On 25 and 26 October, the European Parliament held the 9th Meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group (JPSG) on Europol. The even was organised as a videoconference and was attended by representatives from national parliaments, the European Parliament, the European Commission, and other invited guests. Together with Europol representatives, the participants discussed the current challenges associated with running Europol. The meeting was co-chaired by the chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the Head of the National Assembly Delegation to the JPSG, Nik Prebil, and the Head of the National Council Delegation to the JPSG, Bojana Potočan.
In her opening speech, Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle presented Europol’s activities during the first six months and Europol’s Programming Document for 2022-2024. She emphasised the growth in cybercrime, as well as corruption and the exploitation of legal business networks for criminal purposes. The European Data Protection Supervisor, Wojciech Wiewiórowski, reported on Europol’s data protection obligations. The participants expressed reservations about the new Europol regulation and storing large quantities of data. They did, however, welcome the Europol’s role as a key information hub, offering support to national police forces, and the part it plays in identifying risks associated with the misuse of funds from the NextGenerationEU financial instrument.
The meeting continued on 26 October with two opening speeches. The first was given by the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, and the second by the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia, Aleš Hojs.
Commissioner Johansson announced the beginning of a trialogue on the revision of the Europol Regulation, which would expand its competences and ensure support for national law enforcement authorities in member states. She emphasised the importance of effective legislation when it comes to online child abuse, which would require private companies report on suspicious content and activity on their platforms. She likewise announced the establishment of a new European centre for combatting the sexual abuse of children. When talking about financial crime and corruption in the EU, she touched on the European Commission’s work on preparing 2022 guidelines for member states, stressing the urgency of safeguarding European financial assets and recovery instrument funds.
The Minister of the Interior, Aleš Hojs, emphasised Europol’s role in enhancing the domestic security of smaller countries, especially in the Western Balkans region, touching on the importance of revising Europol’s mandate. He also tied a stronger Europol mandate to a wider approach to preventing online child abuse and regulating the collection and analysis of large quantities of data. He likewise highlighted the importance of enhancing international cooperation between law enforcement authorities when it comes to detecting and investigating crime related to online child abuse.
In light of the new Europol Regulation, participants stressed the need to improve institutional democratic oversight of Europol, which must be proportional to its increased powers, as well as the importance of international cooperation in detecting and preventing online child abuse. They expressed concern about Europol’s innovations and research into using artificial intelligence and its influence on the privacy of European citizens.
The meeting then turned to a debate on cybercrime in the EU, with a focus on online child abuse
and cooperation with third countries, including private persons and NGOs. The topic was proposed by the National Assembly Delegation to the JPSG. The keynote speakers included the Head of the Operations Unit at Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, Fernando Ruiz, Deputy Director-General for Migration and Home Affairs at the European Commission, Olivier Onidi, the Head of the Juvenile Crime Section of the General Crime Division at the Criminal Police Directorate of the Slovenian Police, Robert Tekavec, and a representative from the Slovenian Safer Internet Centre, Andrej Motl.
The debate participants advocated for putting this issue high on the list of EU priorities and for giving it more attention, as well as for preparing a more adequate legislative framework, raising awareness in society, and helping potential victims identify these kinds of threats. They also advocated for better cooperation between national authorities.
The second round table discussion focused on financial crime, corruption, and protecting the EU’s financial interests. The keynote speakers included the Head of Europol’s European Financial and Economic Centre, Burkhard Muhl, European Public Prosecutor, Frédéric Baab, and Counsellor at the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, Nicholas Franssen.
Members of national parliaments and the European Parliament called for a lasting and common EU-wide approach to preventing financial crime perpetrated by businesses and criminal organisations. They emphasised Europol’s key role in cooperating and coordinating in the fight against corruption in the EU, as the problem is increasingly taking on an international dimension and becoming more organised. They called for establishing more effective safeguards for distributing and using European funds that will better be able to protect European financial interests.
During the closing portion of the meeting, the participants unanimously adopted both compromise proposals for revising the JPSG Rules of Procedure. The success comes on the heels of years of effort. Both adopted proposals will enable even more effective parliamentary oversight of Europol. This marks a significant achievement of the parliamentary dimension of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU.