EU Presidency: Germany advocates „European Police Partnership“

The German Federal Ministry of the Interior wants to expand Europol and the international exchange of data during its EU Presidency. European police authorities will be supported with face recognition and decryption capabilities. Also on the agenda are the Europe-wide query of police files and the exchange on a definition of persons which pose „a potential terrorist/extremist threat“.

On 1 July Germany took over the six-monthly EU Council Presidency, the last time the Federal Government held the Presidency was in the first half of 2007. In the field of Justice and Home Affairs, the programme of the Interior and Justice Ministries is under the motto „A Europe of security and common values“. Germany is focusing on a „European Police Partnership“. The term is vaguely formulated; even when asked, the Ministry of Interior merely states that cross-border cooperation between police authorities is to be „improved“ and achieved by ensuring that „every police officer has access to the necessary information from other Member States“.

What is „necessary“ will therefore be defined by the German Ministry of the Interior in the next six months. The European Union has numerous formats for the exchange of information between police and customs, and its agencies are also involved. The „European Police Partnership“ is not intended to create new instruments, but to expand the existing ones. This includes new legislative procedures.

Stronger operational mandate for Europol

For example, the mandate of the police agency Europol in The Hague is to be extended. The Commission intends to present a proposal on this in December, which will then be monitored by the Presidency. Europol will, according to the plans, be given a stronger operational mandate for police cooperation and will function as a central office for the Member States. The police authorities there are to make greater use of the Europol Information System (EIS).

This would also apply to closer cooperation with secret services within the framework of the Schengen Information System (SIS II), which has also been significantly expanded with three new regulations. Their implementation is also on the agenda of the German EU Council Presidency.

Europol is to become a „robust“ information and innovation hub and enter into new partnerships with private companies. Personal data could also be exchanged, for example with airlines or travel agencies. Europol is also to submit a proposal for an agreement with the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office to assist him in financial investigations. Finally, Europol should also cooperate closer with third countries, including the police authorities of the Western Balkans and the southern Mediterranean.

More Big Data

Europol also intends to purchase Big Data software for the analysis of large volumes of data. The police agency already uses a prediction software of the US company Palantir, further applications of artificial intelligence will be introduced. Europol also wants to become a European central hub for questions of decryption of data storage devices and digital communication.

The technical upgrade costs money, which is why Europol does not want to accept any cuts in the current negotiations on the Multi-Annual Financial Framework until 2027. Because of the Corona crisis, the seven-year EU budget is supposed to be cut at the expense of the Europol, Frontex and euLISA agencies, among others.

In future, Europol is to focus its efforts more on combating „extremism“. To this end, the Federal Ministry of the Interior wants to promote its concept of persons which pose „a potential terrorist/extremist threat“ („Gefährder“) at EU level, which gives the German police extensive powers. The German Council Presidency has therefore distributed a questionnaire to the Member States asking for the various national personal classifications and listings. However, it would still be a big step towards a uniform, EU-wide definition of a „Gefährder“.

EU Parliament blocks regulations

German priorities also include the continuation of the „Interoperability“ project, with which the EU wants to merge its biometric data from different systems into a single database and browse them using a new search engine. The new facial recognition for the system alone is to cost 300 million Euros. A first test is planned for next year, and the entire system is to be rolled out by 2024. All the details will be dealt with in the new Council working group „Data Exchange in the Field of Justice and Home Affairs“ (IXIM).

The EU Member States still have to adopt numerous implementing regulations for the “ Interoperability “ project. For example, the extent to which the system may be used for identification using biometric data is disputed. It is also questionable whether the Corona crisis will delay the start of the project. Much more problematic, however, is that new regulations for the project will have to be finalised for the EU-wide Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), the Visa Information System (VIS) and the Eurodac fingerprint file, but these are partly blocked by the EU Parliament.

Europe-wide query of facial images

There are also plans to extend the existing Prüm procedure, which allows DNA and fingerprint data to be searched in all EU Member States. In the future, a „Next Generation Prüm“ (Prüm.nG) will also allow facial image files to be searched. Although the Commission will not present a corresponding proposal until early 2021, details are already being discussed in the new Council Working Group „Information Exchange“ (IXIM).

Within the framework of its EU Council Presidency, the German Federal Criminal Police Office will also continue to pursue its passion for the „European Criminal Records Identification System“ (EPRIS). It is intended to enable all EU police authorities to search each other’s investigation files on specific persons. This would also apply to persons for whom investigations have been suspended.

Another item on the agenda is the conclusion of the „Regulation to Prevent the Dissemination of Terrorist Online Content“, which the Federal Government intends to work towards as a matter of urgency. The old EU Parliament had demanded that police orders for the removal of postings should not be issued across borders, but should be restricted to one’s own country. The Council does not agree with this.

New „Strategy for the Security Union“

The programme of the German Council Presidency also vaguely states that the exchange of health-related data should be improved throughout Europe. The Federal Government is campaigning for a legally secure European “ Health Data Area“ and intends to propose a code of conduct for this. For example, Germany proposes to use passenger data to track corona infections.

Many German initiatives in the area of justice and home affairs will probably be reflected in the new „Strategy for the Security Union“, which will be published by the Commission next Wednesday. The Justice and Home Affairs Ministers will discuss it at their meetings on 8 and 9 October 2020 in Luxembourg and on 3 and 4 December in Brussels.

All outstanding projects will be continued next year by Portugal and Slovenia, which together with Germany form the current Trio Presidency of the European Council.

Image: „Franco-German Task Force“ at Oktoberfest (Bundespolizei).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.