The writer is minister for interior affairs for lower saxony and chairs the europol control group

It is clear that covid-19 is far from over. while the health, economic and fiscal impact of this pandemic are currently in the limelight, i have become increasingly concerned about its effect on european internal security.

Recent demonstrations have seen coronavirus sceptics, conspiracy theorists and rightwing groups join forces in several european cities, including an attempt to storm the german parliament in berlin. this is potentially just a precursor to future extremist attacks on our democratic societies across europe. that underscores the pressing need for deeper police co-operation across the eu namely a european fbi.

Across europe, we have recently witnessed a rise in conspiracy theories, fake news and deepening polarisation. the extreme right has been infiltrating groups critical of anti-coronavirus measures, and co-operating across european borders.

As recession deepens, i fear we will also see criminals and terrorists preying on the most vulnerable parts of our society. islamist terror groups will try to exploit the situation to recruit more supporters and organised crime can be expected to move into new areas of business. at the same time, foreign powers are intentionally misinforming european citizens about anti-covid-19 measures or trying to influence our elections. all this has implications for domestic security.

The answer to these threats to our internal security must be international and, above all, a european one. the schengen free movement area is a blessing for europe. but it has also made it easier for criminals and terrorists who run highly-intertwined networks. we can only get a grip on them if the police and law enforcement agencies are just as agile as these cross-border networks.

European security co-operation has progressed in recent years. created in 1998, europol is a highly efficient law enforcement agency. it has established strengths in the crucial areas of cyber crime and counter-terrorism that contribute to various national investigations. but the institution needs to be developed much further.

Eu member states, federal states and even municipalities have created platforms to exchange information on preparing for terrorist attacks and combating the radicalisation of their citizens. all of this is important and contributes to the individual security of every european citizen. but it has been too little, too slowly. we need to push more resolutely towards a true european police agency.

First, we must enhance data and information sharing among eu member states. we need uniform standards for the exchange of relevant information about threats, criminals and their networks. this also applies to best-practices in deradicalisation and other efforts to prevent terrorism and extremism. we require direct, digital communication links among police agencies that make sure the necessary information reaches every police station in europe without any border-induced delay. our aim should be to share data as easily and efficiently between member states as we do within our nations. europol should play a leading role in managing this exchange.

Second, we must equip and staff europol properly. it makes no sense to impose budget cuts now, so i will work hard to ensure that funds for europol are increased. the covid-19 crisis has clearly shown that a functioning administration and strong enforcement agencies save human lives. this is especially true in an area as critical as internal security. we need to make sure that our policemen and women have the necessary skills to work on a european level. cepol, which is responsible for european law enforcement training, now needs to become a true eu police academy.

Third, we need to discuss delegating more executive powers to the european level even if that means giving up some of our national authority. this needs to be closely co-ordinated with the set up of the european public prosecutors office, which is supposed to become operational at the end of this year. ultimately, all this must lead us to a european police force, to complement the national security services.

If we want to protect europe from international crime, we must act decisively.

It would be completely wrong to get tangled up in bureaucracy and a backward-looking protection of national rights. if necessary, we should strengthen europol in partnership with those member states that are ready to do so. i am certain more and more countries would join as they see the clear european benefit for every single citizen.

The challenges we are facing are increasing in light of the coronavirus crisis. in order to meet them, ensure our security and protect our citizens there is only one answer: more europe.