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Europe

Fighting Crime and Bureaucracy in the EU

Eurojust, the EU body set up to investigate serious cross-border crime in the member states, faces a mountain of work. Its job is made harder by the lack of cohesion between many European institutions and organizations.

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Cooperation between EU forces is an achievable, but complicated, dream

Human trafficking, computer crime and terrorism are just some of the crimes dealt with by Eurojust, the EU authority charged with the investigation and prosecution of serious cross-border and organized crime.

In addition to the specific crime areas, there are also the individual cases which flood in from all 25 member states in the European Union to be dealt with. As a body established as recently as 2002 to enhance the effectiveness of collective crime fighting, and one which has more than 1000 live cases on its books, Eurojust could well claim to be one of the busiest and overwhelmed departments in the EU.

Behind kilometers of razor wire, security checks and armored doors, the headquarters of Eurojust in The Hague is one of the most secure places in the EU. In contrast to the heavily guarded surroundings, it also one of the most open; welcoming magistrates, public prosecutors and secret service agents from around the bloc every month for discussions and consultations.

A forum for investigation and prosecution

Wei Wei Hu Geiseldrama in Münster

Eurojust brings security institutions and legal teams together in an attempt to open up dialogue and create a wider network of collaborative crime prevention across the EU. Everything from organized crime to international terrorism comes to the conference table in a sign that this type collaboration has become the single most important factor in the fight against crime. And on the surface, it appears to be working.

"There has been a case where the Italians and the Germans were pursuing the same criminal at the same time in drug trafficking case," German Eurojust representative Hermann von Langsdorff told Deutsche Welle. "In this instance, the Germans were about to make an arrest and the Italians came to us and asked if we could persuade the Germans to hold off. They waited for one week only and as a result the whole drug ring was smashed and many arrests made."

Despite such successes, not everything works as smoothly. Von Langsdorff, who works with 24 other national representatives in mediating between public prosecutor's offices all across Europe, admitted that sometimes the influx of cases is too much.

"The big problem is that Eurojust can only reasonably cope with one institution at a time," he said.

Lack of recognition

Polizei vor der USA Botschaft in Berlin

Germany is one of the worst offenders for not offering or accepting help.

But there are also bigger problems. Contradictorily, few member states recognize the work of Eurojust.

"For example, we have barely had any coordination requests from Germany," von Langsdorff said. "In 2003, we received only one and in 2004, up until now, just three. In the overall scheme of things, this is too little."

It is as if Sept. 11, 2001 never happened in most cases. European public prosecutors continue to sit on vital information regarding terror suspects and some do not even know that Eurojust exists and can help in the passing on of vital information, according to von Langsdorff. In the increasingly important fight against international terrorism, more collaboration is needed.

Borders closed to exchange of information

Europe's borders are open but not always in the eyes of the public prosecutors. To obtain the right to make searches with foreign colleagues in a bordering country and even to make phone calls to other member states in relation to investigations require special approval.

Even von Langsdorff and his colleagues at Eurojust have their hands tied to a certain extent. Without permission from the member states involved in a case, no results or information can be exchanged without permission. Von Langsdorff believes a central data bank could change all this.

"The perfect scenario would be that a phone number discovered during a search in Italy could immediately be put in the system and its origin ascertained, whether this number has been linked to terrorists in Germany or France," he said.However, von Langsdorff said he believes the EU is still a long way from that level of cooperation.

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