The Europol director's chief of staff meets the UK's top cop and reacts to the news of an EU cyber-crime centre – then considers cycling to work next week after witnessing a thrilling Tour of FlandersMonday
Mondays often have a theme as they kick off the week. Today's was 'Brits in Europe'. After an early morning visit from two of the most senior British customs officers – who were updating our director Rob Wainwright on ongoing operations involving Europol – I swapped disciplines to meet the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe and one of his assistant commissioners. Hogan-Howe is a cop's cop, a welcome relief for someone like me with 32 years' service. So what if he is direct and challenging? You do not get to be commissioner of the Met by sitting and listening to things you do not quite follow. His questions and obvious interest in the information and operational work we presented stimulated a really interesting dialogue between him and our experts.
I will declare an interest: I am pro-European Union, mostly. But while the powers-that-be back in London wrestle with the opt-in, opt-out question over justice and home affairs issues, it was very refreshing to hear of all the excellent work and success that is going on across borders through Europol and Eurojust. This includes cross border surveillance, joint investigation teams, intelligence sharing, arrest operations, coordinated days of action tackling human smuggling, drugs trafficking, money laundering – and so it goes on. It is strong message from Europol and I hope it impressed the United Kingdom's top cop.
A meeting with the security coordinator threw up several issues which will require a cross departmental response. That is where I come in. Fortunately they mostly fall within the housekeeping category, so nothing to worry about. Lunch was taken with a senior reporter from Newsweek
, who was visiting our headquarters today. The chance to hear what interests the media is useful in ensuring we provide them with enough of the right material to both promote our successes and allow them to do their job. It is good to see how Europol is gaining more interest not just from the higher echelons of politics but also from the media in general. We live in an age of transparency and it is important we can engage with our public, which in our case are the 500 million EU citizens. The day ends on a lighter note with the new staff that joined in March 2012 hosting a newcomers' reception.
The announcement today of the location of the new EU cyber-crime centre, EC3, has been much anticipated. The decision was in favour of EC3 being established at Europol. This is a game changing role for us, and we need to ensure that we can capitalise on the opportunity. For me it means another consultation exercise but this time around a possible re-organisation. Interviews by the director have been picked up around the world and we receive a lot of media requests. Europol – almost on the front pages. As I have just finished this year's round of appraisals, I take my closest colleagues out for dinner: a very pleasant evening which ends in a display of synchronised cycling on the way home.
Today I felt a bit like Janus, the ancient god with two heads, as I found myself simultaneously looking backwards and forwards. The results of the recently completed staff survey provided the retrospective component. It was mostly positive but there was some criticism of management styles. This was not surprising as 27 countries have 27-plus training regimes with differing levels of importance placed on soft skills. Perhaps it is something we need to consider delivering at the EU/Europol level. EC3, on the other hand, is the future, or so I am continually told. It really seems to have got our people excited and talking.
Both the staff survey and EC3 were dealt with in one of our six monthly heads of unit meeting this afternoon; quite a lively engagement from all present, which is not always the case. Ideas on how to respond to both main issues were discussed, and not surprisingly it is often the same solutions that apply: communication, explanation, vision, strategy/planning and hard work. Together they will get us from where we are to where we want to be.
It was quite an upbeat directorate meeting this morning. This largely reflects that this has been a 'good' week. Problems and issues that have arisen have been largely internal and easily addressed. Externally we have presented ourselves well and received a lot of positive feedback and support.
Time to take stock on where we are with everything else: I had a series of short meetings arranged as I followed up on my missed call list. Good operational result with Interpol, good progress on our new intelligence database set-up but some concerns around timescales. There is still a lot of work ongoing supporting the evaluation of Europol in advance of a European Commission proposal for a new legal framework. I presented the director with a response from one of our heads of unit to some specific tasking he had issued. It included what I considered to be some 'useful policy advice' and included the question: "what was the director thinking about?" I end my week by replying and explaining what he was thinking about and a little of what I thought about it as well.
To Belgium for the weekend. During the day I visited Bruges, which was gearing up for the start of the Tour of Flanders cycle race on Sunday morning. As well as the large numbers of tourists, the city was full of cycling enthusiasts making it a very colourful day. I made the acquaintance of Maxence, the son of friends, aged five days, and thought he was looking rather well on it. Later, dinner in a very classic brasserie on Grote Zavel, Brussels at 9.30pm. Late night eating in Brussels comes so much easier than in The Hague – one of the few complaints I have about life there.
All plans revolve around being somewhere to see the start and then, six hours later, the finish of the Tour. Very exciting, all the more so as my Belgian friends were all cheering on local hero Tom Boonen who came through to win in an explosion of speed over the final 500 metres. If I did not realise just how big this event was for Belgium I could have worked it out as I drove back to the Netherlands on Sunday evening from the number of outside broadcast vehicles and fast food vans also making their way home. It has got me thinking of the two bicycles in my shed. If the beautiful spring weather holds I might just join the rest of the Netherlands in cycling to work this week.Brian Donald is chief of staff in the office of the director of Europol