Expert View

On Europol, UK should have its cake and eat it

by Camino Mortera-Martinez | 18.05.2017

Camino Mortera-Martinez is a research fellow and Brussels representative at the Centre for European Reform.

Post-Brexit, both the UK and its EU partners have an interest in reaching a quick agreement on matters related to crime, security and counter-terrorism. The most straightforward would be to keep the UK closely associated with Europol, the EU’s police agency.

Europol employs over a thousand people and supports 40,000 international investigations every year. Over the past decade, the UK has done more to shape the agency than any other country: the British model of intelligence-led security co-operation is now standard procedure. Currently, Europol has 67 British members of staff. Only the Netherlands (where it is based), Spain and Italy have more. Up to 40 per cent of data traffic through Europol originates in or is related to the UK. Europol’s director, Rob Wainwright, is a British national and a former MI5 analyst.

Full membership is only open to EU countries. But given Britain’s prominent position, it is a matter of mutual interest to conclude a bespoke agreement.

For a start, both sides would benefit from a deal allowing London to maintain direct access to Europol databases. For that, the UK will need to obey EU data protection rules. It would have the added advantage of making EU-UK trade negotiations easier: the EU will not allow the data of EU citizens to flow to and from Britain unless its data protection rules are considered robust enough.

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    The UK could certainly have liaison officers from key agencies and bodies. But co-operation with Europol would be easier still if it could retain some positions on the agency’s permanent staff, to facilitate communication and access to information.

    Many in Brussels do not want to make too many concessions, however, lest it encourage other countries to follow the UK out of the EU. If Theresa May and her government could show that they are willing to make some sacrifices, this would strengthen their hand in negotiating a special status. But it may entail compromises in two areas which have long been anathema to Brexiters: the European Court of Justice and the EU budget.

    The EU will insist that the court retains jurisdiction on the interpretation of the EU-UK agreement and on data protection. The UK government may accept these terms for practical reasons: any EU-UK co-operation involving access to data will need to be subject to ECJ rulings. Britain may as well agree to have the EU judges supervising the agreement, as it is very unlikely that it will be able to sidestep them.

    As for making a budget contribution, it would be a sign of good-will. London would need to chip in enough money at least to support Europol’s operations on, for example, disrupting smugglers’ networks or dealing with the aftermath of wide-scale cyber attacks.

    It will be difficult to reach an agreement before the UK leaves the EU, as any deal will need to be ratified by the European Parliament. But London and Brussels should try to hammer out the details during the ‘second phase’ of Article 50 negotiations, towards the end of 2018. This will help them to finalise a deal soon after Brexit. In the meantime, they should be able to agree on a transitional deal which might allow the UK to retain temporarily the same rights (and obligations) as Europol’s full members.

    Political will to compromise is clearly necessary. But British and European citizens’ security would be seriously compromised if Brussels and London fail to reach an agreement. On Europol, those 500 million people should be allowed to have their cake and eat it.

    Edited by Quentin Peel

    2 Responses to “On Europol, UK should have its cake and eat it”

    • Once more, wherever one looks, the practical implementation of Brexit in whatever field we talk about, is shown to be a non starter. In a way it is too late for the UK to disentangle itself from Europe; the above article on Europol confirms this and gives one more example of the sheer stupidity of the UK governments’ position. And all for what reason? Because a handful of Tory right wing Brexiteers and their financial backers are trying to reverse the course of history without a thought as to the practical consequences for the UK as a whole.