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Migration and Home Affairs
6 May 2024

Operational cooperation

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

Following deliberations in the Council’s Law Enforcement Working Party, the Council Recommendation was adopted at unanimity at the June 2022 Justice and Home Affairs Council.

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 addresses 10 EU crime priorities:

  • drug trafficking,
  • facilitated illegal immigration,
  • trafficking in human beings,
  • excise and VAT fraud,
  • cybercrime,
  • 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
  • Cross-border hot pursuits and surveillance, as well as joint patrols and joint operations, are key instruments of police cooperation, helping to ensure that people cannot escape law enforcement authorities simply by crossing the internal borders inside the EU.

While respecting the role of EU countries in internal security, on 8 December 2021 the Commission adopted a Recommendation on operational police cooperation.

Following deliberations of the Commission proposal in the Council’s Law Enforcement Working Party, the Council Recommendation was adopted at unanimity at the June 2022 Justice and Home Affairs Council.

The Council Recommendation adopted sets out a series of standards for operational cooperation between police officers operating in another member state or participating in joint operations. Recommendations include:

  • a series of principles for cross-border hot pursuits and surveillance
  • a list of offences for which cross-border hot pursuit and surveillance should be allowed
  • a framework for joint operations
  • the introduction of a support platform for joint patrols and other joint operations, as well as ensuring effective access to information and communication through secure channels
  • joint training and professional development with a view to setting up a European police culture.

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.

Towards an EU Critical Communication System

The Commission works with all EU Member States and Schengen countries to establish the EU Critical Communication System (EUCCS). Connecting communication networks of law-enforcement, civil protection and public safety responders in Europe, this system allows for seamless critical communication and operational mobility across the Schengen area. By doing so, EUCCS will enhance the resilience of public communication infrastructure and ensure Europe’s capacity to react in times of crises.

The system is to be established by 2030, as announced in the Commission's White Paper, How to master Europe's digital infrastructure needs?, outlining the main initiatives for secure digital infrastructures and networks as part of the EU’s Digital Decade Policy Programme 2030. Furthermore, the possibility of supporting the establishment of EUCCS using IRIS² – the EU secure connectivity satellite constellation – is explored under the 2023 EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence.

The creation of EUCCS responds directly to the challenges formulated in the conclusions of the Council of the European Union from 7 June 2021, emphasising ‘the importance of secure operational and EU interoperable communication for law enforcement agencies (…),’ and inviting ‘Member States to further support EU initiatives aiming at the improvement of existing systems and EU-wide interoperable communication systems for public security (…), as well as the 2022 Council recommendation on operational law enforcement cooperation.

The technical pillar of EUCCS is based on the EU-funded projects BroadEU.Net (Internal Security Fund), BroadWay and BroadMap (both Horizon 2020). Other EU-funded projects and networks contribute actively to the work on EUCCS, notably the NEOS4EU project of the Belgian Federal Police, as well as the European Network of Law Enforcement Technical Services. Apart from that, Europol and eu-LISA are involved in the establishment of EUCCS. The coordination of works takes place in the Commission’s Mission Critical Communication Expert Group.

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.