europol-building-ectc.jpg
Photograph: Europol

The EU police agency Europol is set to acquire new powers in its fight against terrorism and other serious crimes, after the European Parliament on Wednesday gave its blessing to the changes.

The reforms, which will come into effect in May 2017, will make it easier for Europol to set up specialized units to respond faster to emerging threats.

They will also allow the police agency to exchange information directly with private entities such as social media providers, which could be used to more quickly remove online terrorist propaganda.

The new rules are additionally meant to encourage data-sharing, while also foreseeing data protection safeguards.

"The new powers will improve Europol's ability to support EU member states in the fight against terrorism and organized crime at a time when Europe faces many challenging security threats," Europol director Rob Wainwright said in a statement.

The continent has seen a number of terrorist attacks in recent years, most recently in Belgium on March 22, when more than 30 people were killed in suicide bombings at its main international airport and an underground railway station in its capital Brussels.

"The tragic terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris have starkly highlighted the need for better cooperation between police and security forces in Europe," Green EU parliamentarian Josep-Maria Terricabras said.

"Europol needs new tools to face new challenges," conservative EU lawmaker Timothy Kirkhope added. "Our fight against terrorism and serious crime is one where we are too often several steps behind our enemy. This regulation is an important step in closing that gap."

Far-left lawmakers, however, opposed the proposal over data privacy and supervision concerns.

"It's a black box giving all power to Europol, and that's why we reject the whole package," EU parliamentarian Cornelia Ernst said.

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