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Germany

Anti-nuclear demo highlights Europe's border-free policing policies

The recent attempt to stop a train carrying nuclear waste to a German storage site prompted a huge police response. And it wasn't just German officers on hand. European police can sometimes cross borders - and they do.

A French police officer restraining a protestor, with his arms around his neck

This French officer's use of force caused quite an uproar in Germany

Police launched a massive operation earlier this month to bring a train transporting nuclear waste safely to its destination, as thousands of demonstrators sought to impede its progress.

The operation cost an estimated 50 million euros ($67 million), and authorities in Germany are looking for ways to pass some of the costs on to the protesters.

However, it wasn't just German law enforcement officers protecting the cargo as it headed to the nuclear waste storage facility in the northern German town of Gorleben. Officers from France, Poland, Croatia and the Netherlands were also on hand, in various capacities.

Pictures of one French policeman apparently suppressing a protester by grabbing him around the neck have caused quite a stir in Germany. Christoph Mueller, a lawyer based in Berlin, has filed a complaint against another French policeman in a separate incident that he says he personally witnessed.

"I saw a French policeman, close to the Castor transport, who grabbed an activist, talked animatedly to him, and then suppressed him somewhat violently," Mueller told Deutsche Welle.

"In my opinion, it's a punishable offence. If a police officer from a foreign country uses force like that, then he has committed a crime under German law, unless he has the proper authorization. The case will be investigated, and I understand it could carry a punishment of up to two years in prison."

Little-known, but influential treaty

A large group of atomic energy opponents, sitting on the railway lines

Thousands of people tried to block the path of the contentious cargo

The French national police's top authority, the DGPN, has issued a response, defending the actions of its officers who were accompanying the German federal police on their mission to keep the railway lines open.

Some confusion was caused, however, by an apparent failure to notify state police in Lower Saxony - who were responsible for controlling the demonstrations, but not for protecting the railway tracks - about the presence of French officers before the operation began.

"The validity of this intervention cannot be called into question, as the French police officer acted under the constant and effective direction of his German colleagues," the DGPN said in an official statement, also saying that the operation had been organized under the Pruem Convention (sometimes called the Pruem Decision), a European cross-border crime fighting arrangement that was signed in the German town of Pruem in 2005.

The French police also referred to article 28 of the treaty, part of which states that "arms, ammunition and equipment … may be used only in legitimate defense of officers themselves or others … The use of arms, ammunition and equipment shall be governed by the host state's national law."

Austria, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Estonia and Romania are all signatories to the Pruem Convention. Italy, Portugal, Greece, Sweden, Bulgaria and Slovakia are seeking membership.

The convention is not technically a European Union agreement, but is only open to member states. It is bound both by EU law and by the laws of the country where the police action occurs.

A border crossing from the Czech Republic to the German state of Saxony

European borders are still policed, but are more porous now

Schengen zone opened borders to criminals, but not police

Under the Pruem deal, police can leave their home countries on an emergency impromptu basis - for instance, when pursuing criminals who cross one of the Schengen zone's open borders by car - or for pre-arranged appointments to deal with mass events or disasters, as was the case with the Castor protests.

"Legally, it's absolutely OK," Ruediger Holecek, a spokesman for the German trade union for police officers, told Deutsche Welle. "Our organization was one of the first to complain that once Europe became border-less, criminals were gifted a massive area to operate in, but police were not."

Holecek said it made perfect sense to have French police operating in Germany with these nuclear waste transports, because French environmental activists - aware that the public attitude towards nuclear power is much more positive closer to home, making it harder to drum up support for major demonstrations - often choose to join the ranks of protesters in Germany instead.

"One thing that's utterly clear, though, is that there's no difference between any police officer - whether they're from France, Germany, the Netherlands or anywhere else - serving here: All of them have to operate within the laws of the country they are in. If an officer from abroad really has overreacted, or used excessive force, then the case will be investigated, just as it would with any German officer," said Holecek.

However, Holecek also noted the high number of accusations of police misconduct at the anti-nuclear demonstrations, saying that some of the protesters saw any police intervention as excessive use of force, because of their passionate belief in their cause.

Wider-reaching cooperation

In some cases, international police cooperation can take place in Europe outside the Pruem Convention, usually through bilateral deals between countries.

For instance, police from Croatia - a non-EU member - present at the Castor demonstrations were not there as part of the Pruem Convention, but had been granted permission to observe the operation in plain clothes for training purposes.

A German police officer talks to colleagues from the Polish police force.

Police from 12 EU countries and Switzerland lent a hand in Germany at the 2006 World Cup

Germany is planning to set up a comprehensive cooperative deal with its eastern neighbor, Poland, next year, and so Polish police were also on hand to observe the protests. In turn, many German police officers are scheduled to go to Poland and Ukraine for the Euro 2012 football tournament.

"All this is nothing new. For example, at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Polish police were here in Hanover helping us keep the peace," Dirk Hallmann, a spokesperson for the interior ministry in Lower Saxony, told Deutsche Welle.

"In the case of football, we have set up a European network because hooligans have no respect for borders. They travel with their clubs or national teams for games all over the continent. For this reason, there's a clear exchange system between European police forces, coordinated and agreed upon in advance."

Hallmann praises this setup, saying it helps local forces learn about potential troublemakers among the traveling fans, and allows police to be better prepared - in terms of numbers, language skills and background knowledge - to prevent or stop any problems.

As Chancellor Angela Merkel's government tries to push through a controversial measure to export some German nuclear waste to Russia, it's not clear whether German police would be deployed in Russia or European transit countries if protests similar to those in Lower Saxony last week were to take place - as some German action groups have already threatened.

This could not be arranged under the Pruem Convention as it stands currently, but in the case of Poland, a future bilateral police deal with Germany might cover such an operation.

And looking at the example of football hooliganism, it seems police from different countries can find ways to work together, if they see a need to.

Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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