European Parliament calls on Council to prevent Europol negotiating new international agreements
A European Parliament vote on Wednesday showed overwhelming support for a resolution calling on the Council of the European Union not to authorise the opening of negotiations on new cooperation agreements between Europol and Brazil, Georgia, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The resolution, drafted by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee, "calls on the Council not to adopt" a draft Decision that would give Europol's Director authorisation to open negotiations with the four countries. 
The resolution says that "Parliament's Legal Service considered the proposed procedure as legally not correct" because negotiations on a new legal basis for Europol are currently underway.
679 MEPs voted in favour of the resolution, making up 98% of those present. 11 voted against and there were four abstentions. 
Under the proposed new Europol Regulation, "the provisions and the procedure for concluding agreements with third states and organisations are to be modified; therefore there should not be any amendments to the [current list]," says the resolution.
It also cites "concerns about the current level of data protection in some of the countries listed in the proposal".
Europol is able to conclude different types of agreement with non-EU states and international organisations: strategic agreements permit the exchange of strategic and general information, while operational agreements also allow the exchange of personal data, intelligence and analysis. 
Agreements - in particular operational agreements - with non-EU states and international organisations such as Interpol allow Europol to bolster its expanding databases and enhance its data-processing and analysis abilities.
The draft Council Decision to which the Parliament is overwhelmingly opposed would amend the list of countries with which Europol is to conclude agreements, and this would allow the opening of negotiations with Brazil, Georgia, Mexico and the UAE. The Commission has also argued against the amendment of the list. 
Europol considers them "priority countries" and is seeking cooperation agreements for a variety of reasons, with the overarching aim of fulfilling its objective of "maximis[ing] operational added value from all our cooperation agreements with external partners". 
In March and April this year Statewatch published a series of articles covering Europol's "business cases" for opening negotiations with the four countries. 
Lawyers and human rights activists in Georgia raised concerns over the legislative framework governing information-gathering by the country's police; in Mexico police and security forces have frequently been accused of involvement in torture; and Europol's proposal to reach an agreement with the UAE takes no account of the European Parliament's call for the EU to "take concrete actions" to address the human rights situation in the UAE.
Despite clear cross-party support in the European Parliament for Europol to be prevented from opening negotiations, the Member States' representatives in the Council may well proceed regardless - while it is obliged to "consult" Parliament on the issue, it is not bound by the wishes of MEPs.
This may be why Europol's recently-published 2014 Work Programme appears to see the new agreements as a foregone conclusion. It contains the objective: "Conclude cooperation agreements with remaining Balkan countries and progress with negotiations with new countries on the Council list", noting that cooperation will be established "according to MS [Member State] needs and EU requirements". 
Within the Council, EU Member States have also been busy discussing the implications of the proposed new Europol Regulation for agreements between the agency and non-EU countries and international organisations.
The Lithuanian Presidency submitted a discussion paper to the Article 36 Committee (CATS) containing the following questions:
- What are the operational needs for cooperation between Europol and third countries?
- What kind of control should the Council (or the Commission) have in this regard? (e.g. approval of the list of third countries)
- Do delegations consider that the procedure envisaged under Article 218 for concluding international agreements would affect the possibilities for operational activities of Europol in relation to third countries?
The Presidency's discussion paper notes that in early September, Member State delegations in the Law Enforcement Working Party expressed concerns over:
"[W]hether the proposed Regulation would allow for the same level of Europol's cooperation with third countries as foreseen in its current cooperation agreements as well as regarding the degree of involvement of Member States in deciding on the need for cooperation with a certain third country." 
These discussions, and the urgency in attempting to ensure that Europol can open negotiations with Brazil, Georgia, Mexico and the UAE, is likely to fuel suspicions that the Council is hoping to cement cooperation between Europol and four states that it considers to be "priority countries" before new and potentially more restrictive rules are enforced.
 LIBE Committee, REPORT on the draft council decision amending Decision 2009/935/JHA as regards the list of third States and organisations with which Europol shall conclude agreements, 23 October 2013
 Third States and organisations with which Europol shall conclude agreements, VoteWatch
 footnote: countries with which Europol currently has agreements, note Albania and Serbia update
 Law Enforcement Working Party, Summary of discussions, 20 November 2012
 Europol, Europol Work Programme 2013, 17 July 2012
 The spider's web: Europol goes global in the hunt for intelligence and analysis, Statewatch News Online, March/April 2013
 Europol, Europol Work Programme 2014, 15 November 2013
 Presidency, Discussion paper on Europol's agreements with third countries, 17 September 2013
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