In the early 1930s Bonnie and Clyde pioneered a new way of making money in Texas: they robbed banks and murdered police. As we know from the cinema, they drove their ill-gotten gains in a rickety car over a state border across which the local police could not pursue them. Faced by this new motorised threat, the Congress in Washington DC created a police force which could cross frontiers. They called it the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI.
This is the same stage reached by the EU. The internal borders of the EU are open. Criminals, including gangs such as the Mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta, the Camorra, Russian and Albanian and Chinese gangs, operate freely across our open borders, dealing in drugs and illegal immigrants, and plenty more. They invest their proceeds in property in Germany and Britain and elsewhere.
In Europe there are more than 500 separate police forces. None of them can cross an open border in pursuit. Over a hundred of these forces are in the UK, mostly separate county forces. In my region of the East Midlands, Derbyshire Constabulary cannot cross into Nottinghamshire or into Manchester.
Today is a good time to be a cross-border criminal in Europe.
Surely InterPol stops them? InterPol is a centre in Lyons that shares intelligence with other police forces around the world. It does this effectively, but has no powers to go into the streets to pursue and arrest criminals. The EU has its own intelligence-sharing centre, EuroPol, at The Hague. EuroPol exchanges information between Europe’s police forces, with observers present from allies around the world. Its director for nine years was British, Rob Wainwright.
In the European Parliament I created an all-party group of MEPs who worked on this in the 2009-14 parliament before I was ejected by voters. Since then the Commission in Brussels have announced that they are preparing a formal proposal to create an FBI.
To create a European FBI will require a lot of groundwork. There are no federal EU criminal laws. It is not a crime to drive stolen money across borders in Europe. Nor are there federal European prisons or criminal courts, but in the meantime national facilities are available.
To create a federal FBI for Europe would more than pay for itself. Major crimes would be reduced. Fines would be collected. Economic confidence and jobs would benefit. The gains surely outweigh the costs.
What should be the British attitude to a European FBI? Since we believe we have the best police in the world, we might lead it. Could there possibly be a British objection? In an increasingly inter-connected world, the solution is not “sovereignty” but more inter-connected cooperation.
Britain should be leading from the front on this vital crime fighting project. Brexit will only take us a further step away.
Bill Newton Dunn is a Liberal Democrat MEP for the East Midlands