EU: Internationalism or Regionalism

By Jim Cusack, The Irish Times, 14 October 1997

Green MEP Ms Patricia McKenna has warned that a proposed federal European police force convention, which is likely to be ratified by the Oireachtas tomorrow, is a "grave threat to the rights of EU citizens".

Ms McKenna was speaking yesterday at a press conference in Dublin at which the journalist and civil rights campaigner Mr Tony Bunyan also expressed concern at the proposed expansion of roles and power for the proposed force to be known as Europol.

At present a small liaison and intelligence-sharing organisation known as the European Drugs Unit (EDU) exists in the Hague, but under the forthcoming Amsterdam Treaty it is to be expanded and become known as Europol.

Under present proposals Europol will have powers to deal with 18 policing roles from illegal immigration to drugs. Mr Bunyan said it was alarming that there had been virtually no debate about a proposed federal police force which would be above the control of national parliaments.

He said that under Article K45 of the Amsterdam Treaty, the European Courts of Justice would have no jurisdiction over Europol officers.

"On one hand they are giving Europol increased powers to work within member-states and then they are saying that the European Court of Justice is expressly forbidden to review it. That, to any civil libertarian, is extraordinary."

He said there was already an agreement between Europe and the FBI on the standardising of international telecommunications equipment to facilitate bugging.

Mr Bunyan said that under the proposals, Europol would also be able to gather information about individuals from states outside Europe for use in cases inside Europe. But there would be no obligation to have Europol officers or their agents appear in court to give evidence under the proposed convention.

Despite their far-reaching impact, the issues surrounding Europol had been largely ignored by politicians and media in the Republic and in many other EU countries. Holland, Denmark and Sweden were exceptions in that their parliaments demanded to see protocols before they could be discussed by the committees involved in developing Europol.

Ms McKenna expressed concern that legislation to ratify the Europol convention had passed through the D=E1il last week virtually without debate and was due before the Seanad tomorrow.
She warned that Europol agents "would in some respects have greater powers than police officers working for national forces without adequate safeguards to ensure that their powers were not abused.

"EU justice and home affairs ministers have agreed that Europol employees should be immune from prosecution and that only the force's director can waive such immunity. This would effectively put Europol employees above the law," she said.

She added that Europol would not only be allowed gather and store data on suspects but also on witnesses and victims. The European Convention also authorises the holding of data on the ethnic origin, political and religious views, health and sexuality of individuals. There were fears that Europol would target certain groups "not because there was any evidence to suggest they were involved in crime but because of their race or sexual orientation", she said.

"This police force has been dreamed up in secret by the unelected civil servants and police officers who served on the EU's working group on Europol. They are seeking to build a police force that will lack accountability. Europol is out of effective political and judicial control," she said.
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