Deal in sight to end dispute over Europol

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Series Details Vol.5, No.8, 25.2.99, p4
Publication Date 25/02/1999
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Date: 25/02/1999

By Myles Neligan

A LONG-RUNNING Franco-German dispute which has prevented the EU's embryonic police cooperation agency Europol from becoming fully operational could soon be settled.

Following talks in Berlin earlier this month between German Justice Minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin and her French counterpart Elizabeth Guigou, diplomats from both countries say they are confident that a deal can be reached before the end of June.

This would enable police forces across the EU to begin pooling their resources in the fight against serious cross-border crime - including drug-smuggling, trafficking of humans and terrorism - for the first time.

Under the timetable set out by national governments in 1995, when they agreed to set up the pan-European criminal intelligence agency following protracted negotiations, Europol was originally due to become fully operational in October last year.

But disagreements between Paris and Bonn over the nature of the agency's supervisory body, which is being set up to ensure that Europol officials do not misuse sensitive personal information about EU citizens, have prevented it from doing so.

The Franco-German dispute centres on the issue of whether Europol's supervisory committee should be an administrative body staffed by senior civil servants, or a judicial one made up of judges and legal experts.

Paris is in favour of appointing civil servants to the committee, arguing that the requirements of greater openness implied by the judicial approach would not guarantee the confidentiality of the supervisory committee's proceedings. But Bonn insists that appointing judges is the only way of ensuring that the supervisory body will be impartial.

But there were signs of a breakthrough during a meeting between Gmelin and Guigou at a recent informal gathering of EU justice and home affairs ministers.

"Both sides expressed the will to get things moving," said a French diplomat, who added: "We hope to have a deal before the end of the German presidency."

Informal talks between senior civil servants are due to continue and the two ministers will discuss the issue again next month. EU officials said that the solution under discussion was a hybrid body which would combine the confidentiality of the administrative approach with the impartiality of a judicial set-up.

Europol officials in The Hague welcomed the possibility of a breakthrough. "As soon as the legal texts are adopted, Europol will be up and running the next day," said one.

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