European Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs
Making the partnership between Interpol and the EU even stronger
Closing Speech at the occasion of the 8th Annual Heads of NCB Conference 'NCBs in Action: Partnership with all Stakeholders for a Safer World'
Lyon, 15 March 2012
Mrs Ballestrazzi, Vice-President,
Mr Noble, Secretary General,
Dear Heads of NCBs,
I wish to give you my perspective, as European Commissioner for Home Affairs, on the threats to security that the EU faces today, of the key steps we should take - and are already taking - to meet them, and on how Interpol fits into that.
The role of the EU Institutions
When I speak of the steps “we” in the EU can take, I mean what the EU Institutions including the European Commission, Member States and agencies can do. As you probably know, the EU institutions are not directly responsible for operational police activities.
Our role is to support law enforcement cooperation by proposing EU legislation, by setting general priorities for operational work in the EU, by representing the EU in international organisations and by negotiating agreements on exchange of information with third countries, and by giving financial assistance to projects.
Organised Crime and Cybercrime as key threats to EU security
What, then, are the main threats to security in the EU and what is needed to address them? Where does Interpol fit into that?
The information that I received in response to those questions, after taking up my position as European Commissioner just over two years ago, made me draw three conclusions.
First, organised crime and cybercrime are the greatest threats to security in the EU – due to their severe impact on victims, the economy and society more broadly.
Meeting victims of human trafficking in my own country Sweden, hearing the news of fatal shootings – most recently in Belgium – and visiting the counterfeit currency lab at the EU police agency Europol, I have seen with my own eyes how organised crime groups operate across borders and criminal markets, to make profits where the risks are the lowest.
Recent data from UNODC, EUROPOL and other organisations confirm and give an indication on how big it is and the seriousness of the threat. You know the figures as well as I: 1.600 billion dollars may have been laundering in the world in 2009. All criminal proceeds, excluding tax evasion, would amount to some US$ 2.1 trillion or 3.6 per cent of GDP in 2009. At EU level, a record of 41 new psychoactive substances was reported last year while seizures of other illicit drugs or counterfeits remain high.
Cybercrime is another very serious, and rapidly evolving, problem – often, but not always, linked to organised groups. We all heard descriptions of how eHackers manipulate users' private computers through botnets to steal their savings, and we are all aware of the horrible trade in images and films of child abuse on the internet. Reliable figures are hard to come by, but I was struck by estimates (that, of course, need to be treated with care) suggesting one million people become victims of cybercrime every day. Equally impressive is the scale of recent cyber-attacks against law enforcement and government websites worldwide. .
Second, to address the threats of organised crime and cybercrime, we need stronger partnerships.
Law enforcement authorities cannot address the threats of crime and terrorism in the EU effectively unless they cooperate with each other, with other public authorities - such as tax and licensing authorities, and with the private sector - including banks and IT companies. This is something we can improve further in the EU.
And the need for partnerships goes beyond the borders of the EU. Organised crime and cybercrime are global phenomena. The EU cannot address those threats on its own. We therefore need partnerships also with countries outside the EU, including Northern and Western Africa and other countries in our neighbourhood. The plans of Interpol and the West African Countries to develop a West African Police Information System, with EU funding, is a very good example in my view.
And, crucially, we need partnerships with regional and international organisations. Interpol, with its National Central Bureaux in 190 member countries, is – as I said - a key partner for the EU in that respect. Day-to-day cooperation between Interpol and police forces in EU Member States, where you at the NCBs play a critical role, go back many years – and is invaluable in linking EU criminal intelligence with Interpol's databases and global network. Interpol already has working agreements with EU agencies such as Europol, Frontex, our border agency, and Cepol, the European Police College.
Third, in times of economic crisis and shrinking budgets for law enforcement in most EU Member States, we have to prioritise – more, and more intelligently. The work we do to fight and prevent crime – whether it through new legislation, international agreements, or day-to-day operational police work – has to be based on a common assessment of the risks, and a common view of what will add the most value on the ground.
The ISS in Action – what we do to meet the threats
Based on those three conclusions the European Commission proposed a Strategy in 2010 - The EU Internal Security Strategy in Action. It sets out an agenda on the threats to security in the EU, and on what is needed to address them by EU Member States, EU institutions and agencies until 2014.
I will not bore you with the full list, but it is fair to say that a lot has already been achieved since 2010. Let me give you a few examples.
First, we have taken actions in areas where organised and other serious crime affects innocent victims the hardest.
The EU institutions adopted new common legislation on trafficking in human beings and on sexual abuse of children, including through child sex abuse material. That legislation covers prosecution - laying down strict minimum penalties - prevention – through treatment programmes for offenders - and protection of victims. I know, and very much appreciate, that Interpol is also doing a lot of work in this field, together with law enforcement authorities in Member States, and the EU police agency EUROPOL.
Second, we have taken initiatives to protect the EU’s legal economy against criminal infiltration, and attack the financial incentive that drives organised crime.
In the Summer of last year, the European Commission adopted an major initiative to combat corruption in the EU – by reporting regularly on how EU Member States deal with it, and by building anti-corruption rules and models into other EU legislation, for example on public procurement. I hope that frank reporting by the European Commission on the efforts – or lack of efforts – by EU Member States to effectively enforce anti-corruption laws, and give law enforcement authorities the necessary resources to do so, will have strong political signals!
And just three days ago, we proposed new common EU rules to make it easier for law enforcement authorities to confiscate criminal profits. When adopted, all Member States will be better placed to do extended confiscation of assets not directly linked to a specific crime, to target assets transferred to third parties who should have realised their criminal origin, and even to confiscate without any criminal conviction if the suspect is dead, permanently ill or has fled. The new EU rules on confiscation would also make it easier for the law enforcement to cooperate and make sure that the competent authorities, like prosecutors, can freeze assets that risk disappearing if no action is taken, before a court order is obtained.
Third, we are moving forward towards more efficient efforts to fight cybercrime in the EU.
The European Commission proposed new EU criminal law rules on attacks on information systems, criminalising new types of attacks and laying down stricter minimum penalties. When adopted, those rules would lead to higher criminal sanctions for committing cyber attacks, criminalise the use of tools which are used to commit large-scale attacks, set time limits for EU Member States' response to requests for urgent assistance in case of cyber attacks and require EU Member States to collect statistics on cyber attacks.
We are also working intensively to set up in 2013 a genuine European Cybercrime Centre which will be part of Europol. By pooling expertise, supporting criminal investigations and promoting EU-wide solutions, while also raising awareness of cybercrime issues, I hope that it will become the focal point in the fight against cybercrime in the EU. The Centre will combine data from different sources, going beyond mere law enforcement data, to give us a clearer picture of how cybercrime evolves. We also plan to set up a helpdesk to give quick replies to questions from those entrusted with investigations in this complex area. Finally, the Centre will reach out to other communities – the private sector, the IT security sector – in the spirit of partnerships. I am determined to make sure that the new EU centre will work closely with cybercrime platform which Interpol is setting up at the new Global Complex in Singapore.
Finally, we have improved prioritisation of the operational work done by EU law enforcement authorities through a new mechanism, the so-called EU Policy Cycle on serious and organised crime. Based on common threat assessments, produced by EUROPOL and other EU agencies, it allows EU institutions to set priorities and to translate them into operational action plans. I am happy that Interpol participates actively in this work, in particular on action plans relating to Western Balkans and to West Africa.
Let me conclude.
This is my first visit to Interpol here in Lyon. Before flying in from Brussels early this morning, I obviously knew about the work you do – even my son knows and is a fan of yours.
But I have been impressed by what I have seen and heard today. The work that Interpol does, at Headquarters and via the NCBs throughout the world, is extremely valuable – not least for the EU.
I spoke to Mr Noble today on how to make the partnership between Interpol and the EU even stronger than it is today - on issues like cybercrime, trafficking in human beings, child sexual abuse, training and cooperation between Interpol and EU agencies.
The outcome is very positive and encouraging for our future cooperation!
Thanks for listening so carefully and - as American friends would say - I wish you a safe trip home.