European Judicial Cooperation: from science fiction to reality For ordinary citizens Eurojust can sound as a distant name. Can you tell us what Eurojust does to assist Member States in fighting cross-border crime and terrorism?
Michèle Coninsx : “Ten years ago Eurojust was considered to be a European judicial science fiction and now it is a European judicial reality. We support judicial authorities of Member states when faced with criminal networks and terrorist networks to help them eradicating organised crime and terrorism through operational support; that means helping them in terms of improving judicial cooperation- action, reaction and, in particular, rapid reaction in the execution of requests for judicial cooperation- and in terms of judicial coordination, which entails Eurojust’s legal and financial support to joint investigation teams, the organization of coordination meetings, coordination centers, common action days with the member states involved and with other agencies; Eurojust also works towards enabling the sharing of best practices in investigations and prosecutions and in building up knowledge.”
Despite the clear need for borderless intelligence sharing as a response to borderless terrorism, information sharing is still a quite sensitive matter. In the fight against terrorism, what could be done to improve information sharing at the European level?
Michèle Coninsx: “It’s true that we are confronted with unprecedented internal security risks, so we have to understand and accept the new situation we are in and we have to think and act together. It’s a common problem that needs a common approach. It should not be forgotten that we’re speaking about three crime priorities: illegal immigrant smuggling, terrorism and finally cyber-crime. And they can only be fought if we join forces and that means in the member states intelligence, police, judicial authorities working together and across the borders. It also means fighting borderless crime with those different entities together plus the private sector, plus the NGO’s, plus the academics. Criminals and terrorists do not think and act in silos; they are characterized by huge solidarity. They do connect with each other in their countries and across the borders. That kind of approach, that kind of network needs to be responded by equally structured networks and common responses. Would it be easy? Not at all. It would be based on trust and Eurojust has mounted its case work by building trust and confidence, building bridges within the European Union throughout its national coordination systems and, in particular, through its informal network of national correspondents for terrorism matters. Eurojust also cooperates with non-European countries such as Turkey, or the countries in the Western Balkans, North Africa and Middle East, seeking continuously to expand its network of Contact Points outside the EU. We should now connect the dots with law enforcement, which is being done in cooperation with Europol and also explore the possibility of having intelligence, law enforcement, police information and judicial information exchange in a quick and effective and of course legally binding way. This year we had the last counter-terrorism tactical meeting at Eurojust and we discussed how we can transform intelligence in tangible evidence that is admissible in courts in terrorism related cases. The debate has an important goal we have to pursue to successfully bring terrorists to justice.”
The face of organized crime and terrorism has changed out of recognition over the years. To criminals and terrorists, physical borders are becoming simply meaningless, nevertheless we still think only in terms of cooperation. Shouldn’t this be the right time to strengthen Eurojust’s legal base to better address the challenges ahead that Member States have in fighting cross-border crime and terrorism?
Michèle Coninsx: “First of all, we have been faced with significant internal security threats. Only last year, in 2015, the number of cases has mounted by 23% and the number of coordination meetings has mounted by 39%, so nearly a 40% increase in one year and we’re seeing that this upward trend is continuing in the first half of 2016. We have the same capacity and the same budget, while responding to more and more needs and requests from the member states for support. It is a trend to do more with less, but we reach the limits and so we should first of all have the sufficient capacity and budgetary resources. Together with that, we have Article 85 in the Treaty of the functioning of the European Union, which provides for the possibility to strengthen Eurojust that has not been fully exploited by the European institutions. Maybe after the phase we are now in, there might be a change of thinking one day to step from a purely intergovernmental and horizontal setup to a setup that gives more power to Eurojust: to sort jurisdiction issues for once and forever, to initiate ourselves coordination efforts and to be in a position that we have full information. European Parliament last week said that Eurojust is a success story that needs to be strengthened. That is a welcoming sign. Let’s see to what extent the political appetite is present at the level of the Council and other European institutions.”
One of the most significant novelties offered by the Lisbon Treaty in the area of judicial cooperation is the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office based at Eurojust. Precisely on your last point, political appetite, do you think there is political appetite for the creation of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office ‘based at Eurojust and do you find its establishment feasible in the near future?
Michèle Coninsx: “According to another article of the same treaty, the Lisbon Treaty, Article 86, from Eurojust a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) may be established. In 2013, the European Commission proposed the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office. How the text drafted by the European Commission on the EPPO will be finalized and how the EPPO will look like in the end remains to be seen, the legislative process is still ongoing. As the text has been tabled, the EPPO will focus only on crimes affecting the financial interests of the EU, so called PIF crimes. PIF crimes, excluding EU tax fraud, is a very a small segment of crime and represents only 3% of Eurojust´s cases, but how to define a PIF offense and thus the competence of the future EPPO is also still subject of negotiations. It is quite a good idea to strive for a European integrated approach and from Eurojust. There are discussions on how we can support an EPPO with human resources, with expertise: practically, judicially, legally. Eurojust can offer expertise especially as it has a 14 year experience in liaising and working in a trustful way with member states and non-EU countries. It can offer expertise when it comes to joint investigation teams with participating and non-participating countries. I’m very confident that the right balance will be found and that the support delivered by Eurojust will continue to make the difference in fighting EU fraud, if the chosen EPPO concept works.”
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