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Dirty Harry Meet Hercule Poirot Transatlantic Cooperation in the Fight Against Crime and Terrorism     Print Email
By Sophie In't Veld, MEP, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

Crime stories are quite popular on both sides of the Atlantic, but the heroes chasing the villains are rather different. Dirty Harry, Axel Foley, Rambo, Jack Bauer and McCloud are very unlike Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Morse, Commissaire Maigret or Kommissar Derrick. The one thing they have in common is that at the end of the story they all catch the bad guy.

As villains are increasingly working together across borders, European and American crime fighters too will have to work together more closely. In other words, if we want to be successful against criminals and terrorists, Dirty Harry and Hercule Poirot will have to become a team.

That is not an easy task, as caricatures, misunderstandings and ignorance abound on both sides of the Atlantic. Although at regular intervals our leaders reaffirm our commitment to shared values, it sometimes looks as if we have not only widely diverging methods, but also very different values.

A well known caricature is that Europeans don’t care about security, and Americans don’t care about privacy. Both assumptions are complete nonsense.

The 1974 US Privacy Act is a pretty solid piece of legislation, providing American citizens with a high level of protection against government snooping in their private lives. Whereas Europe has an elaborate system of legislation and bodies for the protection of civil liberties, the US have a much stronger tradition of civil liberties being claimed by citizens themselves, by way of private enforcement.

Inversely, when it comes to security, Europeans have decades of experience in fighting terrorism: the IRA in Northern Ireland, ETA in Spain, RAF in Germany, Brigate Rosse in Italy, Moluccans in the Netherlands, Corsicans and Algerians in France, the 17th of November group in Greece, and many more. Terrorists have been bombing stations and tourist hotels. They hijacked trains, kidnapped and murdered politicians and kept school children hostage. Europe has been fighting these movements quite effectively, with regular legislative instruments, without undermining the rule of law and civil liberties.

In addition however, Europeans have a living memory of a 20th century marked by war and dictatorships. Many European citizens today have lived through the Second World War and the Nazi regime. Six million of our Jewish citizens were killed by the Nazis, as were Roma people and gay people. Stalinism killed another 20 million people. The Western Balkans have been torn by war and conflict less than two decades ago, and the situation is still unresolved.

Thirteen of today’s twenty-seven EU Member States were dictatorships as recently as 20, 25 years ago. Several of my colleagues in the European Parliament were persecuted by totalitarian regimes, ended up in jail or worse, have lost friends and relatives. Many Europeans remember how the government wanted to know everything about them, for reasons of “national security”. The archives of the former security police in many central and eastern European countries contain millions of detailed records on citizens who are alive today.

Europeans are as acutely aware of the significance of security as our American friends. But history has shown that by focusing exclusively on external threats, we may overlook the threats from the inside. No nation is immune to anti-democratic and authoritarian tendencies.

If Dirty Harry and Hercule Poirot are to work together as equal partners, it must be on a basis of trust and mutual respect.

This means first of all that the fight against terrorism and crime must be conducted with strictly legal means. Certain aspects of US counter terrorism policies have not inspired much confidence. Torture, Guantanamo, renditions, black sites, Abu Ghraib and sexed up reports on WMD have seriously undermined trust in transatlantic relations. It must be noted there is a certain degree of hypocrisy, as most European governments have enthusiastically endorsed the counter terrorism strategy, often fully aware of excesses and violations of international law and human rights.

Furthermore, transatlantic cooperation must be based on a shared agenda, jointly defined by both allies, not by one side imposing its policies on the other. A true alliance will respect the legal system and values of each partner. Europeans were not amused to find that for five years US authorities has been trawling through their bank account data in secret. (Americans citizens would not appreciate that either). Many of the data sharing agreements since 9/11 violate EU laws. Moreover, the reciprocity clauses are completely hollow: contrary to the terms of the agreements, the US is reluctant to share information obtained from European data.

Finally, we need to understand Europe is a project under construction. We should not forget that this project is only just 60 years old, and unifying a continent that has been divided by war and conflict for much of the past 20 centuries, and consisting of countless cultures and languages, is no small task. As the USA had its early (rocky) stages, the EU is gradually shaping its institutions and laws, and establishing the balance of power between institutions. That takes time, it is slow and messy, and sometimes puzzling to those who are part of it as well as to outsiders. In addition, the EU – much like the US – is not a monolith, but a mosaic of political opinions and interests. It is not surprising that dealing with the EU sometimes drives our partners to despair, and makes them wish for that single phone number they can call.

I don’t think that single phone number will come any time soon. But I do think that Europe and the United States have a duty to their own citizens and to the rest of the world to work together. If we are willing to understand and accept each other, we could make a great team and a force for good.

I think the guys from CSI would team up rather nicely with the people from Silent Witness, and who knows, set the example for a new generation of crime fighting heroes who appeal to audiences on either side of the Great Pond.


Mrs. Sophie In ’t Veld . First elected to the European Parliament in 2004, Mrs. In ’t Veld is a member of the Dutch political party, Democrats 66, which is part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament
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