Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro interviews the President of EUROJUST, Mrs. Michèle Coninsx
In addition to her role of President of Eurojust, Ms. Coninsx is National Member for Belgium at Eurojust, Chair of Eurojust’s Counter-Terrorism Team and Federal Magistrate in Belgium. Mrs. Coninsx has more than 25 years of experience as a prosecutor. Former roles include: Vice-President Eurojust from 2007-2012, expert in aviation security for the International Civil Aviation Organization and National Prosecutor in combatting terrorism and organized crime throughout the whole of Belgium from 1997-2002.
What is the main role of Eurojust?
Eurojust is the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit. Our organisation is tasked with supporting the Member States in the investigation and prosecution of terrorism and serious cross-border crime, particularly when it’s organised. Having 28 National Members together under one roof guarantees that information is exchanged in a minimum amount of time and that legal and practical obstacles in complex cross-border cases can be addressed quickly and effectively. For the period 2015-2020, terrorism, cybercrime and trafficking in human beings, including illegal immigrant smuggling, have been designated as priorities, in line with the European Agendas on Security and Migration.
When and why was Eurojust established?
The discussion on the establishment of a judicial cooperation unit was first introduced at a European Council Meeting in Tampere, Finland, on 15 and 16 October 1999. At that meeting, the heads of state and government agreed on the necessity to reinforce the fight against serious cross-border crime by consolidating cooperation among national authorities. In December 2000, on the initiative of Portugal, France, Sweden and Belgium, a provisional judicial cooperation unit was formed under the name Pro-Eurojust, operating from the Council building in Brussels. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the focus on the fight against terrorism moved from the national sphere to a wide international context. This served as a catalyst for the formalisation of the establishment of Eurojust in 2002.
Which countries are member of Eurojust?
All 28 European Union Member States are full members of Eurojust. In addition, Eurojust hosts Liaison Prosecutors from Norway, Switzerland, the USA and soon Montenegro.
Can you please give a short summary of the administrative structure of Eurojust?
The College, Eurojust’s decision-making body, is composed of 28 National Members who are based at Eurojust’s premises in The Hague. The National Members are prosecutors, judges or police officers of equivalent competence seconded by each Member State. Most National Members are assisted by a Deputy as well as by one or several Assistants. The College is supported by an administration composed of approximately 250 people, headed by an Administrative Director.
In order to carry out your tasks, Eurojust maintains privileged relations with other bodies, like for instance Europol. Can you please mention these bodies and elaborate about these relations?
One of Eurojust’s core beliefs is that it takes a network to beat a criminal network and we highly value our cooperation with other agencies of the European Union. Europol is, of course, one of our privileged partners. For many years we have been working closely together on both operational and strategic matters and since Eurojust moved to the new building our organisations are even physically located at a stone’s throw away from each other. At the same time, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX is our main counterpart for matters regarding the fight against illegal immigrant smuggling. Other European agencies with which we cooperate regularly include the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL). But our cooperation with other bodies does not stop at the European Union. We have, for example, also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
What is the exact distinction of the competencies of Eurojust and Europol, as this is not quite clear to many of our readers?
Both organisations are focussed on the fight against terrorism and serious cross-border crime, but while Eurojust facilitates cooperation between judicial authorities, Europol does the same for cooperation between law enforcement agencies. Or to put it simply: Eurojust supports the prosecution and Europol supports the police.
What is the role of a JIT (joint investigation team)?
Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) take operational cooperation to a whole new level. A JIT consists of prosecutors and investigators from two or more Member States and/or third States, joining forces on the basis of an agreement for a specific purpose and a limited duration. The result is one team working for and on behalf of all concerned national authorities, so that information can be exchanged directly without the need for formal requests. Just last year, 148 JITs were supported by Eurojust.
You were appointed President of Eurojust in May 2012 and re-elected in 2015. What is your statement for this term?
I have been involved in Eurojust from the very beginning, since 2001. At that point in time, we were scattered: 15 countries, all with different legal regimes. Now we are covering a territory of 500 million citizens with 24 different official languages and 30 different legal regimes. Over the years, I have witnessed how Eurojust has secured its role as a key player in cross-border judicial cooperation, despite the many challenges posed by ever-evolving terrorist and criminal threats and the difficult geopolitical context. I feel extremely proud of where Eurojust stands today and it has been a true privilege to be part of this achievement.
Which message would you give to our readers?
Many readers will have the feeling that we live in an insecure world, marked by a global surge in mass-casualty terrorism that some decades ago we didn’t consider possible. Where I used to talk about an ‘unprecedented threat’, I now talk about a ‘new normal’. Instead of accepting this reality, I firmly believe that we should confront it. I am convinced that if we continue to unite forces, with the help of the general public, we will ultimately succeed in bringing those responsible for these heinous acts to justice.