Thursday, 29 April 2021
European Union Regulation: Motion
That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure: Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2016/794, as regards Europol’s cooperation with private parties, the processing of personal data by Europol in support of criminal investigations, and Europol’s role on research and innovation, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 11th January, 2021.
I thank Members for agreeing to debate this motion today. The motion relates to a proposal to strengthen and develop Europol, increasing the services that it provides to European Union member states while remaining within the mission and tasks of the agency, as laid down in Article 88 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The deadline for opting in to the proposal under Article 3 of Protocol 21 is 3 May 2021. Opting in under Article 3 allows Ireland to take part fully in the adoption and application of the proposed measure, and to influence the content of the regulation that is to be agreed. Negotiations are well under way under the Portuguese Presidency of the Council. If the Houses support the opt-in, it is my intention to notify the institutions of our participation by Monday.
When Ireland signed up to the Lisbon treaty, the Government of the day made a declaration, which is attached to the treaties, that we would participate to the maximum extent possible in measures in the field of police co-operation. That remains the position of this Government.
Deputies may ask why the Government is seeking to participate in this regulation. First, this is very much a supplementary regulation. In 2016, these Houses agreed to Ireland's participating in a much broader regulation relating to Europol. The 2016 regulation reconstituted Europol as the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Co-operation. It represented an effort by the European Union to step up its efforts to fight terrorism, cybercrime and other forms of serious and organised crime. It also created new governance structures and new relationships between Europol and the European institutions, as required by the Lisbon treaty. The 2016 regulation will remain as the main Europol regulation, with the new regulation adding on specific powers and filling in any gaps that currently exist, which I will mention shortly.
Second, An Garda Síochána fully supports Europol and values its membership of the organisation. An Garda Síochána is represented on the management board at assistant commissioner level, and gardaí are seconded to the organisation on an ongoing basis. The Garda Commissioner is of the view that the collaboration and co-operation that comes from Europol is invaluable in tackling serious cross-border crime. Europol is the centre point for communication between the law enforcement agencies of the European Union.
Third, Ireland is broadly supportive of the proposed amendments in this draft regulation seeking to strengthen the existing mandate of Europol which I will now mention briefly. The draft regulation seeks to enable Europol to co-operate effectively with private parties. Private parties, such as Internet service providers and social media companies, hold data that are increasingly relevant for law enforcement authorities. Currently, the rules for exchanges of personal data with private parties only permit Europol to receive such data as an exception. The new proposed amendments would enable Europol to support law enforcement in its interactions regarding, for example, the removal of terrorist content online.
The draft regulation seeks to enable Europol to more effectively support member states' investigations with the analysis of large and complex data sets, addressing the big data challenge for law enforcement authorities. Member states often cannot detect cross-border links through analysis of large data sets as they lack data on crime in other member states.
They also may not have the resources or the infrastructure to process such data. The amendments would provide legal clarity around the processing of data, the implementation of data protection safeguards and the boundaries for data storage.
The proposed regulation seeks to strengthen the role of Europol in regard to research and innovation, addressing any gaps that may exist for law enforcement authorities. It would also allow Europol to engage in research activities that include the development, training, testing and validation of algorithms for the development of new tools. This is a highly technical area that will allow Europol to help member states to make the most of the opportunities that new technologies can offer.
The proposed regulation aims to strengthen Europol's co-operation with third countries on preventing and countering serious and organised crime and terrorism. Serious crime does not stop at the European borders and co-operation with third countries will be of particular importance to Ireland given that our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, now has third country status. A new provision will outline Europol's co-operation with the European Public Prosecutor's Office, EPPO, through the exchange of information, provision of analytical support and specialist knowledge in criminal investigations. Europol would also be obligated to report criminality falling within the mandate of the EPPO.
The draft regulation seeks to further clarify that Europol may request, in specific cases where it considers that a criminal investigation should be initiated, the competent authorities of a member state to initiate, conduct or co-ordinate the investigation of a crime. Currently, Europol can request a member state to initiate an investigation. The member state should then respond within one month to such a request, and if it decides not to agree, provide reasons to Europol. Europol can only request an investigation that affects two or more member states. The proposal is to amend this to allow Europol to request an investigation into a crime that is not a cross-border crime, where Europol has formed the view that the crime in question is detrimental to the European Union.
The draft regulation aims to further strengthen the data protection framework and oversight applicable to Europol. It proposes to outline the designation, position and tasks of the data protection officer, DPO, of Europol. This is to highlight the importance of the DPO as an independent function where he or she can ensure the compliance of Europol with the data protection provisions and safeguards within the regulation. It should be remembered that the 2016 Europol regulation was negotiated before the completion of the negotiations on the GDPR. Finally, it seeks to strengthen parliamentary oversight and accountability of Europol. Europol is ultimately responsible to the home affairs Ministers of the European Union. It currently reports on a regular basis to the internal security working group of the Council. Providing Europol with additional tools and capabilities requires a reinforcement of its oversight and accountability arrangements. There are new proposals for joint scrutiny by the Council and by the European Parliament and new reporting obligations for Europol.
The continuously evolving security threats call for effective EU-level support to national law enforcement authorities such as An Garda Síochána. These threats spread across borders. They facilitate a variety of crimes and manifest themselves in organised crime groups engaged in a range of criminal activities. Action at national level will not suffice to address these transnational security challenges. Europol is well-positioned to provide the support that member states need to address such challenges. A decision by Ireland to opt in to this measure would be seen as a demonstration of our continued commitment to the effective functioning of Europol and to the wider security of the European Union. Our participation in Europol is vital to our national interest and we look forward to continuing to playing an active role with the agency.
I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies and I urge them to support the motion.