Operational cooperation between EU countries’ law enforcement authorities is essential to ensure security inside the EU.
The Commission and EU law enforcement agencies enhance operational cooperation, notably through:
- the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT),
- helping EU countries implement existing EU legislation on cross-border cooperation, such as joint operations against cross-border crime,
- specific support provided to EU countries by agencies such as the EU Agency for law enforcement (Europol) and the EU Agency for law enforcement training (CEPOL)
The legal framework introduced by the Lisbon Treaty provides further legal and practical arrangements to make operational cooperation between EU countries’ law enforcement authorities more effective.
As announced in the Security Union Strategy and in the Schengen Strategy, on 8 December 2021 the Commission adopted a police cooperation package addressing both
- information exchange, with a proposal for a Directive on information exchange between law enforcement authorities in Member States, and a proposal for a Regulation on Automated Data Exchange Mechanism for Police Cooperation (“Prüm II”)
- and operational cross-border police cooperation, with a proposal for a Council Recommendation on operational police cooperation
European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT)
The current 4-year cycle (2018-2021) of EMPACT targets the most important criminal threats affecting the EU through cooperation between EU countries’ law enforcement and competent authorities, EU agencies (Europol, Frontex, CEPOL, Eurojust etc.), EU institutions, and, where relevant, other public and private organisations and non-EU countries.
The current cycle adresses 10 EU crime priorities:
- drug trafficking,
- facilitated illegal immigration,
- trafficking in human beings,
- excise and VAT fraud,
- illicit firearms trafficking,
- organised property crime,
- environmental crime,
- document fraud,
- criminal finances, money laundering and asset recovery.
On average, around 200 operational actions take place yearly. These include joint investigations, training, prevention, cooperation with third countries, improvement of the intelligence picture on certain new crime phenomenon etc.
The Commission financially supports the implementation of the EMPACT activites and is responsible for its evaluation.
The independent evaluation of EMPACT, entrusted to the Commission and conducted in 2020, concluded that the EMPACT is relevant and effective in tackling the most pressing threats posed by organised crime groups. It has become increasingly efficient, proves to be internally and externally coherent, and brings EU added value by providing a sound platform for co-operation that enables EU Member States to achieve better results against serious and organised crime, than if they had tackled these issues alone.
Operational law enforcement cooperation
Since the creation of the area of justice, freedom and security, where goods, people, services and capitals move freely, operational cross-border police cooperation is more than ever essential for an effective Security Union.
EU countries can use several EU tools to organise their cross-border operational police cooperation, such as:
- EU legislation on how to organise cross-border hot pursuits and surveillances, joint patrols, joint operations
- the national single point of contact (SPOC) for law enforcement information exchange
- police customs cooperation centres (PCCC) in internal border regions
While respecting the role of EU countries in internal security, on 8 December 2021 the Commission adopted a Recommendation on operational police cooperation that aims to:
- clarify and align the rules of engagement in cross-border surveillance, hot pursuit, joint patrols and other joint operations across national territories
- enable remote access of police officers to their own databases, and the use of secure communications, when operating in other EU countries
- broaden the role of existing Police Customs Cooperation Centres to become joint police stations capable of planning, supporting and conducting joint patrols and other joint operations based on shared risk analysis
- use targeted joint patrols and other joint operations in specific border areas within the EU, based on prior analysis, to counter migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings
- create a coordination platform to support and target joint operations and patrols to maintain and improve public order and safety, prevent criminal offences or help address specific crime waves in key locations, during specific times, mass gatherings, or in case of disasters and serious accidents
- broaden joint training and exchange programmes for police cadets and lifelong training of officers involved in operational cross-border cooperation, and reflecting on the creation of a large-scale pan-European joint training programme on operational cross-border cooperation
Police and customs cooperation centres
Police and customs cooperation centres (PCCCs) in internal border regions bring together, in one place, the law enforcement authorities of different EU countries.
The EU co-funds PCCCs for experience and best practices exchange. Although most of the information exchanged in PCCCs doesn’t concern serious and organised crime, it is important that information on such cases is passed up to the national level and, where appropriate, to Europol.
Joint investigation teams (JITs)
As crime has become more global, we need closer cross-border cooperation between competent authorities and more joint operations involving the police, gendarmerie, customs, border guards and judicial authorities of different EU countries. This is achieved via joint investigation teams (JITs).
JITs are set up by the competent authorities of minimum two EU countries, for a specific purpose and a limited period of time, to carry out criminal investigations in one or more of these countries.
Seconded members from other EU countries, Europol, the EU Agency for criminal justice cooperation (Eurojust) and the European anti-fraud office (OLAF) may take part in a JIT and support the team in various ways.
EU specialised agencies
EU specialised agencies support operational cooperation between EU countries' law enforcement authorities. They help assess common security threats, define common priorities for operational action, and they promote and facilitate cross-border cooperation and prosecution.
These agencies are Europol, CEPOL, the European border and coast guard agency (Frontex), the EU Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (eu-LISA), the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction (EMCDDA), the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), and Eurojust.
Cooperation between special intervention units
In 2008, the Council decided to improve cooperation between EU countries’ special intervention units in man-made crises that present a serious and direct physical threat to people, property, infrastructure or institutions - for example, hostage taking and hijacking.
The Council decision defines the general rules and conditions under which these units can intervene, based on a EU country’s request. This clear framework allows to gain time during a crisis. The regular meetings and joint trainings foreseen by this framework ensure that special intervention units benefit from mutual experience.
Networks of national specialised units
Cross-border cooperation between national financial intelligence units (FIUs) and national asset recovery offices (AROs) helps combat money laundering and access the illicit proceeds of crime.
Similarly, customs authorities cooperate to better manage risks in the international supply chain while facilitating legitimate trade.
Specialised units also cooperate, within their respective legal mandates, to tackle environmental crime.
Schengen evaluations in the field of police cooperation
Police cooperation between Schengen countries is one of the six fields evaluated under the Council’s evaluation and monitoring mechanism to verify the application of the Schengen acquis (2013).
Around five on-site visits of evaluated Schengen countries are conducted per year by evaluation teams consisting of Commission and Schengen countries’ experts and an observer from Europol.
- proposal for a Recommendation on operational police cooperation
- Council regulation establishing an evaluation and monitoring mechanism to verify the application of the Schengen acquis (2013)
- Council decision on cooperation between special intervention units (2008)
- Lisbon Treaty (2007)
- Council framework decision on joint investigation teams (JITs) (2002)
- EU Agency for law enforcement (Europol)
- EU Agency for law enforcement training (CEPOL)
- EU Agency for criminal justice cooperation (Eurojust)
- European border and coast guard agency (Frontex)
- European anti-fraud office (OLAF)
- EU Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (eu-LISA)
- European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction (EMCDDA)
- European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA)
- EMPACT - Fighting Crime Together
- Area of freedom, security and justice