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Europol: European Police Office (until 31.12.2009)
This Council act establishes the European Police Office (Europol). The objective of Europol is to improve police cooperation between Member States in order to combat terrorism, unlawful drug trafficking and other serious forms of international organised crime. Member States are setting up national units to liaise between Europol and the national authorities responsible for fighting crime.
This act sets up a European Police Office known as Europol. Europol is established in The Hague, Netherlands, with legal personality. The objective of Europol is to improve the effectiveness of, and cooperation between, the competent authorities in Member States in preventing and combating international organised crime.
Strengthening cooperation between Member States: Europol’s role
Unlike the police services of Member States, Europol does not have executive powers. It cannot detain individuals, nor can it conduct home searches. Its tasks are to facilitate the exchanges of information, analyse intelligence and coordinate operations involving several Member States.
As part of police cooperation between Member States, Europol:
- facilitates the exchange of information between Member States;
- collates and analyses information and intelligence;
- notifies the competent authorities of Member States without delay via the national units of information concerning them and of any connections identified between criminal offences;
- aids investigations in Member States;
- maintains a computerised system of collected information;
- helps Member States train their competent authorities;
- facilitates technical assistance between Member States;
- serves as the contact point for combating euro counterfeiting.
Europol takes action when one or two Member States are affected by serious international organised crime. This covers an increasing number of areas, namely:
- preventing and combating terrorism;
- drug trafficking;
- trafficking in human beings;
- illegal immigrant smuggling;
- trafficking in nuclear and radioactive substances;
- motor vehicle crime;
- counterfeiting and forgery of means of payment;
- money laundering (except for predicate offences).
Europol’s sphere of competence includes offences involving the types of crime indicated above.
Setting up a single contact point in Member States: the national units
Each Member State establishes or designates a Europol national unit (ENU). This unit is the only liaison body between Europol and the competent national authorities. It sends at least one liaison officer to Europol whose task is to represent the unit’s interests within Europol. The heads of the national units meet on a regular basis.
The national unit’s duties include:
- supplying Europol with the information and intelligence it needs to carry out its tasks, and in particular providing input for Europol’s database;
- replying to and issuing requests for information to Europol;
- disseminating the information provided by Europol to the competent authorities.
ENUs are Europol’s only point of entry into Member States. However, the amendments made to the Europol Convention by the November 2003 Protocol will enable direct contacts between a Member State’s competent authorities and Europol, on condition that the ENU is informed at the same time.
Administering and funding Europol
Europol is constituted and administered by a number of bodies, namely:
- the management board, comprising one representative of each Member State and of the Commission, which has observer status. The management board’s duties include helping to determine Europol’s priorities, unanimously determining the rights and obligations of liaison officers, laying down data-processing rules, preparing rules for work files and examining problems brought to its attention by the joint supervisory body. The board meets at least twice a year. Each year it unanimously adopts a report on Europol’s activities and a report on its future activities taking into account the Member States' operational requirements and the budgetary implications for Europol. These reports are submitted to the Council of the European Union (EU) for approval. The European Parliament is informed. The management board is chaired by the representative of the Member State holding the Presidency of the Council;
- the director, who, after obtaining the opinion of the management board, is unanimously appointed by the Council for a four-year period, which is renewable once. He is assisted by three deputy directors who are appointed by the Council for a once-renewable four-year period. Their tasks are determined by the director. The director’s responsibilities include performance of the tasks assigned to Europol, day-to-day administration and personnel management. The director is accountable to the management board and is Europol’s legal representative;
- the financial controller, who is unanimously appointed by the management board and accountable to it;
- the financial committee, consisting of one representative from each Member State.
Europol is financed from Member States' contributions. The accounts in respect of all income and expenditure entered in the budget, together with the balance sheet showing Europol's assets and liabilities, are subject to an annual audit. The draft budget and budget implementation are examined by the Council.
Compiling information: the IT database
To perform its tasks, Europol maintains an IT database. Under no circumstances may this database be linked to other automated processing systems, except for the systems of the national units. The national units are responsible for the security of data-processing equipment and for carrying out checks on the storage and deletion of data files. The system is made up of three components: the IT information system, work files and index system.
The information system may only be used to store, modify and utilise data that are necessary for the performance of Europol's tasks. The system does not contain data on related criminal offences. The data concern persons who, under the national law of a Member State, are suspected of having committed or having taken part in a criminal offence for which Europol is competent or who have been convicted of such an offence. The system also contains data concerning persons who are suspected of planning to commit criminal offences for which Europol is competent.
Personal data may only include the following details:
- surname, given names and any alias or assumed name;
- date and place of birth;
- other characteristics likely to assist in identification, such as any specific objective physical characteristics not subject to change.
The information system also includes the following details:
- criminal offences, alleged crimes and where and when they were committed;
- means that were or may have been used to commit the crimes;
- the departments handling the case and their file references;
- suspected membership of a criminal organisation;
- convictions relating to criminal offences for which Europol is competent;
- references to Europol or the inputting national unit.
Access to the information system is available to the national units, liaison officers, the director, the deputy directors and duly authorised Europol officials. The competent authorities designated by Member States have limited access to the information system. Further information may be obtained only via the national units. Only the unit that entered the data may modify, correct or delete them.
Europol may store, modify, and utilise data on the criminal offences for which it is competent in other files (work files), including data on related criminal offences. Files opened for the purposes of analysis, with the aim of helping a criminal investigation, concern the following subjects:
- persons who, under the national law of a Member State, are suspected of having committed or having taken part in a criminal offence for which Europol is competent or who have been convicted of such an offence;
- persons who, under the national law of a Member State, are suspected of planning to commit criminal offences for which Europol is competent;
- persons called on to testify in investigations in connection with offences or criminal proceedings;
- victims of one of the offences under consideration or persons who could be victims of such offences;
- contacts and associates;
- persons who can provide information on the offences under consideration.
All IT databases containing personal data must indicate:
- the file’s purpose and name;
- the nature of the data to be stored;
- the time limits for examining the data, duration of storage, etc.
Each analysis project entails setting up an analysis group comprising analysts and other Europol officials, as well as liaison officials and/or experts from Member States. Only analysts are authorised to input data into work files, but all participants may retrieve data from them. The collection, storage and processing of data takes place in strict compliance with the arrangements for protecting individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data.
Data may not be kept on file for more than three years. However, Europol reviews annually the need to continue keeping the data for the purposes of the file concerned. The Europol director may, where appropriate, decide to keep data for a further three-year period.
Europol sets up an index system for data stored in work files. The director, deputy directors, duly authorised officials of Europol and liaison officers are entitled to consult the index system.
Data protection: processing arrangements
Europol passes on any information concerning their Member State to the national units, as well as to their liaison officers if the national units so request. Member States ensure a standard of data protection under their national legislation that must at least correspond to the Council of Europe Convention of 28 January 1981. Each Member State must ensure that the data it transmits to Europol are legal, accurate and up to date, and check the storage time limits. Europol is responsible for data transmitted to it by third parties or resulting from analyses that it has carried out.
Individuals wishing to access data relating to them that have been stored at Europol may make a request to that effect free of charge to the national competent authority in the Member State of their choice. The competent authority refers the matter to Europol and informs the enquirer that Europol will reply to them directly. Requests must be fully dealt with by Europol within three months of receipt by the national authority. The right of individuals to access their data or to have such data checked must be exercised in accordance with the law of the Member State where the request was made. Europol may refuse to provide data where necessary to:
- enable it to perform its tasks properly;
- protect security and public order in Member States;
- prevent crime;
- protect the rights and freedoms of third parties.
Individuals have the right to ask Europol to correct or delete incorrect data concerning them. If data that are incorrect or contravene this Convention have been passed directly to Europol by a Member State, it must correct or delete them in collaboration with Europol. Europol informs requesters that the data concerning them have been corrected or deleted. If they are not satisfied with Europol's reply or have received no reply within three months, they may refer the matter to the joint supervisory body. This independent body monitors Europol’s activities to ensure that the rights of individuals are not violated by the storage, processing or utilisation of the data in its possession.
In addition to the joint supervisory body, each Member State designates a national supervisory body to ensure that personal data are input, retrieved and transmitted to Europol in accordance with national law. This body also ensures that the rights of the individuals concerned are not affected. Individuals have the right to ask the national body to check that the data concerning them were input, transmitted and consulted in accordance with the law. This right is exercised in accordance with the national law of the Member State to which the national supervisory body belongs.
Each Member State is liable for any damage caused to individuals as a result of legal or factual errors in data stored or processed at Europol. Only the Member State in which the event that gave rise to the damage occurred may be the subject of an action for compensation on the part of the injured party, who must apply to the courts with jurisdiction under the national law of that Member State.
Ensuring that action is effective: cooperation with European institutions, international institutions and third countries
On the basis of an act of its management board, Europol has concluded agreements with the following EU bodies through its International Relations – Cooperation agreements:
- the European Central Bank (ECB);
- the European Commission;
- the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction;
- the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
This Convention allows Europol to conclude strategic or operational cooperation agreements (only operational agreements provide for transmission of personal data) with third countries and international organisations.
Member States have ratified this Convention in accordance with their respective constitutional arrangements. Following the Convention’s entry into force, various measures were taken to enable the European Police Office to be established. These concern the rights and obligations of liaison officers, rules for data files, rules of procedure of the joint supervisory body, staff regulations, rules on confidentiality, the financial regulation, the headquarters agreement, the protocol on privileges and immunities and the agreements on the privileges and immunities applicable to liaison officers. Europol started operations on 1 July 1999, when it replaced the Europol Drugs Unit (EDU), which had been set up on a provisional basis in 1995.
This Convention is open to accession by any state that becomes a member of the EU. Reservations are not permissible.
Two protocols to the Convention were adopted by the Council in November 2002 and November 2003. They have given Europol new powers to assist Member States, including: coordinating joint investigation teams, requesting investigations, allowing third countries (with which Europol has concluded operational agreements) to take part in analysis groups, etc.
As of 1 January 2010, the Convention is replaced by Council Decision 2009/371/JHA establishing Europol. Consequently, possible amendments to Europol will be easier in future. The decision will establish Europol as a Union entity, subjecting it to the general rules and procedures of similar bodies and agencies, and thus simplifying its administration. At the same time, Europol will be funded from the general budget of the EU, placing it under the budgetary control of the European Parliament.
|Act||Entry into force||Deadline for transposition in the Member States||Official Journal|
|Council Act of 26 July 1995||
OJ C 316 of 27.11.1995
|Convention based on Article K.3 of the Treaty on European Union on the establishment of a European Police Office (Europol Convention)||
OJ C 316 of 27.11.1995