Statewatch article: RefNo# 2055
EUROPOL: "operative powers" and "organised crime" plan"
Statewatch bulletin, vol 7 no 2
New proposals to be adopted by the European Council in Amsterdam in June would make Europol "operational", give a wide definition of "organised crime", and create new bodies to coordinate judicial and prosecution policies. The "Action Plan to combat organised crime" prepared by a "High Level Group" of national prosecutors makes no mention of data protection provisions to protect alleged offenders nor is there any reference to democratic accountability.

This Plan, examined below, taken together with the stories on the work of the Europol Drugs Unit and the justice and home affairs "work programme" illustrate a series of developments which are outside of any democratic control.

The Dublin meeting of the European Council in December set up a "High level group" of national prosecutors to draw up an "action plan to combat organised crime". Their report was adopted at an unscheduled extraordinary meeting of the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Luxembourg on 28 April. The report, which has 15 "political guidelines" and 30 "specific recommendations", is going to the European Council meeting of EU Prime Ministers in Amsterdam in mid-June.

The report is based on the now familiar argument that: "Crime is increasingly organising itself across national borders, also taking advantage of the free movement of goods, capital, services and persons." The objective being, as in the draft intergovernmental treaty, to create "an area of freedom, security and justice".

On the surface the "action plan" is concerned with tackling "organised crime" but, like the Europol Convention, closer examination reveals an enlarged roles for Europol and the European Commission and a highly questionable definition of "organised crime".

Defining "organised crime"

Faced with as many different definitions of "organised crime" as there are police forces in the EU the report itself offers no definition. The first "political guideline" calls on the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers to adopt a "Joint Action" to make it:

"an offence under the laws of each Member State for a person, present in its territory, to participate in a criminal organisation, irrespective of the location in the Union where the organisation is concentrated or is carrying out its criminal activity."

Recommendation 17, based on political guideline no 1, states that:

"Such an offence could consist in the behaviour described in Article 3, paragraph 4 of the Extradition Convention.. "

Article 3 paragraph 4 of the Extradition Convention, which is currently before the 15 EU national parliaments for ratification, in turn refers to Article 2.1, 3.1 and 3.3 of the Extradition Convention and to the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.

The combination of these various criteria leads to "organised crime" combining the following features. The offence must carry a sentence of 12 months or more in the "requesting Member State" and 6 months in the "requested Member State" (Article 2.1) and be "classified" as a "conspiracy or an association" (Article 3.1). Such a low standard encompasses a whole range of offences.

Article 3.4 itself refers to:

"behaviour of any person which contributes to the commission by a group of persons with a common purpose"

of one or more offences: 1) covered by Articles 1 and 2 (which covers acts against property) of the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, 2) "drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime", 3) "other acts of violence..." and 4) "creating a collective danger for persons". These criteria apply "even where the person does not take part in the actual execution" but has "knowledge either of the purpose and the general criminal activity of the group or the intention of the group..."

Broad definitions like "other forms of organised crime" rings alarm bells for those who have looked at the Europol Convention and its accompanying regulations. So too does

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