Leaving the European Arrest Warrant is a huge mistake and will have significant operation consequences for law enforcement

Labour Party

The UK will be kicked out of the European Arrest Warrant if the government’s Brexit strategy goes ahead, the EU chief negotiator has warned.

Incredibly the Government wants to remain part of the system but has not yet grasped that to remain part of it, it cannot leave the European Court of Justice or the free movement scheme.

It’s astonishing that while on the one hand the Government recognises the importance of staying within it meanwhile it is doing everything it possibly can to sabotage our ability to remain part of it.

The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is a hugely important mechanism whereby EU member states can request the detention of criminals and is able to do so without having to apply for extradition which s a lengthy and bureaucratic process.

Instead of the UK being part of the EAW Barnier has suggested that the UK and the EU may be able to establish a streamlined extradition process. But this is reliant on several factors including agreement from all 27 EU member states, and it won’t be nearly as effective as remaining part of the EAW which is an efficient and effective system.

This is an incredibly serious situation which inevitably will have operational consequences for UK law enforcement. The UK will only have very limited access to analysis and to data produced by Europol relating to live criminal investigations. However, it would not be able to shape the direction of the enforcement agency or have any further input.

The BBC reported: “Successive UK governments have remained strong supporters of the European Arrest Warrant – which came into force in 2004 – despite calls from some Tory MPs for it to be renegotiated or reformed.

“According to the National Crime Agency, other EU members requested the arrest of 14,279 UK-based suspects in 2015-6, up from 1,865 in 2004. The UK made 241 such requests in 2015-6, leading to 150 arrests.”

Being forced to leave the European Arrest Warrant will only serve to make the UK increasingly vulnerable.


MEPs vote for tougher measures to combat terrorism

Labour Party

MEPs will vote in Strasbourg this week to adopt new rules to give greater powers across all EU member states for authorities to tackle the growing threat of terrorism.

The new rules will be a decisive measure in the counter terrorism drive and support the work of the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol. The goal of the agency, as many may know, is to support member states in the fight against terrorism and serious organised and international crime.

As we have seen in the last year, the threat terrorist networks pose within the European Union is significant. Europol describes the threat as ‘resilient and able to quickly adapt to new opportunities.’

With this in mind its incumbent upon the European Parliament to respond to, and address the growing threat, and as legislators we are seeking to enhance the mandate of Europol so that it is fully equipped to respond even more swiftly to the rise of international criminal activity including terrorism.

The new measures will also give additional powers to existing units like the Internet Referral Unit, allowing such authorities to swiftly remove any content on websites which praise terrorist acts or encourage terrorists to join terrorist organisations.

In addition, social networking sites such as Facebook can be approached directly and asked to remove material that is used by terrorists. Europol will also be able to request details of other pages in an effort to stop the continuing spread of terrorist propaganda.

Another important area the new rules address is that of information sharing. The ability to share properly, transparently and swiftly information among member states is a significant benefit of our membership to the European Union which must not be underestimated.

While some people have raised concerns over data protection issues, the new measures address the concerns robustly by ensuring strict parliamentary scrutiny and safeguards are in place. Indeed the Civil Liberties Committee has been very clear. It stated: “MEPs have ensured that Europol’s new powers will go hand in hand with increased data protection safeguards and parliamentary scrutiny. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) will be responsible for monitoring Europol’s work and there will be a clear complaints procedure under EU law for citizens.”

And Europol’s work will be overseen by a Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group and will include members from both national parliaments and the European Parliament.

As the new measures address data protection issues robustly then we must respond in the toughest terms to the growing threat of terrorism, and without delay.

The rules will take effect from 1 April 2017.

The issue of Modern Slavery exposes Conservative policy at its most flawed

Labour Party

John Major’s attack on Euro-sceptics as living in “fantasy land” hits on an uneasy fault line. There is a fissure within the Conservative Party, between an aspiration to again be ‘the natural party of government’, and a temptation to fall back on knee-jerk, Tea Party style approaches which win quick votes. At its core this remains a 1980s distinction, between high-handed ‘wets’ and the visceral politics of Thatcherism. This is perhaps why Major’s experiences remain so relevant 16 years on – nothing really has changed. The Conservatives are still torn between rhyme and reason.

This schism is brought into sharp relief by today’s European parliament vote on trafficking and organised crime. MEPs from across the member states have overwhelmingly endorsed recommendations by the Organised Crime committee, following a new report on trafficking networks. The report advocates tougher sanctions and renewed emphasis on improving labour conditions. It also asks for a pan-European public prosecutor’s office, and has drawn calls from trafficking NGOs for a more proactive Europol.

How the Conservatives respond to this will be fascinating. On the one hand Theresa May has made a clear and commendable pledge to end Modern Slavery; on the other she has persistently sought to repatriate judicial and policing powers from Europe and talk tough on immigration. These two approaches are wholly contradictory. They are two dogs, lashed together, which will simply never run in the same direction.

According to the committee’s report there are currently 880,000 enslaved people in Europe – 270,000 of whom work in the sex industry. I know from my own efforts to address sex trafficking that acting unilaterally just isn’t an option when faced with the fluid challenges posed by globalised crime. As the National Crime Agency’s Keith Bristow says, organised crime now operates “in an interconnected world where international borders are much less significant.”

On top of this – as the 2004 Morecambe Bay disaster showed – the groups most vulnerable to trafficking are refugees and migrant workers. These individuals need more help from the UK government. Instead, as Walk Free’s Global Trafficking Index reports, the UK’s vulnerability to trafficking is exacerbated by the “incredibly precarious living situation” our asylum system creates for people going through it.

The Conservatives’ hostility to the European Arrest Warrant, Europol, Eurojust, and the European Bill of Human Rights – not to mention their aggressive stance on asylum seekers – therefore fly in the face of all serious attempts to tackle trafficking. Moreover they undermine the party’s self-styled toughness on crime, and make a mockery of any designs their MPs have on becoming ‘the natural party of government’.

In July of this year the Conservatives grudgingly agreed to ‘opt back into’ 35 of the 130 EU Law and Order measures which they had previously withdrawn from, meaning Britain will now, thankfully, retain our involvement in Europol and the European Arrest Warrant.

But we need to go much further. As Anti-Slavery International’s Klara Skrivankova puts it, “The tools are there, but we don’t use them enough. Europol is still seen as a supplementary force – it should be more proactive.” To genuinely take on the scourge of trafficking we must not just pay lip service to Europe, but throw our full weight behind the solutions it can provide. On the issue of trafficking – if on nothing else – we really do need an ‘ever closer union’.

I would therefore urge Theresa May, if she wants to show she is genuine about tackling modern slavery, to set aside her party’s gut impulses for a moment and focus on the real problems the modern world faces. The alternative for the Tories is to succumb to incoherence and allow the brawnier, stupider of the two animals lashed together to lead Britain down an isolationist course which ultimately makes us more vulnerable.

Match Fixing Must Become A Crime Throughout the EU

Labour Party

The European Parliament, led by my S&D colleagues Emine Bozkurt and Petra Kammerevert, has urged EU countries to explicitly ban match-fixing in their national criminal law.

It seems incredible, but in many countries throughout Europe, there are no explicit laws against match-fixing like the ones you find in the United Kingdom.

This comes off the back of the Europol investigation which revealed widespread fraud in sport, with 680 football matches across the world believed to have been affected by match fixing
MEPs also called on sports organisations to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on corruption, including a ban on participants betting on their own matches, an obligation to report match-fixing and adequate protections for whistleblowers.

The results of the Europol investigation have made it clear that match-fixing is not simply about cheating. It is about criminal organisations making and laundering money on a global scale through the online gambling market – as we have seen in Germany, Finland, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria.

These criminals know exactly where to go to find the least scrutiny and oversight from public authorities, and which countries still do not have match-fixing on their radar.

The European Parliament has made it clear that we cannot afford to wait until the Council of Europe’s match-fixing convention is signed at the end of 2014 before taking action. This would mean that we have to sit idly by while citizens are threatened and the integrity of sport is undermined – and while criminals have time to invest in new avenues for their criminal operations.

I along with my S&D colleagues, urge the European Commission has to speak out on what they will do today to help safeguard the integrity of sport.

The current scandal exposed by Europol documented a new level of corruption. The protection of sporting integrity can only be achieved through international collaboration.

Match-fixing, corruption and illegal gambling must be tackled consistently and across borders, because organised crime operates worldwide. Therefore member states have to explicitly include match-fixing in their national criminal law and include appropriate sanctions.

Furthermore, regulatory bodies must be set up to identify and combat illegal activities and corruption in sports.

EU introduces new Measures to combat Human Trafficking

Labour Party

One of the darkest and most lucrative practices taking place in Europe today is the trafficking of human beings. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people may be affected each year in Europe.  It is 2010 and women are still sold into slavery – even though slavery was abolished long ago.

A European Parliament resolution in February stressed that “victims of human trafficking, especially women and children, should receive protection and “unconditional” assistance”.

Following this resolution the European Commission tabled new proposals in March aimed at preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims.

The proposals propose a broader concept of what should be considered trafficking including “forced begging”. This is an area where children are at particular risk and may be complicated as sometimes parents are complicit or the trafficker. 

According to several of Europe’s police forces, trafficking in people is the third most lucrative form of crime after drugs and weapons.

However, trafficking is still seen as a “low risk” activity for criminals. Steve Harvey of Europol’s Serious Crime Department is on record as saying, “we still do not have the hostile environment that makes traffickers think twice”. 

Mr Harvey has also told us that patterns of trafficking are changing.  Five years ago it was easy to point to a map and say where people were being trafficked from. This is not the case today. In what may be seen as a vindication of the UK’s decision to stay outside of the Schengen agreement, the more open borders across Europe have, in fact, facilitated trafficking.

In Sweden those seeking sex from people who have been trafficked can face criminal prosecution. I understand that the current holder of the EU rotating presidency, Spain, is interested in seeing similar EU-wide legislation.

I very much believe that all MEPs and national parliamentarians have a real responsibility to combat trafficking in human beings and do all we can to end this most vile crime which preys on the most vulnerable people in our society.  It is important that there should be a European approach since this is very much a cross border crime.