The Commission recently proposed limited changes to the way the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol works. The aim is to tackle cross-border crime – for example drug dealing and human trafficking – better.
Many would no doubt conclude that better police cooperation against such major criminal activities would be of major benefit to the UK. But if it does not agree, the UK can decide not to opt-in to the proposals given its general option under the Lisbon Treaty to remain outside EU justice measures.
Despite this, the Daily Mail turned the proposals into an article headlined “EU demands access to British police files”, suggesting that Europol was to be given extensive new powers over Member States and their police forces – not the case – and that it would be able to demand additional data on victims and witnesses. In fact the proposal would significantly increase protection for this kind of data.
The Mail added that police would need to “divert resources from tackling crime to information-gathering for Brussels” and that if police did not comply the UK could face massive fines – simply wrong.
The EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström explains here what Europol is – and what it is not.
The Mail published on 29 April a letter from the Head of the Commission’s London Representation, Jacqueline Minor.
However, in editing the letter – without consultation – the Mail alters its meaning and reduces its force.
Here is the letter we sent to the Daily Mail:
“The EU is not seeking new powers over Member States for its law enforcement agency Europol (‘EU demands access to British police files’, 19 April).
Member States set up Europol in 1993, to pool resources against major cross-border crime.
There is an existing agreement to supply data to Europol. The European Commission is proposing measures to clarify that and to strengthen democratic oversight and data protection. The aim is to tackle crime better.
The proposal only takes effect if Member States agree. It would not expand access to data on witnesses and victims.
It would not give Europol direct access to national databases – let alone “private police files”. Member States share data they already have, so resources will not be diverted to collecting data for Europol.
Finally, there is nothing in the proposal about fines.
Europol will remain an agency supporting – not usurping – national police forces”
But the Mail’s version below omits any mention of the original article and thus deprives the reader of any point of reference. It also omits the important point that resources will not be diverted from police work to collecting data for Europol.
In changing “if Member States agree” to “if a Member State agrees” it also changes the meaning. Member States need to agree collectively on the changes but if they did so then they would take effect everywhere, helping police to prevent crime and catch criminals everywhere – except if the UK (and/or Ireland) decided to invoke its opt out.
Here is the version published by the Mail in its print and tablet editions – though not online, where letters do not usually appear:
“Member States set up Europol in 1993, to pool resources against major cross-border crime. There’s an existing agreement to supply data to Europol.
The European Commission is proposing to clarify that and to strengthen democratic oversight and data protection. This would take effect only if a Member State agrees, and it wouldn’t expand access to data on witnesses and victims. It wouldn’t give Europol direct access to national databases – let alone “private police files”.
There is nothing in the proposal about fines for not supplying data”