Britain fights to hold back Europol

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The Independent Online
Britain fought hard yesterday to stop the European Union from gaining power over matters affecting law and order. Plans for a police agency ended in another ignominious failure, setting the scene for an embarrassing summit next week.

The proposals for Europol, an agency to co-ordinate information on cross- border drugs trafficking and terrorism - not a squad with investigative powers, have been in the works since 1991.

Europol already has a building in The Hague - a brick fortress surrounded by barbed wire, a moat and armed guards.

But a convention to establish Europol has been held up since then by disputes about its function and status. Germany sees Europol as the embryo of a pan-European FBI.

Interior ministers from the 15 meeting in Luxembourg yesterday failed to resolve the issue, although France has committed itself to find a solution by the time of the EU summit in Cannes next week. The French compromise formula would give the European Court of Justice a role by the back door.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, resists any role in Europol for the Court. He wants authority over Europol to be in the hands of governments, not under supra-national institutions.

But the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg insist the court must be competent to hear disputes between members.

Germany places a high priority on Europol, as it is plagued by cross-border crime. But it was not able to achieve an agreement under its presidency of the EU last year owing to French and British objections.

Mr Howard, a leading Euro-sceptic in the Cabinet, has led a series of battles to stop the spread of EU powers into his patch. He has also suggested taking away some of the powers of the European court when EU states meet next year to rewrite the Maastricht treaty.

The EU agreed at Maastricht to adopt joint policies on drugs, police, immigration and rules for asylum seekers.