The spider's web: Europol goes global in the hunt for intelligence and analysis:
Part 1.1

The "angular lines" used in Europol's logo, explains the agency, are "derived from a spider's web which represents exchange of information, networking and the cooperative nature of our work."

The logo is made up of a number of pieces that "fit together like a jigsaw and symbolise our core business - analysis. The upward direction of the points in the symbol signifies speed, progress, upward movement and precision." [1]

Europol is hoping to widen its web, and has sought permission to negotiate four new cooperation agreements so that it can formalise the exchange of information, intelligence and analysis with Brazil, Georgia, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Ensuring "internal security" in Europe - combating organised crime, human trafficking, drug smuggling, financial fraud and property crime amongst other things - makes the need for these agreements operationally urgent, Europol argues. Documents released by the agency also show that its own strategic interests and a desire to reinforce its status as a "major player" are also behind these proposals.

While Europol is obliged to ensure adequate levels of data protection in the countries with which it makes agreements, questions have been raised by MEPs, human rights organisations and activists over the nature of European cooperation with countries where political institutions and police forces have dubious human rights records, make use of questionable and sometimes illegal practices and techniques, and have track records of corruption and political repression.

Over the next three weeks a series of articles on Statewatch News Online will examine Europol's proposed new agreements. We will start with an overview of the context in which the agency is seeking these new agreements, before moving on to examine two of the four new proposed "external partners" - Brazil and Mexico. Next week the proposed agreement with Georgia is examined, and following that, the UAE.

Making lists

Europol's 2013 work programme outlined an "annual objective" to "maximise operational added value from all cooperation agreements with external partners." This objective is to be measured by the number of requests for information sent by and to Europol, and ties in with another goal: to "promote effective regional cooperation with relevant regional initiatives and key non-EU states." [2]

The agency currently has agreements with 18 non-EU states and three international organisations. Its operational agreements (with countries and organisations including Australia, Canada, the USA and Interpol) permit the exchange of personal data as well as more general data, while strategic agreements (with countries and organisations such as Colombia, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, the World Customs Organisation and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime) permit the exchange of strategic and general information. [3]

In October last year Europol's Management Board, made up of European Commission and member state representatives, recommended to the Council that it amend the list of third states with which the agency should sign agreements. This recommendation was in turn based on a series of "business cases" prepared by Europol, which attempted to make clear the "political and operational interest in concluding cooperation agreements with a limited number of priority countries."

The Cypriot Presidency subsequently prepared in November last year a Draft Council Decision that would permit amendment of the list. It was discussed at a meeting of the Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP), at which the Commission argued "against the suggested amendment of the list," reiterating a stance it had already taken at meetings of Europol's management board. [4]

The Commission's opinions were, however, put to one side, and the LEWP went to the European Parliament (EP) to ask its opinion on the proposed amendment to the list. Despite requesting that the EP deliver its opinion "as soon as possible", [5] it was not until the end of January that the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) appointed a rapporteur for the procedure (Philip Claeys from Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang). The other relevant forum for debating the proposed agreements, the Foreign Affairs Committee, decided it was unnecessary to give an opinion on the proposal.

A date has not yet been set for the LIBE Committee to examine the proposals, although when it does issue its opinion it will not necessarily affect the outcome of the process - the Council is obliged merely to take the Parliament's opinion "into account". It thus seems almost certain that the four new agreements will be given the green light. First to be examined are the proposed agreements with Brazil and Mexico.

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[1] Europol, Corporate Identity
[2] Europol, Europol Work Programme 2013, 12667/12, 17 July 2012; see also "Ambitious, yet realistic": Europol seeks to further increase its role in European policing, Statewatch News Online, September 2012
[3] Europol, External Cooperation
[4] Law Enforcement Working Party, Summary of discussions, 16346/12, 20 November 2012
[5] General Secretariat of the Council, Draft Council Decision amending Decision 2009/935/JHA as regards the list of third States and organisations with which Europol shall conclude agreements - transmission to the European Parliament, 17043/12, 18 December 2012

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