Munich, March 25 (RFE/RL) - A surging increase in
international crime, particularly drug smuggling, has led European
police chiefs to demand the creation of a pan-european police force
to fight criminals who operate across the frontiers. All governments
in the European Union (EU) believe it is a good idea, but they are
unable to agree on how it should operate.
The arguments over the police force are supplemented by others on a
European-wide convention on the extradition of criminals. Again, all
states agree, in principle, but in practise there are differences
over the extradition of political offenders.
The pan-European police, frequently called the "Europol," was
established as an embryo organisation in the Netherlands' capital,
The Hague, in February 1994. It is associated with "Interpol," the
global police organisation. "Europol's" main purpose is to cooperate
with police forces in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe in
tracking and seizing drug smugglers in Europe, although it may also
deal with other crimes. Eventually it is supposed to develop into a
general European police force with full executive powers - but that
appears to be a long way off. The EU's 15 members did not sign the
Convention formally establishing the present "Europol" until last
year - more than a year late - and the Convention has still not been
ratified by the national parliaments.
That same slow pace has marked the discussions on granting real
powers to "Europol." At present, its duties are limited to
gathering, analysing and exchanging data between national forces. It
has no executive capacity. Last week, the senior officer running The
Hague operation, Jurgen Storbeck, of Germany, told a conference in
Berlin that it was time the organisation was given real powers to
fight effectively against drug smugglers and other cross-border
One reason for the delay is a dispute over what body should protect
individual citizens, who believe their fundamental rights and
freedoms are violated by "Europol" or its officers. Germany, which is
among the strongest campaigners for "Europol," says the European
Court of Justice in Luxembourg should be appointed to mediate
between police and citizens. However, Britain, which strongly opposes
granting too many powers to international institutions, refuses
to accept this.
Britain believes that citizens challenging the pan-European police
should have their cases heard in the courts of their own country.
Its strong defence of this view prevented any progress being made at
a meeting in Brussels last week of EU Interior and Justice ministers.
As a compromise, some countries proposed that national courts should
have the option of referring a case to the European Court of Justice
for a preliminary ruling. Britain also opposed this, even though
recourse to the court would be voluntary. Britain argued that even
non-binding rulings from Luxembourg might influence British courts.
On the other hand, the Dutch say they can ratify the "Europol"
convention only if national courts are allowed to seek guidance from the European Court of Justice.
Although the German government is one of the strongest campaigners
for the "Europol" force, some German politicians and German
newspapers have raised questions about present plans. The German
environmental party, the "Greens," complained in Parliament that
current regulations gave "Europol" too many powers without proper
safeguards for citizens. The "Greens" said "Europol" was allowed to
collect sensitive data, not only about criminals, but also about
those who were not suspected of any crime. According to the "Greens,"
if it is considered necessary in the struggle against serious
international crime, "Europol" is permitted to gather and store in
its computers data about victims, witnesses and other citizens.
The "Greens" said this included information about the race,
religion, political views, health and sexual life of the individual.
The leading Munich newspaper, the "Suddeutsche Zeitung" commented in
a critical editorial: "is it seriously intended that the work of
"Europol" should begin with the composition of intimate dossiers.
Should "Europol" be allowed to do all that which the German
constitutional court has forbidden the German police? 'Europol'
cannot and may not be allowed to discredit itself in this way.
Precisely those who believe Europol to be important should ensure
that it acts correctly - in its practical work and in the democratic
control of its activities."
Another commentator in the "Suddeutsche Zeitung" said last week:
""Europol" is being discussed as if a secret service was being
created. The public should hear nothing, say nothing and know
nothing. They should simply accept the final version of the
convention with respect and satisfaction. "
Most commentators in Germany believe the issue will be a major theme
at the inter-governmental conference which starts this week to review
the EU's Maastricht treaty. It is part of what is often called the
EU's "third pillar" - that is, cooperation on matters of justice and
home affairs, which is to be debated at the conference.
The dispute over the EU's proposed Convention on Extradition will
also be an issue at the inter-governmental review conference. This
new Convention was basically intended to simplify the existing 1957
convention, but it immediately ran into problems about political
The 1957 convention gives an exemption from extradition for
political offences. Most EU members believes this exemption should
end. But Belgium says its courts might allow the extradition of a
terrorist bomber even if he claimed that he was acting for political
reasons, but would not extradite someone who had given shelter to
terrorists. And France points out that its constitution forbids it
from handing-over its nationals to foreign justice. Some Scandinavian
countries have raised other questions
The matter is current, because Belgium last month refused Spain's
request to extradite a Spanish couple accused of aiding the Basque
terrorist movement, ETA. An angry Spanish government recalled its
ambassador from Brussels.
Commentators say these cases are examples of the difficulties of
creating a common system of law and justice among countries with
widely different cultures and practises. Central and East European
countries, which eventually join the EU, will also have to comply
with whatever is finally decided.
Just one more example. The Justice and Interior ministers, who met
in Brussels last week, finally reached a compromise on a proposal for
joint action in the EU against racism and xenophobia. Britain and
Denmark had held up agreement, because they insisted safeguards were
needed to create a balance between freedom of speech and protection
against racial incitement. The example mentioned in most reports is
that denying that the Holocaust took place is a criminal offence in
Germany, Austria, France and Belgium, but not in Britain or
Denmark. The measure calling for joint action within the EU was
finally approved, after the other ministers accepted declarations on
the British and Danish positions.