Monday, September 17, 2012

EGF is the new ACTA

But not in the same way that you might think.

EGF, or EUGENDFOR, or the European Gendarmerie Force, is a military police force under central EU control - specifically, under control of a council of representatives from participating states. It can be deployed to any EU state, or any non-EU state, by request of the receiving state's government.

I came across a link to this article, mentioning that there was a protest against the EGF and that its critics claim that it is a Gestapo-type organization, not subject to any legal control by the state to which it is deployed; it is all-powerful and cannot be stopped.

This alarmist attitude reeked of the kind of blinkered charging activism that we saw before with ACTA. Unlike most of the well-meaning but apparently attention-deficient protesters, I am at least willing to give European leaders enough of the benefit of the doubt to spend ten minutes reading the actual treaties.

To reiterate my ACTA disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am just a person who gets paid for reading and understanding legal texts.

The founding treaty of the EGF is easy to find: here it is. Like ACTA, it's not really as difficult to read as you might expect from a legal document outlining a set of technical issues; I think English-language EU treaties are simpler than many legal texts I've had to translate because they are initially negotiated among non-native English speakers. Language tends to be reduced to the barest necessities of meaning.

In the event, the founding treaty of the European Gendarmerie Force is concerned primarily with issues of who pays for what, and how much stuff can an EGF member bring with them tax-free when relocating to the force's HQ in Italy. As always, I encourage you to go and read the full text for yourself. But the concern is that the EGF can be deployed to an EU state and conduct police missions there, including criminal investigative work, without any regard for the laws of that state; the local authorities cannot challenge the EGF's actions. So here are the relevant quotes from the EGF treaty.

In the section outlining the general terms:

EUROGENDFOR Personnel and their family members must respect the law in force in the Host State or the Receiving State. In addition, EUROGENDFOR Personnel must refrain from carrying out any activities incompatible with the spirit of this Treaty while on the territory of the Host State or the Receiving State.

In the section outlining criminal liability and jurisdiction:

The authorities of the Host State or the Receiving State shall have the right to exercise jurisdiction over military and civilian personnel and their family members, with respect to offences committed within their respective territories and punishable by the laws of that State.
There is more stuff there, including the interesting provision that if an EGF official commits a crime that is punishable under the laws of the sending state, but not the receiving state, then the sending state can prosecute them; and if the official commits a crime that is punishable in the receiving state but not the sending state, then the receiving state can prosecute them.

So yes, EGF officials are indeed subject to the laws and oversight of the country in which they are operating.

In fact, there is exactly one iffy paragraph in the treaty, where I think the confusion may have originated:

A member of EUROGENDFOR Personnel shall not be subject to any proceedings for the enforcement of any judgement given against him or her in the Host State or the Receiving State in a matter arising from the performance of his official duties.
However, this is part of an article specifically titled "Damage to third parties". The point of the paragraph is that if an EGF official causes property damage in the course of executing their mission, that official is not personally liable for compensating the damage. (The EGF and the involved governments are liable, though.)

So, as usual: before you get outraged by something, make the effort to do the very minimum of research. (Or at least do what Jacques Zammit did and ask me to do the research for you. My payment is the satisfaction of subtly telling people they're being stupid.)


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