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The establishment of Europol was agreed to in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. The agency started limited operations on January 3, 1994, as the Europol Drugs Unit (EDU). In 1998 the Europol Convention was ratified by all the member states and came into force in October.
Europol allocates its resources (around 236 staff and 63 liaison officers) from its headquarters in The Hague. The size of Europol belies the fact that they are in constant liaison with hundreds of different law enforcement organisations, each with their own individual or group seconded to assist Europol's activities.
Additionally, Bulgaria and Romania are already members of Europol, even though they are only set to join the EU in 2007. This also happened with some of the Central European countries which joined the EU in 2004 - they started becoming members of Europol in 2002 to make EU membership more gradual.
Europol's aim is to improve the effectiveness and co-operation between the competent authorities of the member states in preventing and combating serious international organised crime. Its mission is to make a significant contribution to the European Union's law enforcement efforts targeting organised crime.
Europol has no executive powers. It is a support service for the law enforcement agencies of the EU member states. This means that Europol officials are not entitled to conduct investigations in the member states or to arrest suspects. In providing support, Europol with its tools – information exchange, intelligence analysis, expertise and training – can contribute to the executive measures carried out by the relevant national authorities.
Europol is a multi-disciplinary agency, comprising not only regular police officers but staff members from the member states' various law enforcement agencies: customs, immigration services, border and financial police, etc. Secondly, Europol helps to overcome the language barriers in international police co-operation. Any law enforcement officer from a member state can address a request to their Europol National Unit (ENU) in her/his mother tongue and receive the answer back in this language.
Three different levels of co-operation are possible: The first one is technical co-operation or to provide training. The next step is strategic co-operation aimed at exchanging general trends in organised crime and how to fight it and the exchange of threat assessments. The top level of co-operation includes the exchange of personal data and requires the fulfilment of Europol's standards in the field of data protection and data security.
Europol has it origins in TREVI, a forum for cooperation amongst EEC/EC interior and justice ministers from 1975 until the Maastricht Treaty came into effect in 1993.
Germany, with its system of Federal policing, had long been in favour of a supranational police organisation at EC level. It tabled a surprise proposal to establish a European Police Office to the European Council meeting in Luxembourg in June 1991. By that December, the Intergovernmental Conference was coming to an end and the member states had pledged themselves to establishing Europol through Article K.1(9) of the Maastricht Treaty. Europol was given the modest role of establishing ‘a Union-wide system for exchanging information’ amongst EU police forces.
Delays in ratifying the Maastricht Treaty led to TREVI ministers agreeing a ‘Ministerial Agreement on the Europol Drugs Unit’ in June 1993. This intergovernmental agreement, outside of EU law, led to the establishment of a small team headed by Jurgen Störbeck, a senior German police officer who initially operated from some portacabins in a Strasbourg suburb while more permanent arrangements were made.
Once the Maastraicht Treaty had come into effect, the slow process of negotiating and ratifying a Europol Convention began. In the meantime, the Europol Drugs Unit (EDU) had its powers extended twice, in March 1995 and again in December 1996 to included a range of trafficking offences in its remit. During this period, information amongst officers could only be exchanged bilaterally, with a central database to be established once the Europol Convention was ratified. The Europol Convention finally came into effect in October 1998 after ratification by all 15 EU national parliaments though some outstanding legal issues ensured it could not formally take up duties until July 1999.
Europol's Director is appointed by the unanimous decision of the Council of the European Union. Since the contract of Europol's first director, Jürgen Storbeck of Germany expired in June 2004, a Deputy Director Mariano Simancas (Spain) has been appointed Acting Director. Differences among EU Member States (France, Germany and Italy in particular) have resulted in delays in appointing a new Director. On 24/02/2005, the Justice and Home Affairs Council finally decided to select Mr. Max-Peter Ratzel for the position of Director of Europol who executes this role since 16/04/2005. Ratzel started his career in the BKA (Federal Criminal Police Office, Wiesbaden, Germany) in 1976, where he was the Head of the Organised and General Crime Department.
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