation's statutes as a condition for any Interpol participation in the combat against terrorism. The secretary general of Interpol, Raymond N. Kendall, brushed aside such scruples by lecturing the attendance of the press conference that terrorism was crime and that crime could be dealt with by Interpol without any change of statutes.

As for BKA chief Zachert, he views Interpol as the best instrument, now as before for combatting Eastern European criminality increasingly moving West at the roots.

The new and quite unexpected honeymoon between EC-police chiefs and Interpol might have other reasons, too. In the opinion of many police representatives the setting up of Europol is progressing to slowly. After criticism of the European Parliament regarding the lack of a legal base enabling democratic control of Europol (see CL No.13, p.9, Report on the setting up of Europol), they fear that the process will become even more laborious. Such hardship is not to be feared with Interpol. With over 50 international liaison officers roaming in its Lyon headquarters, it still offers a welcome opportunity, not least for all kinds of "informal" good turns out of reach of transparency and control obsessed lawmakers.

Meanwhile the Swiss Committee "Stop the Snooping State" has harshly criticised the Swiss proposal for a "revitalisation" of Interpol: "By eluding all democratic rules the government wants to couple switzerland to further wide ranging European surveillance structuressuch as Schengen and Europol... This is nothing else than a welcome evasion away from national political debate into international agreements. Questions pertaining to data protection, as well as elementary human rights eluded. Political accountability is delegated to administration, respectively the police and any control through the parliament and the public is faded out. So far the item is the exchange of data on criminal acts, but from this, the step leading to exchanging "soft" data via the various systems is small."

The committee calls on the parliament to resist this development by firmly insist on its right of participation and control.

 

Sources: Press release by the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police, 2.4.93; Der Bund, 3.4.93: Macht Interpol aus Schweizer Polizisten doch noch Eurocops?, by Martin Senn; Press release by the Committee "Stop the Snooping State", 2.4.93.