Europol and Eurojust – two vital EU agencies in the fight against modern slavery
As the war of words between Brexit negotiators Michel Barnier and David Davis progresses faster than the Brexit negotiations they are leading, we should find it deeply concerning that the European Commission’s chief negotiator recently wrote in French newspaper Le Monde that the UK would be leaving Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation.
Europol has been widely praised by organisations involved in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking and, together with Eurojust, the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit, forms a crucial tool in tackling the modern slavery scourge in the UK and the rest of Europe.
War of words since the triggering of Article 50
Prime Minister Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, notifying him of the triggering of Article 50 and the two-year negotiation period for the UK’s withdrawal, was widely perceived to contain a thinly veiled threat that the UK would use its intelligence and contribution to Europol as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
May’s assertion in the letter sent on 29 March 2017 that failure to reach an agreement on security “would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened” was followed that same night by Home Secretary Amber Rudd telling Sky News that it was “likely” that the UK would leave Europol taking its intelligence information with it.
While this position has been tempered recently, in particular as a result of the horrific terrorist attacks which have taken place since March in London and Manchester, Barnier’s recent comments have put back into focus an issue which may have serious repercussions for the fight against modern slavery in the UK.
Europol and Eurojust and the fight against modern slavery
The UK has benefitted significantly from Europol and Eurojust in its attempt to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking.
One of Europol’s main priorities is tackling human trafficking and the information sharing which it facilitates is crucial in prosecuting cross-border crimes such as human trafficking. Its importance to the UK’s efforts was demonstrated by The National Crime Agency (NCA), telling the House of Lords European Union Committee in 2016, that the UK was using as much as 40% of Europol’s information exchange network.
Eurojust also prioritises the prosecution of modern slavery, primarily through the funding and facilitation of its Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) which bring together judicial and police authorities from two or more member states to tackle certain issues – with human trafficking investigations making up a significant proportion of those investigations. These JITs were praised by both the NCA and the Crown Prosecution Service in their evidence to the same House of Lords Committee.
It is clearly of concern that the government’s Brexit White Paper, which set out the UK’s official position on Brexit, states no explicit commitment to maintain membership – or even partnership – with either agency.
In its recent briefing paper on Brexit and the UK’s fight against modern slavery the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, a coalition of organisations tackling modern slavery, urged the UK government to maintain a close partnership with both agencies. The UK’s first Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland OBE, has also stressed the very same, describing the work carried out by the UK with Europol as “crucial”.
A win-win solution?
Both reason and expert opinion is therefore clearly strongly in favour of maintaining a strong relationship with the agencies which is why the rhetoric on both sides is concerning.
The dangers posed by Brexit to tackling modern slavery and human trafficking extend beyond the UK’s ability to successfully prosecute the crimes with the help of Europol and Eurojust.
There is, for instance, the real risk that more restrictive border controls will lead to increased numbers of people being exploited by traffickers, as well as fears by victims that they would be treated as criminals if they come forward to the police.
One area which would not take much compromise on either the EU or the UK’s part would be the continued close participation by the UK in the two organisations in which it is already deeply integrated. It would certainly be a shame if both sides let empty rhetoric get in the way of that.
 While is important to note first that while modern day slavery is predominantly international in its nature, human trafficking is by no means exclusively across borders. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has said that about 18% of trafficking victims in Western and Southern Europe are trafficked domestically. In the UK specifically, of all the modern slavery and human trafficking referrals to the NCA in the first and second quarters of this year, 13% were British citizens.
If you are concerned about modern slavery in your community, you can contact your local police force on 101 or the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. If in doubt, please report it. There is more information on the National Crime Agency website, here.
*Aidan Shipman is part of René Cassin’s Modern Slavery Campaign Group, find out more about how to get involved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org