Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  M. / Mr Max-Peter Ratzel

Europol: Ensuring the Safety
and Security of European Union Citizens


By Mr Max-Peter Ratzel, Director of Europol


The Founding Fathers of the European integration project laid the foundation for the peaceful and harmonious development of all European nations. Now, half a century later, we enjoy the peaceful coexistence of democratic states. However, our world, with its open borders and facilitated movement of persons and goods, has become more vulnerable to acts of terror directed at our citizens. As a result, our lives can change in a split second, as they tragically did for people in Madrid in March 2004, and again in London in July 2005. Nowadays, our citizens face ruthless criminal behaviour which aims to intimidate our society and turn any individual or any group into potential targets.

The threats to safety in Europe and around the world are growing more serious and more pronounced as organised crime networks become increasingly professional. Advances in high-speed telecommunications, computers, and other technologies have opened up new opportunities for criminals. They have created new categories of crimes and thus new challenges for law enforcement. Organised crime groups have also profited from the globalisation process, which facilitates rather than hinders their illegal activities. These challenges show clearly that traditional policing methods are no longer sufficient. Crime and criminal behaviour are constantly changing. We can no longer afford to simply react to each new situation as it arises. We must be proactive.

In recent years, the fight against terrorism and organised crime has become a top priority for all European countries. There can be no doubt that harmonised European coordination of activities aimed at preventing and fighting terrorism and organised crime is crucial, in order to meet a challenge that is at once local, regional and global. This implies that law enforcement authorities must also act from a local, regional and global perspective, in order to remain one step ahead of the criminals. To facilitate their cooperation at the international and, specifically, European levels, Europol (the European Police Office) was created to strengthen cooperation between the competent authorities in its Member States and to improve their effectiveness in preventing and combating terrorism, unlawful drug trafficking, and other serious forms of international organised crime1.

The possible nexus between terrorism and international organised crime – such as drug smuggling, money laundering, and illegal arms trafficking – needs to be monitored carefully from both the antiterrorism perspective and the organised crime perspective. When terrorists want to get hold of arms, ammunition, forged documents and other resources, they will often make use of criminal networks. This is one of the reasons why close cooperation between security services and law enforcement agencies is needed as well, and why coordination via a multi-agency organisation such as Europol is of huge importance.

One of Europol’s most important assets is the fact that it brings together liaison officers from the 25 EU Member States under one roof. Most of these national offices are multi-agency teams with representatives from police, customs, immigration and sometimes security services. This exceptional network – based on mutual trust, common understanding, and sharing the best existing practices – is one of the biggest added values that Europol has to offer.

In addition to the liaison officers from EU Member States, Europol also brings in officers from the two candidate countries to the EU, Bulgaria and Romania, along with officers from Norway, Switzerland, Colombia, and the USA. Altogether there are more than 100 liaison officers, representing both EU Member States and partners, working closely together with core Europol staff at Europol headquarters. It should also be noted that Europol has strategic cooperation agreements with Russia and Turkey.

Moreover, Europol is a guarantee of quick and secure information exchange. It also provides European crime overviews, and analytical, technical and operational investigative support. The organisation possesses a unique Information Exchange System which makes it possible for Member States to exchange data via secured lines (bilateral). Depending upon its relevance, all operational information can be entered into the Europol Information System (IS) or into the Europol Analysis System (i.e. Analytical Work Files), which focuses on specific crime areas and target groups.

Moreover, starting in 2006 Europol will put together an Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA), which will give a new perspective on and a better understanding of organised crime as well as ways to prevent it. The input to the OCTA will come from Europol databases, structured national contributions including so-called third states, other European bodies such as the European Central Bank, Eurojust and Frontex, the private sector, academia, and NGOs. The goal of this threat assessment is to give EU and national decision makers, in both the political and law enforcement arenas, important knowledge which will make it easier for them to prioritise their efforts in combating organised crime.

As it has carried out its role in the mandated areas, Europol has developed a counter terrorism programme. Europol thus provides Member States with strategic assistance, such as threat assessments for specific events on request, an annual Terrorism Situation Report, and a Trend Report for the Working Group on Terrorism. Europol has also become a central reference point for the relevant Member State agencies. It compiles counter terrorism legislation, and produces a Glossary of Terrorist Groups. Finally, as already mentioned, Europol provides operational support under the umbrella of Analytical Work Files. It identifies target groups in order to prioritise and tailor work to the current needs, in consultation with Member State experts. Europol’s analytical work is highly dependent, understandably, on the information we receive from Member States and from third parties. It is also important for us to receive information from national security services, so that we can help fight terrorism and other forms of international organised crime. These services have a tradition of bilateral cooperation. Trust is also of utmost importance.

A lack of intelligence exchange can lead to gaps in our knowledge base. Links and interdependencies between various group might not be found, which, in turn, could result in dangerous situations not being detected in time. Europol’s philosophy is that intelligence which is not shared is useless, and is sometimes even dangerous, as police officers can risk their lives taking bad decisions because they lack important information. Sharing information does not mean that national agencies lose control over the data. Sharing information within a network of trustworthy and reliable partner agencies results in better data analysis on a wider data base.

Effective international cooperation is imperative to prevent attacks, to dismantle terrorist structures, and to destroy their financial and logistical networks. We must strive to overcome the perceived barriers which still exist between the law enforcement and the security communities. We must work to achieve a qualitative and quantitative improvement in timely, accurate, and live intelligence exchange. It is vital, in particular in the fight against terrorism, for the concerned law enforcement agencies to obtain the most complete and up-to-date information at all times. You can rest assured that Europol will do its utmost to make this happen.

As an intelligence analysis centre, Europol strives to assist Member States in their efforts to heighten the efficiency of law enforcement in the area of organised crime. It brings together the best practices and widest expertise, and is ready to share them with its partners. To perform such a complex and sophisticated task, however, Europol depends on the readiness and willingness of national law enforcement authorities and agencies to share information and to engage in international cooperation. Only then will we be able to effectively hinder the operability of criminals.

  In Europol’s daily battle against serious organised crime and terrorism, our overall priority is ensuring that citizens are able to live in an area of justice, freedom and security. In fact, we understand this to be the basic objective of Europol, as bestowed upon it by the Treaty on the European Union.

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