Strengthening of Europol's mandate

In “Promoting our European Way of Life”

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Headquartered in The Hague, in the Netherlands, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) is an EU body tasked with supporting and strengthening cooperation between EU Member States (MS) in the area of cross-border law enforcement.

Following the Lisbon Treaty's entry into force, Europol is governed by Article 88 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). The article provides that regulations adopted jointly by the Parliament and the Council under the ordinary legislative procedure are to determine the agency's structure, operation and tasks.

To ensure alignment with the requirements of the Lisbon Treaty, the Europol Decision (Council Decision 2009/371/JHA) was replaced by the Europol Regulation, adopted on 11 May 2016 jointly by the EP and the Council.

The Regulation applied from 1 May 2017 for all EU countries, except Denmark, which has an opt-out from the Treaty's justice and home affairs provisions. The Regulation enhances Europol's role as a central hub for information exchange; strengthens Europol's data management and protection regime; creates a new parliamentary oversight body, the Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group; reforms the way Europol exchanges information with its partners; and provides for individuals' right of access to their personal data, a complaints procedure, and a right to obtain compensation for unlawful data processing.

In its 2020 work programme, the European Commission announced its intention to adopt a legislative proposal on the strengthening of Europol's mandate, based on Article 88 TFEU.

According to the Inception impact assessment, the new rules would: enable Europol to deal with the evolving nature of internet-based and financial crime; align Europol’s procedures for cooperating with non-EU countries with those of other EU agencies; and bring Europol’s data protection rules into line with existing EU rules.

The European Commission presented the proposal on 9 December 2020, as part of a package of counter-terrorism measures. It aims at strengthening Europol's mandate by:

  • enabling Europol to cooperate effectively with private parties;
  • allowing Europol to process large and complex datasets, addressing thus the big data challenge for law enforcement;
  • clarifying that Europol may request, in specific cases where Europol considers that a criminal investigation should be initiated, the competent authorities of a Member State to initiate, conduct or coordinate an investigation of a crime which affects a common interest covered by a Union policy, without the requirement of a cross-border dimension of the crime concerned;
  • strengthening the agency's role on research and innovation;
  • enabling joint operational analysis between Europol and Member States in specific investigations;
  • strengthening Europol’s cooperation with third countries in specific situations and on a case-by-case basis for preventing and countering crimes
  • further strengthening the data protection framework applicable to Europol as well as the parliamentary oversight and accountability of the agency;
  • strengthening Europol’s cooperation with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The proposal is also linked to another legislative proposal, which amends Regulation (EU) 2018/1862 on the Schengen Information System (SIS). Accordingly, Europol would be able to enter data into the SIS on the suspected involvement of a third country national in an offence in respect of which Europol is competent.

In the European Parliament, the file has been assigned to the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE). The rapporteur (Javier Zarzalejos, EPP/Spain) presented his draft report on May 2021 and around 500 amendments were tabled by 4 June 2021. The Committee on Budgets (BUDG) aadopted its opinion on 31 May 2021. On 12 October 2021, the LIBE Committee adopted its report and the mandate for negotiations with the Council (approved in plenary on 21 October 2021), together with the report and mandate on the second proposal of the package, in view of reaching an early agreement on both proposals.

The Council agreed its negotiating mandate on 30 June 2021, and on 13 October 2021, it adopted its position on the second proposal, amending the Schengen Information System regulation.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) issued on 8 March 2021 its opinion on the proposed amendments to the Europol Regulation. The EDPS recommends, among others, that some concepts in the proposed regulation be better defined; that safeguards be strengthened with regard to derogations related to processing large and complex data sets; and that the prohibition of systematic, massive or structural transfers should apply to all exchanges with private parties including in the EU.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted its opinion on the proposal on 9 June 2021. The EESC welcomed the proposal as a step in the right direction. It saw no concerns with regard to privacy protection and fundamental rights in data processing, and considered the proposed increase in Europol's budget to be a positive response to further protecting EU citizens as well as enhancing cooperation between Europol and national law enforcement agencies.

Co-legislators entered into inter-institutional negotiations on the Europol package and the first political trilogue took place on 27 October 2021. A provisional agreement was reached on 1 February 2022, approved by COREPER on 11 February, followed by LIBE MEPs on 16 March. Parliament adopted the provisional agreement on 4 May 2022, with 480 votes for, 143 against and 20 abstentions, followed by the Council on 24 May. The act was signed on 8 June and was published in the Official Journal of the EU on 27 June 2022. It entered into force on 28 June 2022. On 22 September 2022, the EDPS asked the EU Court of Justice to annul Articles 74a and 74b of the new Europol regulation which, in its view, impact negatively individuals' personal data and the independence of the EDPS.

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Author: Carmen-Cristina Cîrlig, Sofija Voronova, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20/01/2023.