Given the capacity of terrorism and organised crime in the European Union (EU) law enforcement agencies need an effective and co-operative international response, and in particular, counter-terrorist strategies across the EU. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 proposed the establishment of a new focal point in tackling such matters, and this has become realised with the establishment of the European Police Office, or Europol.
The establishment of Europol was first agreed upon on February 7, 1992 in the Treaty on European Union, also called the Maastricht Treaty. Article K.3 of the Treaty concerned the Establishment of a European Police Office, specifying the new body’s governance structure and its function to facilitate cooperation among the police of the EU member states. On January 3, 1994, Europol started limited operations in The Hague, The Netherlands, in the form of the Europol Drugs Unit that was specifically centred on the policing of international drugs crimes. Progressively, other areas of international criminality were added. On July 18, 1995, a Europol Convention was formally drawn up in Brussels and, on October 1, 1998, the Convention came into force when it had been ratified by all member states (Europol Convention, 1995). Europol immediately commenced its full range of activities in July 1999.
Function and Role of Europol
Based on the provisions of the Europol Convention, the objectives of Europol are to improve the effectiveness of and cooperation among the police authorities of the EU member states in order to prevent and combat serious international organized crime. Europol’s specific areas of criminal investigation include the illicit trafficking in drugs, vehicles, and human beings, money-laundering and terrorism. Priority is given to crimes against persons, financial crimes, and cyber-crimes, when an organized criminal structure is involved and when the criminal activity involves two or more member states of the EU. As of January 1, 2002, the mandate of Europol has been expanded to deal with all serious forms of international crime, such as organized robbery, swindling and fraud, computer crime, corruption, environmental crime, and other crimes specified in the Europol Convention of 1995.
Similar to the structure of other international police organizations, Europol is not an executive police force with autonomous investigative powers. Instead, Europol’s activities are oriented at facilitating communications among and supporting selected activities of the police organizations in the participating states (should Europol have autonomous powers?). Formally, Europol’s functions include the facilitation of information exchange among the Europol liaison officers (625 staff, of these, approximately 120 Europol liaison officers). The size of Europol belies the fact that they are in constant liaison with hundreds of different law enforcement organisations, each with their own individual or group seconded to assist Europol's activities. Europol Liaison Officers, who are seconded to the Europol headquarters in The Hague by the member states to act as representatives of their national police; the supply of operational analysis in support of relevant police operations conducted by the member states; the drawing up of strategic reports, such as threat assessments, and crime analyses on the basis of information supplied by police of the member states or generated at Europol headquarters and the offering of technical support for police investigations conducted in the EU member states. Each member state of the EU must designate a particular agency to act as the Europol National Unit or contact point for Europol communications, but the specific organization of the National Units is determined by each member state.
Among its most important instruments, Europol manages the Europol Computer System. This system was set up in accordance with the Europol Convention’s specification that Europol would maintain a...
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