By Bruno Waterfield
EU to get powers to launch criminal investigations
The plan to turn Eurojust, an existing body based on non-binding judicial co-operation, into an investigator, with the power to order arrests and trials, is the first step to creating an EU public prosecutor.
The Commission’s proposals welcome the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty as allowing “greater ambition” in giving the EU new justice and policing powers to sweep aside national “obstacles to effective law enforcement”.
“The administration of justice must not be impeded by unjustifiable differences between the member states’ judicial systems,” said a Commission document.
Eurojust, which brings together prosecutors, magistrates, or police officers, currently assists existing national serious crime investigations through information sharing.
Key to the EU ambitions to forge a “solid common European procedural base” are new proposals, to give “Eurojust powers to directly initiate investigations”, especially in the growing area of tax fraud.
“The Commission will prepare the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office from Eurojust, with the responsibility to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgement offences against the Union’s financial interests,” said the document.
Tony Bunyan, of the European Civil Liberties Network (ECLN), is concerned about the plan.
“There is nothing transparent. Eurojust morphs into a European prosecutor. How does it affect the rights of people?,” he asked.
“We are seeing EU agencies becoming institutions in their own right without open debate.”
Other Commission proposals tabled on Tuesday will lead to a European ID card register, internet surveillance systems and automated EU exit-entry border systems operated by machines reading fingerprints.
“These policies constitute an attack on civil liberties and are evidence of dangerous authoritarian tendencies within the EU,” said Mr Bunyan.
By James Slack
British citizens face being subjected to secret EU ‘Big Brother’ spying missions.
Labour is supporting plans for a dramatic expansion in the powers available to fellow member states who accuse UK nationals of committing even the most minor crimes while visiting.
Under the plans, other countries could get the right to demand surveillance on a UK resident who has returned home, and access to his or her bank records.
They could also be entitled to demand British police take a suspect’s DNA or other samples.
Civil liberties groups across the continent are furious at the proposals, designed to bolster the controversial new European Evidence Warrant – a partner to the deeply controversial European Arrest Warrant.
Cases to which the arrest warrant has been applied include a man accused of the ‘theft of a dessert’ in a Polish restaurant.
Under the proposed new regime, such a person could be placed under surveillance or have his bank records accessed to check that he had paid for the dessert, critics say.
Minutes of a parliamentary committee show Labour is quietly backing the idea. Home office minister Meg Hillier said: ‘We would in principle support a new and comprehensive instrument based on mutual recognition that covers all types of evidence’.
The new evidence warrant will allow magistrates or judges in one EU state to authorise searches of a person’s property in another state, and seizure of evidence.
But a European Commission Green Paper proposes going much further by enabling authorities in any member state to engage in ‘real time’ interception of communications in another EU state, monitor a person’s bank account, and demand bodily samples, DNA or fingerprints.
In this country, police may require a DNA sample only from someone who is under arrest for a serious enough offence to warrant a jail term.
Concerns about the proposal are based on the way the European Arrest Warrant has been abused.
The campaign group Fair Trials International said it had led to people from all over Europe being sent to other EU states for the most minor offences, or jailed after unfair trials.
In 2008, nearly 14,000 warrants were issued across Europe, with 351 people extradited from the UK alone.
One case involved a carpenter who fitted wardrobe doors and then removed them when the client refused to pay him.