FECL 42 (March 1996):

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT VOTES FOR RESOLUTION ON EUROPOL

On 14 March, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a Resolution based on a report by Hartmut Nassauer, a Christian-Democrat MEP from Germany. Mr Nassauer strongly advocates a speedy ratification of the Europol Convention, regardless of prior agreement having been reached on the judicial role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and he also insists on the need for investigative and operational powers for Europol. But the final wording of the Resolution adopted by the EP shows that a majority of MEPs do not share the rapporteur's enthusiasm for unlimited European policing in the absence of judicial and parliamentary control.

 

The report was presented by the EP's Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs. A first version of Mr Nassauer's report was referred back to the Committee in mid-February and a debate on the Resolution postponed because of strong disagreement in parliament on central points of the report. However, even in his second report, Mr Nassauer stresses that it "seems unjustified to allow the [Europol] Convention as a whole to fail on account of the absence of provisions on ECJ jurisdiction". "The entire Europol project is at risk if it is made dependent on settling the ECJ issue", the report claims, somewhat dramatically, and says failure to get Europol running would be "politically irresponsible". This call for a rapid ratification, whatever the situation as regards jurisdiction of the ECJ, is shared in an Opinion presented by the EP's Committee on Legal Affairs and Citizens' Rights.

The report also emphasises that Europol "must not remain a data exchange and analytical agency for any length of time. In the long term the European Police Office needs its own investigative and operational powers".

The Nassauer Report, however, expresses strong criticism against denying the EP any serious right of control on Europol. The rights of the EP were "overlooked" in the drafting of the Convention, it says, and the EP was "neither kept appropriately informed about the progress of negotiations nor consulted prior to the decision of the European Council in Cannes". The report proposes that an "inter-institutional agreement", establishing in detail Parliament's rights, be reached between the Council and the EP - and threatens "a judicial solution" if no such agreement can be reached.

 

Resolution disavows conclusions of the report

The Resolution finally adopted by the EP after lengthy squabbling amounts to a disavowal of some of the reports main conclusions and recommendations. Thus, the Resolution calls on the parliaments of the Member States "not to embark upon ratification of the Europol Convention until powers to give preliminary rulings have been conferred upon the European Court of Justice" and demands that further work on the various sets of implementing rules under the Europol Convention should be suspended as long as the Convention is not ratified. Furthermore, the adaption of each Member State's legislation to the data protection standards set out by the Convention should be a "necessary part of the ratification process".

 

EP rejects the Council's draft implementing rules for analysis registers

With respect to Europol's analysis registers, the resolution is unequivocal: "Political affiliation, religious persuasion, race, sexual behaviour or any similar personal data or equivalent information may not be registered in Europol's records". The EP "expresses . . . its total opposition to the contents of a proposal from the Presidency of the Council seeking to record this sort of information and calls on the Council to withdraw its proposal" (Council proposal: see FECL No.41: "Rules for Europol's analysis files: incongruous new draft").

Furthermore, the resolution calls for, inter alia

 

The resolution also calls for comprehensive and timely information to be provided to the EP regarding all aspects and levels of Europol's activities. Among other things, pursuant to Article K.6 2 of the TEU [Maastricht Treaty], the Council shall consult the European Parliament and "give due consideration to its views" with regard to the following matters:

 

The EP further demands to be informed and consulted on disputes between Member States pertaining to the interpretation of the Convention, on amendments of the Convention (pursuant to its Article 43.1) and on the definition of forms of crimes by the Council.

As for investigative and operational powers to Europol, the Resolution is clearly in less of a hurry than Mr Nassauer. Thus, it suggests that the transfer to Europol of investigatory powers should be examined "at a later date". Operational powers should be given to Europol only if it is subject to the instructions of the European Commission" and on condition that it is made accountable to the EP and to national parliaments.

The adoption of the Resolution was preceded by a heated debate. The Social Democrat MEP Schulz denounced the "unlawful realisation" of Europol, with no parliamentary involvement in the drafting of the Convention. "After having presented us with faits accomplis, the Council will possibly graciously take note of what we will decide today. This is not a democratic behaviour! Such a Convention will not fare well; such a Convention cannot bear fruit." The German MEP claudia Roth (Green Group) described Europol as a secret police outside any democratic control and with extensive powers to snoop on innocent citizens. "I believe that the means and structures set up with Europol for the fight against organised crime are far more dangerous for the rule of law than even organised crime". While the Italian Social-Democrat Bontempi said he agreed with most of Ms Roth's criticism without, however, sharing what he called her "apocalyptic conclusions", Mr Nassauer described Ms Roth's remark as an "abysmal and cynical malevolence and a monstrosity I refuse to accept".

 

 

Sources: European Parliament, Second Report on Europol, Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs, Rapp: Hartmut Nassauer, 29.2.96, A4-0061/96 PE 215.803 fin., and amended Resolution, adopted 14.3.96; Agence Europe, 13.2.96; our sources.