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The Role of EUROJUST in the context of judicial cooperation on penal matters in the European Union. Μεγέθυνση κειμένου Σμίκρυνση κειμένου Print E-mail

The European Unit of Judicial Cooperation EUROJUST was founded by a Decision of The Justice and Home Affairs Council of Ministers on February 28th, 2002, and started operating on June 1st, 2002. The creation of a provisional unit of judicial cooperation (pro EUROJUST) had taken place before that, which had been operating for one year and a half approximately, setting the foundations for the creation of the final Unit. The political decision to create EUROJUST had been taken in the Tampere European Council (Finland), on the 15th and the 16th of October, 1999, in order to enhance the fight against serious organized crime. EUROJUST is an institution of the third pillar of the European Union, in other words it is a product of inter-governmental cooperation between Member States; according to the Greek law, the founding decision needs to be transposed internally through passing a related bill of law. It should be noted that such law has not as yet been issued, whereas the deadline to comply with this obligation already expired as of September 6th, 2003.   


EUROJUST is comprised by a representative of each Member State, who must have the quality of Public Prosecutor, Judge or Officer of the Police Force with equivalent tasks. This wording refers to legal systems, in which public prosecuting tasks in general or judicial cooperation in particular, may fall within the scope of the police authorities. EUROJUST operates either as a collective body or through one or more of the national members. As a provisional unit since March 2001 and on the first semester of operation as a final unit, EUROJUST has been hosted by the Council of the European Union in Brussels. As of December 2002, the unit is based at the Hague, which would be the permanent seat hereafter.
The objectives of EUROJUST are:
- To promote and improve coordination between competent national authorities, following a demand filed or information collected.
- To improve cooperation between competent authorities, in particular, judicial aid and extradition (information and delivery according to the European Arrest Warrant).
- To support competent authorities of Member States in several ways. Since cross-border crime cannot be limited within the boundaries of the EU, EUROJUST may provide support to investigations or actions concerning one EU Member State and a third state, if a cooperation agreement has been signed or if there is a substantial interest imposing the provision of support.
Regarding crimes within the competence of EUROJUST in terms of cooperation and facilitation of judicial cooperation, these include what in summary can be called as ?heavy crime?. These are affairs involving two or more EU Member States, or Member States and the Commission (in case of crime against the financial interest of the community) or Member States and third countries, based on agreements that may be signed by EUROJUST needing approval from the Council of the European Union.
In particular, through national members and as a collective body, EUROJUST can demand investigation or legal action by one or more Member States, having accepted that it is preferable for one or more Member States to proceed to investigation or legal action; it can also demand coordination between competent authorities of several Member States in order to set up joint investigation groups, or it can also demand the necessary information to perform its duties. When EUROJUST acts as a collective body, it can also help EUROPOL, to which it provides opinions based on the analysis performed. It can also provide administrative support, in particular help in terms of translation, interpretation and organization of coordinating meetings. The national member may also transmit demands for mutual judicial aid.
COORDINATION is one of the most important tasks of the unit. It takes place at the operational level as well as at the strategic level.
Operational coordinating meetings are organized at the initiative of the Eurojust national members involved in one particular case. The meetings allow the national authorities (investigators, public prosecutors, police officers) to sit around the same table together with representatives of other bodies, if needed, such as Europol or OLAF and exchange information or know-how or coordinate their actions. This information exchange allows them to glance at the whole picture of the situation, in order to avoid partial investigation and persecution at the national level but monitor the entire criminal itinerary and dismantle the total of the criminal organization. For instance, coordinating meetings have taken place in cases of terrorism, internet child pornography, money laundering, human trafficking, drug dealing, alcohol illegal trading, fraud and other.
Furthermore, Eurojust as a collective body may choose a technical or complex case needing special knowledge or a particular phenomenon, such as child pornography, forfeiting of euro banknotes, Islamic terrorism and others and invite experts from Member States to exchange information and know-how. Through these strategic meetings, participants can be briefed on the institutional framework, the mechanisms of judicial cooperation and the developments in the field of penal justice in the European Union. The experience from these meetings has shown that language and technical obstacles are not the only ones that can be overruled; indeed, differences between most legal systems are diminished in front of the will and decisiveness of the involved parties to handle a particular case in the best possible way.   
The number of cases handled by Eurojust since 2002 has increased a lot; increase by 50% was observed in 2003 compared to 2002 and a further increase by 30% has taken place in the year 2004 compared to 2003. In terms of quality cases have been upgraded since the number of cases regarding more than two states has increased. The goal is to report to Eurojust serious cases regarding more than two states at the earliest stage possible.
There is a general belief that EUROJUST is not fully exploited in spite of the increase in the number of cases; in other words, Eurojust advice is not requested on all the occasions it could be of help. That is why an important part of the tasks of the national member is to inform national authorities on the contribution of Eurojust to combating organized crime.
The cases of judicial cooperation related to the national office for the year 2004 rise up to 44 in total, whereas there are pending cases from the previous years. From 44 cases, 28 cases are the ones that the Greek authorities are requested to intervene, whereas in 16 cases the Greek authorities are the ones lodging the demand. These figures show an important increase of cases, from 24 in total for the year 2003, while only 6 of the above cases included a demand was filed by the Greek authorities.
We consider that the small number of demands filed up to now by the Greek authorities, in other words the few cases in which Greece has lodged a demand, is due to a great extent to the delay in voting the national law. From the 25 Member States only Greece and Spain have stated that a national law is needed, however, they have not completed this process, a fact causing problems to the operation of the entire Unit. Moreover, Greece has not adopted legislation on the joint investigation groups, although the deadline for transposition of that Framework Decision was 1-1-03.
It should be noted that regarding cases we were asked to provide aid, competent judicial and police authorities responded promptly and contributed a great deal in terms of coordination and cooperation, implementing the current legal framework. In particular, the Hellenic Police Force showed a sincere interest in the newly created Eurojust, responded immediately to the demands filed and was adequately represented in many strategic and operational coordinating meetings.
Moreover, this overview of the activities and tasks of Eurojust could not be concluded without mentioning the most important "partner" in the EU, Europol. Although these two institutions were not created at the same time, nor do they have the same legal form, they still follow converging routes since they both aim at combating organized cross-border crime and this is why they need to cooperate closely. It results from the Treaty as such that Europol and Eurojust, the most important mechanisms of police and judicial cooperation in penal matters, shall be the ones allowing the citizens to enjoy a high level of protection within an area of freedom, security and justice, whereas their action is considerably reinforced by the text of the Constitutional Treaty.
However, it is well known that both Eurojust and Europol are far away from performing at the maximum of their capacity. The most important obstacle to this effort is the lack of will of behalf of the national authorities to cooperate, exchange information with Europol, report cases to Eurojust and, at the end of the day, fully profit from the possibilities these two institutions have to offer. The lack of will to cooperate with the institutional bodies of the EU is partially due to lack of information, nevertheless, it undoubtedly has something to do with the irresolution of the law enforcement authorities to "share a part of national self-determination" in the field of penal law.
I believe that this hesitance and lack of will shall seize to exist as time goes by, since all law enforcement authorities are interested in fighting cross-border crime, through the best possible police and judicial cooperation; besides, it is their duty to rise up to this challenge for the citizens. Let us not forget that the failure of coordinating the operational fight against organized crime undoubtedly proves to benefit criminals.


By Stavroula Koutoulakou, Public Prosecutor at the First Instance Court, National EUROJUST Member