COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL on the EU roadmap to fight drug trafficking and organised crime
1The drugs trade orchestrated by organised crime is one of the most serious security threats facing Europe today, and the situation is escalating: this is clearly demonstrated by the unprecedented increase of illicit drugs available in Europe, in particular cocaine from South America. In August 2023, it took only 2 weeks for the record of 8 tonnes of cocaine seized in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) to be broken by the seizure of 9.5 tonnes of the drug in the port of Algeciras (Spain). There is also a growing concern over the production and proliferation of synthetic drugs in Europe, which are trafficked globally. A joint analysis made by Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) demonstrated that drug trafficking is one of the main profit-generating activities of organised crime, estimated to represent around one fifth of global crime proceeds.
2 3 4In their efforts to make large profits, criminal networks use extreme violence, corruption and intimidation. They are also highly capable to make connections and conceal their plans, as shown by the dismantling of encrypted communication tools such as EncroChat, which has led to at least 6 558 arrests worldwide. Economic and financial crimes are key in supporting all criminal activities, and corruption is instrumental to criminal networks. According to Europol’s estimates, 60% of criminal networks operating in the EU use corruptive methods to achieve their illicit objectives. Approximately EUR 4.1 billion of criminal assets were seized on average per year in 2020 and 2021 in EU Member States. This represents a substantial increase compared to earlier years, but it still remains less than 2% of the estimated yearly proceeds of organised crime. This vast revenue obtained through illicit activities are used for other criminal activities and laundered by professional money laundering syndicates. The revenue is then invested to infiltrate the legal economy, which has far-reaching and destabilising consequences for society, the rule of law and trust in public authorities.
5As a highly visible consequence of this threat, criminals’ global reach and iron grip on drug trafficking supply chains have led to a wave of violence in the streets. The many victims are not only among rival gangs themselves, but also among innocent people. In 2023, this has included an 11-year-old girl in Antwerp (Belgium) in January, a 10-year-old boy in August in Nîmes (France) and of a 13-year-old boy in September in Stockholm (Sweden), who all died as a consequence of drug-related violence. Moreover, it is estimated 6 200 people in the EU died from a drug overdose in 2021.
The size of the threat and its worldwide reach calls for strong and sustainable action at EU and global levels. Therefore, the Commission proposes an EU roadmap to fight drug trafficking and organised crime. The roadmap sets out 17 actions in four priority areas: to strengthen the resilience of logistic hubs with a European Ports Alliance, to dismantle criminal networks, to increase prevention efforts and to strengthen cooperation with international partners. These actions are to be implemented in 2024 and 2025.
2.EU strategy and response
6 7The EU strategy to tackle organised crime for 2021-2025 and the EU drugs strategy and action plan for 2021-2025 (‘the EU strategies’) set out holistic EU policies to tackle these threats based on joint action by the EU and Member States.
The EU is currently implementing these strategies and will continue to work towards achieving their objectives as highlighted in the Sixth Progress Report on the EU Security Union Strategy 8 . The EU strategy to tackle organised crime is contributing to intensifying the EU’s collective efforts in the fight against criminal networks. At the same time, with the drugs strategy and action plan, the EU has set out the work for a balanced and multidisciplinary approach that aims to reduce drug supplies by improving security, reducing drug demand with prevention, treatment and care services and addressing drug-related harm. As set out in the strategy, in 2024, the Commission will launch an external evaluation on implementation of the drugs strategy with the aim of presenting the report to the European Parliament and the Council in spring 2025.
9 10 11 12 13In terms of policy initiatives, the Commission has put forward several legislative proposals to bolster EU legislation to fight criminal networks. This includes strengthening the Asset Recovery and Confiscation Directive, the amendment of Directive 2019/1153 which allows competent authorities access centralised bank account registries, which facilitates financial investigations, and a package to strengthen the EU’s anti-money laundering rules. The Commission has also adopted a proposal to reform the EU Customs Union. This will significantly strengthen the capacity of customs to stop unsafe or illegal goods from entering the EU and substantially improve cooperation between customs and law enforcement authorities. Furthermore, the Commission proposed to strengthen the EU rules on combating corruption in May 2023.
14 15 16 17Law enforcement capabilities have been stepped up with the strengthening of Europol’s mandate, the proposal for a Police Cooperation Code, which led to recommendations on operational police cooperation, and the adoption of the Directive on the exchange of information between law enforcement authorities. The proposed revision of the Prüm Regulation will further contribute to these efforts.
18 19In recent years, the EU’s judicial response has also been improved: the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) was founded as an independent public prosecution office, responsible for investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice crimes against the financial interests of the EU. The EPPO is also competent for offences regarding participation in a criminal organisation, if the focus of the criminal activity of such an organisation is to commit criminal offences affecting the Union’s financial interests. In addition, to make it easier and faster for police and judicial authorities to access the information they need, the EU adopted a package on cross-border access to electronic evidence.
20To support the EU’s collective response to drugs, the EMCDDA’s mandate has been strengthened. This aims, in particular, to improve its threat assessment and early warning capacity and to extend its scope to polydrug use, drug markets and supply, and drug precursors. The EMCDDA will become the new EU Drugs Agency and will become operational on 2 July 2024. The new Agency will carry out health and security threat assessments on synthetic drugs. The Agency will also closely monitor synthetic drug developments in the EU and feed this into developing countermeasures. The development of a European drug alert system to quickly let national authorities and (potential) drug users know when new dangerous substances enter the market will also be an important step. Lastly, the new mandate provides for the Agency to look into drug precursors and to set up a network of forensic and toxicological laboratories to identify new substances and possible trends.
21 22At operational level, the EU has strengthened its support for Member States’ law enforcement authorities. The European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Crime Threats (EMPACT), the Member-State driven, operational approach to EU internal security, is now a permanent instrument with increased funding. Cooperation with international partners will continue in EMPACT with the support of the Commission. The Operational Network Against Mafia-Style Organised Criminal Groups supports complex investigations against high-risk criminal networks. Already in 2022, this led to excellent operational results: 121 arrests and EUR 12 million of cash seized. 42 criminal networks were identified, and more than 50 high level criminals have been investigated and prosecuted with the support of Europol and Eurojust. Currently driven by Belgium in 2022-2023 and by Italy from 2024-2025, the Commission supports the objectives and innovative approach of this new priority and invites all Member States and international partners to take part. Furthermore, the dismantling of the encrypted communication networks, EncroChat, SkyECC and AN0M, supported by Europol, led to many arrests and seizures. In particular, it gave valuable insights into criminal networks’ activities and their methods. Europol has supported many other successful investigations conducted by Member States, such as Operation Desert Light in November 2022, in which a ‘super cartel’ of cocaine traffickers was taken down.
23 24The success of the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC (N)) in supporting maritime interdictions has so far led to the seizure of 327,653 tonnes of cocaine and 667,344 tonnes of cannabis. Moreover, Belgium and Germany have initiated the process to join MAOC (N). The revised EU Maritime Security Strategy and its Action Plan confirm the commitment for joint operations in departure countries and EU ports, involving MAOC-N, relevant Member States’ authorities, and European Commission Services/Agencies.
As organised crime is almost always transnational, the EU is increasing its partnerships with third countries, notably with those on key drug supply routes. This includes enhanced cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean, with the New Agenda for relations between the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean 25 , the Declaration of the EU-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit of 17-18 July 2023 26 and cooperation between the EU and the Latin American Committee on Internal Security (CLASI), which confirms the commitment to step up efforts in the areas of justice, security and the fight against transnational criminal networks. The regional technical assistance programmes, such as EL PAcCTO, EUROFRONT and COPOLAD III as well as the Global Illicit Flows Programme, have proven to be effective instruments in boosting national and regional capabilities to fight organised crime.
In West Africa, cooperation focuses on building up the capacity of state institutions and regional organizations to tackle drug trafficking at sea. Since 2018, the EU has put in place a set of complementary regional programmes aimed at supporting ECOWAS countries’ efforts to combat transnational organised crime and illicit trafficking, cybercrime as well as money laundering and the financing of terrorism 27 . In the Horn of Africa, the EU Naval Force Operation ATALANTA contributes to the disruption of drug trafficking and weapons trafficking, as well as to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. The EU is also firmly committed to address illegal money flows through a dedicated Team Europe Initiative on Illicit Financial Flows for Sub-Sahara Africa.
North Africa and the Middle East are a major source, transit and destination of illicit drugs and the illicit drug business is growing. Programmes funded by the EU such as the EU4Monitoring Drugs have analysed the emergence of new drug trafficking routes, the expansions of online markets and the availability of a broader spectrum of substances.
Furthermore, in Central Asia, the EU has designed two important regional security programmes to deliver on its strategy helping Central Asian partners to tackle some of the risks associated to drugs crime, including those emanating from Afghanistan. The Central Asia Drug Action Programme (CADAP) contributes to the reduction of drug use and supports Central Asian Governments’ drug policies, and more specifically to improve access to quality drug demand reduction interventions. The Border Management Programme in Central Asia (BOMCA), fosters sustainable economic development through integrated border management, focusing on capacity building and institutional development, facilitating trade, improving border management systems, and eliminating illicit trafficking across Central Asia.
The EU cooperation with the Western Balkans remains a priority. The increased participation of our Western Balkan partners in international police operations, their closer cooperation with Europol via the posting of liaison officers to Europol headquarters, their involvement in EMPACT and participation in Joint Investigation Teams have brought significant operational results. EU financial and technical support will continue to be provided. It is crucial that all Western Balkan partners establish functioning Early Warning Systems and National Drugs Observatories to improve their exchange of data with the EMCDDA and conclude Working Arrangements with the EU Agency.
Lastly, Six Member States (Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands) have set up a Coalition against Serious and Organised Crime, to which the Commission, Europol and Eurojust participate. The Coalition has put forward several important operational actions of common interest, which are broadly in line with the EU strategies and involve EU agencies, bodies and frameworks, such as EMPACT. Actions focus, in particular, on identifying operational needs, strengthening the security of logistic hubs and maritime security, disrupting criminal money flows, empowering law enforcement with technology and innovation, and strengthening international cooperation. The Commission recognises the efforts made by the Coalition and is setting out this roadmap to take this work to the next level and demonstrate an EU commitment to intensifying efforts.
Criminals are quick to adapt to new opportunities to make a profit. They are also very capable of taking advantage of societies’ increased interconnectedness and technological advancements. Against this constantly changing phenomenon, it is essential to bring together the efforts of the Commission, High Representative, the European Parliament, the Council and EU agencies and bodies around a set of priority actions. To be delivered, the measures need to be implemented through effective cooperation across the EU, engagement with our strategic international partners, and determined political commitment from everyone involved.
This Roadmap focuses on four priority areas for increased action.
First, criminals use logistic hubs in the EU and non-EU countries to carry out their illegal activities and target vulnerable people to carry out criminal activities. The EU therefore needs to strengthen the resilience of logistic hubs from being exploited by criminals. This must be done in close cooperation with each other as criminals are constantly looking for the weakest link.
Second, criminal networks are dynamic and increasingly use specialised criminal service providers, bringing more players into the fold. Individual arrests are much needed but not sufficient: it is vital to increase law enforcement and judicial authorities’ capabilities todismantle criminal networks, disrupt their business models and confiscate their profits.
A strong focus onprevention is also necessary:to prevent people and businesses from being exploited by criminal networks, we need to tackle the root causes of organised crime and take action against criminal activities as a permanent solution. This requires not only efforts of law enforcement authorities, but also of municipalities and local communities.
Lastly, organised crime has always been a global phenomenon, but recent technological developments have further enabled criminals to operate globally and run their illicit businesses from outside the EU.International cooperationis therefore essential to disrupt criminal supply routes and support improvements in both law enforcement and judicial cooperation.
3.1.The European Ports Alliance:strengtheningthe resilience of logistic hubs
Logistic hubs are crucial gateways to enable EU economic prosperity, the transport of goods across the EU and the proper functioning of thesingle market.Portscontribute to around 75% of EU external trade volumes and 31% of EU internal trade volumes.Everyyear, 400 million passengers embark and disembark in EU ports28.However, the strategic role played by logistic hubs makesthem vulnerable todrug smuggling andexploitation by high-risk criminal networksand their enablers, as recognised in the EUdrugsstrategyandactionplan.
As highlightedinthejoint reportprepared byEuropoland theSecurity Steering Committee of the ports of Antwerp, Hamburg/Bremerhaven and Rotterdamon criminal networks in EU ports29,there are manyopportunities for criminal infiltration andusing these ports forillicit shipments. Criminals use a variety of methods to transport drugs via maritime shipping containers. These methods includeswitching to containers that are checked less frequently, using stolen container reference codes (PIN fraud), cloning container registration numbers,and using extraction teams who wait for opportune moments to retrieveashipment. Crucially, these commonmethodsrelyoncorruptionto besuccessfulas criminal networks use port insiders to organise thetransportof containers containing drugs and illicit goods into the EU30.
Criminal networks are quick to adapt their supply routes to less protected or smaller harbours. Strengthening the security of logistic hubs therefore calls fora common EU approachwhere those involved work together in a coordinated way. Effective action to protect the ports starts with aclear assessment of current gaps and weaknesses. The Commission therefore has started aSchengen Thematic Evaluation on drug trafficking in ports. This will result in an evaluation report with best practices in 2023 and a proposal for Council recommendations in early 2024.
In addition, countering drug trafficking – including the downstream disruption of drug trafficking after arrival in the ports – will be part oftwo studies the Commissionhas launched in 2023 onmaritime dataand on thelaw enforcement needs on rail and road transport, the results of which will be expected in 2024.
To implement these and other findings and best practices, the Commission proposes to strengthen the resilience of the ports through aEuropean Ports Alliance. Thiswill require the mobilisation of the customs community as the first line of defence against illegal trade, better law enforcement cooperation to dismantle the criminal networks behind drug trafficking and setting up a public-private partnership to combine efforts to tackle drug trafficking and protect logistic, information technology, human resources, and operational processes against criminal infiltration.
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