Norway is without direct access to terror data from Europol
Norway and Switzerland can’t directly access information about terrorist suspects in Europol’s registers. Now Switzerland has demanded a change in the rules.
The Europol database (EIS) contains information about several thousand foreign fighters, and terrorist suspects.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of searches are made in the register. However, only EU member states are allowed to apply directly to make such searches.
The police in countries such as Norway and Switzerland have to get permission, which can lead to major delays, causing the registry to lose its usefulness.
This has raised concerns in Switzerland, who have now requested direct access to the EIS register.
The lack of access was repeated by Switzerland’s Justice Minister, Simonetta Sommaruga, during the EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting in Brussels last Thursday.
Norway in the same situation
Sommaruga believes the lack of direct access is a ‘serious security breach’ that needs to be filled, wrote Tages-Anzeiger newspaper .
Norway is in the same situation as Switzerland, and the question has been discussed on the Norwegian side. So far, the government did not want to take any official stance on the matter.
‘Information sharing is an essential tool for combating terrorism across borders. We are now considering how we’ll followup on the matter further,’ said Per-Willy Amundsen, the Justice Minister.
Norway attended the ministerial meeting in Brussels where the case was raised, but chose not to speak.
Lulzana Musliu, spokesman for the Swiss Federal Police, believes the current regulations are difficult to understand.
‘Switzerland is at the center of Europe. Therefore, it would be advantageous for EU member states to give us direct access,’ said Musliu, according to the Swiss news agency SDA.
The backdrop to the statement is concerned that terrorist cells could use Switzerland as a transit point or refuge.
Tages-Anzeiger pointed out that six people suspected of participating in recent terrorist attacks in Europe had previously been in Switzerland. Among those were two members of an Islamic State (IS) cell, who are suspected of participating in the terrorist attack in Barcelona.
Access to the EIS database also became an important issue when Denmark chose to leave Europol earlier this year. Denmark made its own cooperation agreement. This has been called ‘Norway +’, because the Danes have achieved better conditions than Norway.
The agreement iincludes, among other things, that Danish-speaking employees in Europol can quickly search the database for the Danish police. This is available to them 24 hours a day.
During the negotiations, the Danes contacted Norway to hear how the Norwegian police used the database. The police directorate told them that the Europol registry wasn’t often used in Norway. The reason was the lack of direct access.
Norway must go through Europol’s information exchange system, SIENA, to make searches. According to the police directorate, that takes so long that the search ‘loses its operational significance’.
Could become part of the Brexit talks
Access to the database could, once again, become a negotiation issue when Britain leaves the EU. The Britons have announced that they want a ‘tailor-made’ cooperation agreement with Europol after Brexit.
‘We want to build a new partnership with the EU that goes beyond all existing cooperation agreements with third party countries,’ said the British Prime Ministerial representative, David Davis, when he recently presented his negotiating position.
The EU has, by its own view, emphasised privacy considerations as an important reason for holding back.
© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today