The Benelux is a framework for multilateral cooperation between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg. The objective is to promote cross-border cooperation to help find solutions for common problems and if possible to act as a precursor for Europe. Next to the classical economic cooperation, the Benelux is also active in the field of security. On the basis of a political declaration, close cooperation between the Benelux and the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is possible. This enables the Benelux countries and Germany – in particular NRW – to work jointly to tackle organized crime together.
The Benelux has chosen to make the promotion of the so called administrative approach to organized crime one of its priorities. This means that the partners promote an integrated multi-agency approach that includes judicial as well as administrative measures. In a common project the Benelux and NRW focus on an administrative approach to crime related to outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMG) in the Euregion Meuse-Rhine, the border region between Germany and the Benelux. Recently there has been a notable increase of crime related to OMG. But application of administrative measures on one side of the border causes a displacement effect; OMG try to avoid these measures by shifting their activities across the border. Therefore, cross-border information exchange is the key to an effective approach to crime related to outlaw motorcycle gangs.
Tackling crime together
The cooperation has resulted in the publishing of the report Tackling crime together. In the first half of 2016, the project, the report and its conclusions and recommendations have been presented to the European Union, which has endorsed them in the Council Conclusions of the Justice and Home Affairs ministers of June 2016. In these conclusions the Member States, the European Commission and Europol are called upon to stimulate, support and facilitate activities concerning cross-border multi-agency cooperation with administrative and law enforcement authorities and further develop cross-border projects, such as the Benelux pilot in the Euregion Meuse-Rhine, in order to better identify opportunities and obstacles for cross-border information exchange for administrative purposes in the fight against serious and organized crime, including crime related to Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The Benelux partners endeavor to follow-up the recommendations of the Benelux report ‘Tackling crime together’, especially the call for a pilot project regarding a cross-border multi-agency information and expertise center in the Euregion Meuse-Rhine to prevent and tackle organized crime.
Benelux multi-agency center
Besides the project partners, other EU Member States and Europol will be invited through the Informal Network on the administrative approach to act as an observer or deliver expertise based on their experience with multi-agency cooperation. Furthermore, the outcomes of this project will be disseminated and reported to other Member States and EU institutions through both the channels of the Informal Network on the administrative approach as well as the Standing Committee on internal security (COSI).
The foreseen tasks of the Benelux multi-agency center can be divided into an operational, awareness, policy/judicial and dissemination track:
1) Operational: information broker in cross-border cases and signaling difficulties in sharing information for administrative purposes,
2) Awareness: sharing best practices on how to implement the administrative approach, developing concrete instruments (e.g. cross-border barrier models on priority crime phenomena) and share expertise on how to set up a multi-agency cooperation.
3) Policy/judicial: analysis of judicial difficulties in sharing information in cross-border cases for administrative purposes, provide recommendations for adjustments of bilateral or trilateral treaties and EU legislation
4) Dissemination to EU institutions: include observers from EU institutions (Europol) and interested EU Member states (in addition to the project partners). Present the outcomes to all relevant EU fora.
The desired starting date of the project is 1 September 2017 and it will have a duration of 3 years. In a later stage it is the explicit wish to extend the pilot project to other EU Member States and Europol. In order to provide guidance, direction and control to this project a steering committee will be established.
Through a cross-border multi-agency approach to organized crime the Benelux-countries and Germany aim for more efficiency and effectiveness in fighting crime. Paramount for success is realizing that common problems are tackled best through a common approach.