By Diane Fromage
The Regulation for Europol adopted in 2016 created the new Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group for Europol (JPSG).
This (finally) allowed national parliaments to be involved in the political monitoring of Europol as specifically provided for by article 12 of the Treaty on the European Union since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. Indeed, since 2009 national parliaments are to ‘contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union’. They have been granted several rights of information and prerogatives to this end, among which the task to monitor Europol.
The Regulation’s content
The Regulation for Europol (art. 51-1) defined the JPSG’s general features in establishing that ‘Pursuant to Article 88 TFEU, the scrutiny of Europol’s activities shall be carried out by the European Parliament together with national parliaments.’ Though ‘[t]he organisation and the rules of procedure of the JPSG shall be determined together by the European Parliament and the national parliaments in accordance with Article 9 of Protocol No 1’, certain of its prerogatives were anchored in the Regulation too. For instance, the JPSG may request the Chairperson of the Management Board, the Executive Director or their Deputies to appear before it and it shall be consulted on the multiannual programming of Europol. To perform its tasks, the JPSG was attributed certain rights of information (under certain discretion and confidentiality conditions). It also has the possibility to draw conclusions on the political monitoring of Europol’s activities. These conclusions are forwarded to the European Parliament and to national parliaments as well as to the Council, the Commission and Europol for their information.
The Speakers’ guidelines
As foreseen by the Regulation, and as has now become the rule when a new forum for interparliamentary cooperation is established, the Conference of Speakers of EU parliaments established the JPSG and adopted some guidelines during its meeting of last April. It will now be for the JPSG to define the precise rules of its functioning within these guidelines. Even if the JPSG is yet to take this step, the Speakers’ guidelines already deserve some attention since they will constrain the JPSG’s members in their decisions. Additionally, at least part of the rules the Speakers defined came as a surprise given what the Europol Regulation had established. Indeed, at least three elements deserve attention: they are linked to the JPSG’s composition and to the European Parliament’s role within the JPSG.
For what concerns the JPSG’s composition, it is worth noting that despite the recurrent criticism vis-à-vis large interparliamentary forums such as COSAC, the SECG Conference or the CFSP Conference the JPSG is deemed to become a large forum too. Each national parliament has indeed been granted the right to send a delegation of up 4 MPs and the European Parliament may send up to 16 MEPs. This potentially makes for 128 participants; it is needless to say that it will be difficult for such a large group to effectively monitor Europol’s activities, in particular because the JPSG will only convene twice a year. Therefore, the same mistake consisting in the creation of large assemblies in which true debates are very hard to establish seems to have been made again. There might be some ground for (some) hope though in that for the first time permanent membership of MPs is wished for as: ‘Where possible, members of the JPSG should be nominated for the duration of their parliamentary mandate’. This will hopefully make for a more effective body in allowing its members to develop expertise and to learn to cooperate effectively. Whereas other features of the JPSG largely reproduce those of the pre-existing interparliamentary conferences, this one is a welcome novelty. By contrast however, COSAC’s ability to take decisions by majority was not reproduced here: the Speakers’ conclusions unequivocally establish that consensus will be the rule.
On the other hand, the content of the Europol Regulation appeared to imply that the EP was to play a major role in steering the JPSG’s actions while national parliaments would be set in a secondary position. This is so because it states that ‘the scrutiny of Europol’s activities shall be carried out by the European Parliament together with national parliaments’ (emphasis added) as underlined above. This notwithstanding, no predominant role was granted to the European Parliament in the end besides the fact that it organizes one of the two yearly meetings in its premises and that it co-presides the JPSG (like it also does within the SECG and the CFSP Conferences).
Old wine in new bottles?
Given all the above, it appears that the JPSG may not be as different from the pre-existing interparliamentary conferences as one could have expected. If compared to the other forums which mostly serve to exchange information and best practices, the JPSG undoubtedly has a more powerful and enhanced responsibility of politically monitoring Europol, and it could have been expected that the membership of the JPSG would be reduced so that this mission can be fulfilled effectively. Instead, the Speakers appear to have opted, yet again, for a large forum which meets twice a year and within which national parliaments and the European Parliament are set on an equal footing. The JPSG has admittedly been guaranteed important rights of information and of consultation but it remains to be seen whether they will suffice for it to fulfil its task effectively.
Diane Fromage is Assistant Professor of European Law at Maastricht University. She was previously Assistant Professor in EU Law at Utrecht University and a Max Weber Postdoctoral fellow in Law at the European University Institute of Florence, Italy. She obtained her PhD in November 2013 from the Universities of Pavia (Italy) and Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona, Spain). Her research focuses on National and Regional parliaments in the European Union.