During the first few days of December 2019, over 150 delegates from EU Member States, third partner countries and nine international organisations gathered at Europol’s headquarters for the 3rd international conference on drugs in Europe.
The conference focused on the worsening drug problem in Europe, which is expanding in both scale and complexity as supply increases across all types of narcotics.
Trends discussed at the conference
• Organised crime groups: There are more than 5,000 identified criminal groups operating in the EU in 2019 and new types of organised crime groups continue to emerge.
• Scale of the drugs market: The drugs market is thought to be the most significant criminal market in the EU, with more than 35% of active criminal groups dealing in the production, trafficking, distribution or selling of drugs.
• Supply and trafficking: Europol has detected a definite increase in the supply and traffic of drugs, with the EU being not only a hub for the production of synthetic drugs but also a key market for cocaine. One of the most popular methods used by smugglers to traffic cocaine into the EU is shipping containers.
• Violence: Violence arising from confrontations between criminal groups is increasing.
• Terrorism: There’s clear evidence, outside of the EU, that the revenue generated by some organised crime groups involved in drug trafficking funds terrorist activities.
• Deaths: Drug-related deaths in Europe primarily affect the younger and most vulnerable members of society.
• Asset recovery: Despite comprehensive legislation on money laundering in EU Member States, the number of assets and proceeds successfully confiscated remains extremely low. Only 1% of the billions of euros generated from illegal drug sales in Europe gets confiscated and more needs to be done to address this situation. There is, therefore, a growing number of criminal groups with significant profits, which they can use to finance other illegal activities and infiltrate legitimate business structures.
Response from law enforcement agencies
Law enforcement must address these developments and invest heavily in drug-related investigations in Europe. This response must include improved orientation towards the criminals most likely to be involved with organised crime in the EU and beyond.
Europol’s 2020+ strategy aims to make its operational services available to investigations being carried out by EU Member States, to improve the quality of information stored on its databases and ensure responsive support when required.
The EU’s strategy on organised crime
During the conference, delegates debated the need for an EU-led strategy on organised crime and recommended that it should aim to address the following:
• prioritise operational law enforcement efforts against high-risk organised crime groups in the EU by focusing on high-value targets as selected by the Member States with the support of Europol.
• improve handling of communications encryption and other new technology-related methods exploited by organised crime groups.
• increase operational cooperation with South American and other countries relevant to the EU as an essential tool for dealing with both general drug trafficking and the cocaine trade in specific cases.
• address inconsistencies in the legal framework and working processes used to investigate drug trafficking and other international issues relating to organised crime in the EU.
• place more emphasis on the confiscation of criminal assets.