Origins and establishment
Europol headquarters from 1994 to 2011 in The Hague
, pictured in 2010
Europol has its origins in TREVI, a forum for security cooperation created amongst interior and justice ministers in 1976. At first, TREVI focused on international terrorism, but soon started to cover other areas of cross-border crime within the Community. At the European Summit in Luxembourg on 28–29 June 1991, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl called for the creation of a European police agency similar to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)—thus sowing the seeds of police cooperation across Europe. At the Summit, the European Council agreed to establish "a Central European Criminal Investigations Office (Europol) by 31 December 1993 the latest."
The idea of the Luxembourg Summit was further elaborated at the European Council in Maastricht on 9–10 December 1991, a meeting to draft the Maastricht Treaty. The European Council agreed to create "a European police office (Europol) the initial function of which would be to organize exchange of information on narcotic drugs". The Council likewise instructed TREVI ministers to take measures in setting up the office. On 7 February 1992, Europol was enshrined with more substance in Article K.1, section 9, as the Maastricht Treaty was signed:
[...] Member States shall regard the following areas as matters of common interest: [...] police cooperation for the purposes of preventing and combatting terrorism, unlawful drug trafficking and other serious forms of international crime, including if necessary certain aspects of customs cooperation, in connection with the organization of a Union-wide system for exchanging information within a European Police Office (Europol).
Europol was first de facto organised provisionally in 1993 as the Europol Drugs Unit (EDU) in Strasbourg at the same site as the Schengen Information System was hosted. The small initial group started operations there in January 1994 under the leadership of Jürgen Storbeck and with a mandate to assist national police forces in criminal investigations. The competition for the permanent site of Europol during the period was between The Hague, Rome and Strasbourg—the European Council decided on 29 October 1993 that Europol should be established in The Hague. A former Catholic boys school built in 1910 at Raamweg 47 was chosen as the precise location. The house was used in World War II by police and intelligence agencies and after the War manned by the Dutch State Intelligence Service until Europol relocated there later in 1994.
The Europol Convention was signed on 26 July 1995 in Brussels and came into force on 1 October 1998 after being ratified by all the Member States. The European Police Office (Europol) commenced its full activities on 1 July 1999.
Reformation as a European Union agency
Europol was fully integrated into the European Union with Council Decision 2009/371/JHA of 6 April 2009. It replaced the Europol Convention and reformed Europol as an EU agency (i.e. subject to the general rules and procedures applicable to all EU agencies) on 1 January 2010 due to different aspirations, such as enhanced support to Member States on countering serious and organised crime, budgetary control by the European Parliament, and administrative simplification.
The Agency's new 32 000 m2 headquarters building, designed by Frank Wintermans, was opened by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on 1 July 2011 in the international zone of The Hague next to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at Eisenhowerlaan 73.
On 11 January 2013, Director Rob Wainwright and European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström launched the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3 or EC³), a unit of Europol tasked with assisting Member States to dismantle and disrupt cybercrime committed by organised groups to generate large criminal profits (e.g. online fraud), causing serious harm to victims (e.g. online child sexual exploitation) or affecting critical infrastructure and systems in the EU. The purpose of the Centre is to coordinate cross-border law enforcement activities against cybercrime and act as a centre of technological expertise, such as tool development and training. At the time, the Centre was not expected to be fully functional until 2015. Commissioner Malmström stated that the need for a cybercrime centre in Europe was "to protect the open and free internet". On 25 January 2016, the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) was launched as a new strategic platform within Europol to share information among EU states in tracking movements of Europeans into and from Syria as well as to monitor terrorists' finances and militants' Internet usage.
When the UK exercised its opt-out from the area of freedom, security and justice in 2014, its request to continue participating in Europol was approved.
The European Parliament approved Europol's new legal framework, Regulation (EU) 2016/794, on 11 May 2016 after three years of negotiations and thus repealed the former Decisions of 2009. The new framework granted additional powers on counter-terrorism to Europol, but also includes adding training and exchange programmes for staff, creating a solid data protection system, and strengthening the Parliament’s control over the Agency. The Regulation took effect on 1 May 2017. Additionally, the full name was amended to European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol).
Denmark was not permitted to participate in the 2016 recast Europol Regulation due to its opt-out from the Area of freedom, security and justice. In a December 2015 referendum it rejected converting its opt-out to a case-by-case opt-in, which would have allowed it to participate in the new regulation and remain a member of Europol. However, Denmark and the European Union agreed on a cooperation deal in December 2016. The agreement was accepted by both the European Parliament and the Danish Parliament on 27 April 2017 and subsequently signed on 29 April 2017—two days before Denmark would have been cut off from the Agency.
The UK also did not originally participate in the recast 2016 Europol Regulation, but subsequently notified the EU of its desire to participate in December 2016. It's participation was confirmed by a Commission Decision in March 2017. In September 2017, it was reported that the United Kingdom was planning to hold onto Europol access, such as intelligence sharing and co-operation in fighting crime and terrorism, after Brexit though a new treaty. However, the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said in November 2017 that the UK "will no longer be a member of the European Defence Agency or Europol" after Brexit takes effect.
Europol started the Stop Child Abuse – Trace an Object campaign and website on 31 May 2017. The site's objective is to display objects in child sexual abuse images to try to find the perpetrators and victims—in hope that distinct details, such as a logo on a bag or a shampoo bottle, can be identified by the public who can then forward the information by an anonymous tip-off or social media. The approach was called crowdsourcing by the investigators. Bellingcat, the investigative search network, reported that several objects had been positively identified following its attempt to support Europol’s call.