Interpol or Europol?

Ronald K Noble, Secretary General of Interpol (picture US Department of Justice)

Ronald K Noble, Secretary General of Interpol (picture US Department of Justice)

There has been a flurry of criticism lately of Interpol, the body that coordinates international police work, for allowing itself to be used for political purposes.  Members of Interpol include some rather unsavoury regimes that have issued arrest warrants against political opponents who have fled abroad, people who do not fall under the normal understanding of criminals.  There have been critical articles in the Daily Telegraph (read here) and EUobserver (read here).

That Interpol should fall into such a trap is unsurprising, for it is the perfect example of intergovernmentalism gone wild.

It denies the allegation that it is acting politically, on the grounds that article 3 of its constitution forbids it “to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character”.  But why should an organisation like Interpol follow its own constitution?  It is accountable to nobody if it does not.

There is, within the Interpol system, no external scrutiny.  The General Assembly that meets once a year to represent the member states is composed of policing experts (“(a) High officials of departments dealing with police affairs, (b) Officials whose normal duties are connected with the activities of the Organization, (c) Specialists in the subjects on the agenda”), people who are in the same line of work and with the same background as those who work for Interpol.  Furthermore, the General Assembly votes by majority, so even if a member state has an objection to something that Interpol has done, its complaints can be readily ignored.

There is no real parliamentary scrutiny of Interpol – parliaments in the member states can discuss matters if they like but they have no grip over the Interpol secretariat and their respective national governments can be outvoted, don’t forget – nor is there any provision for a court to rule on disputes.  So if Interpol breaks its own rules, there is no means of having those rules enforced.

Compare it with Europol, also an international organisation for coordinating police work, but one founded not on intergovernmentalism but on the Community method.  Things are very different there.

The European Parliament approves the budget and has a role in senior appointments, so there is parliamentary scrutiny on behalf of the citizens.  The European Court of Justice has been given, by the Lisbon treaty, oversight of Europol, so there is judicial oversight as well.   (This judicial oversight is one of the things that the UK has expressed a reserve about in the treaty, and might yet cause the UK to leave Europol, absurdly.)

The examples of Interpol and Europol show plainly how the federalist approach – treating international institutions as though they were normal arms of government rather than as something special or different – is better than the intergovernmental one.  Anyone who cares for fighting crime should prefer the former method to the latter one; it is more accountable and protects the rights of citizens better.

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