According to the Lisbon Treaty, in the areas of justice and – my portfolio – home affairs, the UK has the right to opt-out of EU co-operation. Today, I will speak at a conference in London to explain in some more detail the main elements of the procedures that are open to the UK under the Treaty. The final decision on what to do of course rests with the British government, as elected by the British people.
But I take the opportunity to stress how important co-operation is at European level in Home Affairs. One of the best examples is in the fight against cross-border crime.
Europol, the European Police Office, plays a key role here. I recommend you take a look at their web-site to see some of the great work that they do against credit card fraud, on-line child sex abuse images and drug smuggling. I have also pushed them during my mandate to boost their work against cyber-crime by setting up the European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3).
Europol is not a federal police force and has no competence over national police forces. Europol is there to assist the EU Member States in the fight against serious crime and to facilitate the exchange of information between the national authorities, as well as to present reports and analyses on crime in Europe. Europol has been particularly successful in the coordination of “joint actions” with simultaneous crack-downs in several countries by the national police forces. The UK supports Europol’s work (Europol even has a British Director) but it also benefits from it by making life harder for organised criminals that want to penetrate the UK economy as well as continental Europe.
And that seems to me just one example of how important it is that the UK continues to be a part of European co-operation in the Home Affairs area. International organised criminals disregard borders wherever possible. So our national police forces need to co-operate across borders. The European Union is an important vector for this.
The English poet John Donne wrote in the early 17th Century (so well before the creation of the EU…) that “No man is an island”. The internet makes this literally true when it comes to cyber-crime, in particular. Just before Easter, the EC3 assisted in dismantling a European crime group specialised in credit card fraud. Crack-downs in countries like Romania and the UK led to the arrest of 44 people who have been involved in credit card fraud, manipulations of points of sale terminals and on-line fraud. This is an excellent example of what co-operation at EU level can deliver.
And I think it is something for British politicians and voters to reflect on when they make their sovereign choice about how much they wish to co-operate with European partners in my policy area.