Drug squad to be part of 'Fortress Europe' strategy: EC plans clampdown on crime as it prepares to drop internal borders

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The Independent Online
THE European Community has toughened its stance on crime, agreeing on a new anti-drugs group, improving co-ordination on money-laundering and setting up a study of racist attacks.

The Europol Drugs Unit, the most important of the measures, was announced yesterday in Copenhagen, where justice and interior ministers met for two days. It will be formed as soon as a site is agreed for it, following a row between the Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain. Staff are already operating a pilot project in Strasbourg.

These new Eurofeds are part of a strategy often called 'Fortress Europe': raising barriers to the outside world and putting new footsoldiers on patrol while removing internal barriers.

Politicians prefer to call it frontier-free Europe. But the meeting showed that the strategy is unravelling. The removal of internal partitions has stalled, there is slow progress on the new walls and the police are looking distinctly flatfooted. 'Compensatory measures' is the sleeker, euphemistic language adopted by officials to describe the 'Fortress'. The term, meaning new actions to police borders after the dropping of internal frontiers in the EC, was regularly invoked by ministers.

'The drug lords and the mafiosi are absolutely ruthless in pursuing their goals and do not hesitate when trying to complete their internal market of organised crime,' said Erling Olsen, the Danish Justice Minister, yesterday. 'This is precisely why we need compensatory measures.' He was explaining why the EC needs the drugs unit, which is a 'non-operational team for the exchange and analysis of intelligence in relation to illicit drug trafficking, the criminal organisations involved and associated money-laundering activities'. But he admited that the unit's resources would be small. The attempt to tackle racism does not go much further than a national questionnaire.

The need for 'compensatory measures' is reflected in the EC's attempts to form a common policy on external frontiers, asylum and a new information system for immigration. These measures are in trouble: only six countries have ratified a convention on asylum.

This is jeopardising the implementation of the single market, which specifies free movement of persons in the EC. The countries of the Schengen group - the EC apart from Britain, Ireland and Denmark - have been unwilling to drop their own borders because of the lack of their own 'compensatory measures'. Concern about immigration is rising in Germany, France and southern European countries.

'The inevitable conclusion is that the free movement of persons is unlikely to be achieved this year, 12 months beyond the target date set in the Treaty,' theCommission said yesterday.

The reason is that the opening of borders is causing enormous problems. Uncontrolled and illegal immigration, a rise in drugs traffic and the spread of the Mafia are raising hackles. The Commission refers to 'public opinion throughout the Community that 1993 is going to produce positive and tangible results concerning the abolition of border controls'. But, an official said in Copenhagen, 'there is another part of public opinion which is more concerned with the disadvantages of the free movement of persons' and this is inhibiting national action.

The EC's drifting policies and its increasing adoption of restrictive measures has caused concern to those monitoring the EC on behalf of human rights groups, immigrants and refugees. EC institutions controlling police and immigration are intensely secretive. Their respect for human rights is at issue in, for instance, a document agreed on expulsion of illegal immigrants. There is concern that the new bodies and agencies are outside democratic control.

Members of the European Parliament visiting the Europol pilot project last week were concerned that there was no possibility of controlling it or assessing its worth.

The need for these bodies is being questioned. There are already 20 intelligence-gathering and intelligence-sharing organisations in Europe outside the national agencies. They include the Schengen information service, Interpol, the Trevi group, the Pompidou group, Euclaf (the EC's anti-fraud body), and Celad, the anti-drugs group. There are 16 forums for gathering information on immigration.

Despite this, racist violence escalates, the cruel trade in humans grows and international crime flourishes, striking with apparent impunity in Florence at the Uffizi gallery. Little wonder that Europe's new citizens lament the loss of security and some long for the old days. Yet these threats would exist even without the single market: there is, as the Commission frequently points out, no going back.