by Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP
Under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, the British government must by 2014 decide whether the UK will remain a participant in, or exercise a mass ‘opt-out’ from, a set of about 130 existing (pre-Lisbon) EU laws in the field of policing and crime-fighting. These were decided under the old ‘Third Pillar’ intergovernmental mode involving unanimity and no co-decision with MEPs.
In 2014 after a 5-year transition period, these measures will become subject to normal European Commission enforcement powers and Court of Justice jurisdiction. A block opt-out facility – Protocol 36 – was negotiated by the previous government, to mitigate that.
Pressure has been increasing in favour of exercising that opt-out. A year ago in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, over 100 Tory backbenchers called on Prime Minister David Cameron to trigger this ‘opt-out’, and Home Secretary Theresa May announced to Westminster last October that the government is ‘minded’ to do so.
The motivation is to prevent an alleged further loss of ‘sovereignty’ to Brussels. Eurosceptics claim that an opt-out will ensure the UK is safe from an ‘expansionist’ EU Court of Justice threatening our common law system. They are unable to cite a single ruling by the Court in the policing and criminal justice in support of this fear.
The mass opt-out can be accompanied by an ‘opt back in’ list. It is imperative that we at least opt back in to the measures which are absolutely vital for fighting organised crime and terrorism like the European Arrest Warrant, Europol, cooperation on investigations and prosecutions and exchanges of criminal records.
But that will not be easy to negotiate with the European Commission and other Member states, even if it can be agreed between the coalition partners.
Not being part of policing and judicial EU co-operation measures would place the safety and security of British citizens at risk.
So the question arises of whether it is worth invoking Protocol 36 at all. The prospect of even a UK partial pull-out from police and justice instruments does not endear us to our EU partners whose patience is already stretched by UK cherry-picking. It does not make us look reliable or consistent. There is a knock-on effect to new laws currently being negotiated where we need goodwill to ensure the UK position is accommodated. The irony – or tragedy – is that British leadership in this area is evident, as displayed for instance in Briton Rob Wainwright holding the directorship at Europol.
Those who think that serious crime can be stopped at national borders are living in another century. European countries need to work together to catch and arrest dangerous and violent criminals such as terrorists, paedophiles, traffickers and gangsters who would otherwise escape justice. We are reminded of the value of EU cooperation in justice and home affairs on almost a weekly basis. The investigative powers needed to uncover endemic match-fixing in European football and the horsemeat scandal currently rocking British supermarkets and consumers would be in serious jeopardy if the government withdrew from EU police cooperation. As I recently argued at a European Movement event on this very subject by opting-out and pulling out we cannot protect UK citizens and promote UK principles at EU level.
There are hundreds of success stories of the European Arrest Warrant, a key European crime-fighting tool that has helped secure the rapid extradition of over 12,000 drug smugglers, child sex offenders, rapists and others. Jeremy Forrest, the teacher who fled to France with his 15 year old pupil Megan Stammers, was returned in a very short time thanks to the EAW, as was the July 2005 attempted London bomber Hussain Osman. Bank robbers who used to live the high life on the Costa del Sol in defiance of the UK courts are a thing of the past. Certainly the operation of the EAW needs to be reformed, but throwing out the baby with the bath water would be a catastrophe for the fight against organised, cross-border crime. As the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has argued “opting out of the EAW and relying on alternative arrangements would result in fewer extraditions, longer delays, higher costs, more offenders evading justice and increased risk to public safety”.
But it is not just the EAW. According to ACPO, Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) increases effectiveness in tackling organised criminal groups. Furthermore, the exchange of criminal records has helped identify UK nationals convicted in other EU states of sex offences. The Schengen Information System II will enable all participating states to share real-time information on suspects through a series of alerts made available via police national computer systems. Europol allows for fast-time exchange of information regarding organised criminals operation cross border. It supported over 50 cross border investigations in the past year alone.
The security and safety of the British public have to come before the irrational and dogmatic priorities of Europhobes. David Cameron and Theresa May must instead listen to police and intelligence chiefs, and to the inquiry currently being conducted by the House of Lords EU Select Committee. To pursue the opt-out as a ‘repatriation of powers’ exercise to please some in their party would be unforgivable risk. Surely a party which likes the label the ‘law and order party’ is not ready to abandon sensible European cooperation measures in the name of an ideological prejudice against the EU.Author : European Movement UK