On 6 and 7 December, 125 delegates from EU Member States, third parties and 11 international organisations gathered at Europol’s headquarters for the second annual conference of ‘Drugs in Europe: a bold law enforcement response’. The delegates discussed the latest trends in illicit drug trafficking and agreed on bold law enforcement responses to protect the public from the threats posed by illicit drugs.
The number of organised crime groups and the supply of illegal drugs are increasing. Around 35% of the 5 000 organised crime groups active in the EU on an international level are involved in the production, trafficking or distribution of illegal drugs. The organised crime groups involved in the drugs trade are highly poly-criminal. Some 65% of them are simultaneously involved in other criminal activities such as the trade in counterfeit goods, money laundering, trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling. The market for illegal drugs is the largest criminal market in the EU and is conservatively estimated to generate around EUR 24 billion each year.
“The drugs trade is expanding in scale and complexity. With the production of cocaine and heroin on the rise, and distribution platforms such as Darknet marketplaces expanding, the illegal drugs trade is a European challenge that can only be countered together. That’s why a coordinated response by the European Union and its Member States is needed, to prevent further people losing their lives to this increasing threat”, said Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle
Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos added: "This second annual conference held by Europol is an important initiative giving greater visibility and focus to our law enforcement efforts in the area of drugs. Top-level organised drug crime and trafficking remain a serious threat and an important challenge to security in the EU, and all of us must step up our efforts to tackle it — Member States, EU institutions and agencies, as well as third countries and organisations, including in the private sector. The fight against the threats and dangers of drugs is a continuous priority for the European Commission and for me personally."
During the conference the delegates endorsed the following conclusions:
- The number of organised crime groups and the supply of illegal drugs are increasing. These phenomena constitute a growing threat to the internal security and public health of the European Union and its Member States, who should ensure adequate resources to combat them;
- The illegal supply of drugs is a catalyst for top-level organised crime groups. It forms the most lucrative part of their profit-generating activities which are also linked to violence, corruption, money laundering, exploitation of people, trafficking of firearms and other forms of serious crimes. There is a need for a coordinated response by the EU and its Member States to the increasing organised crime and drugs trafficking;
- The organised crime groups posing the highest risk are becoming more transnational. They conduct cross-border activities both inside and outside the European Union. The law enforcement authorities of the EU Member States need to enhance the exchange of information, operational cooperation and coordination of activities. Europol's services have a key role when organising and developing these functions;
- The top-level organised crime groups are becoming more poly-criminal in nature. Their illegal activities are rapidly evolving. In addition to investigations on illegal services and commodities law enforcement authorities should focus operational activities on individuals and groups which constitute the highest threat risk of serious and organised crime to the EU. The identification of high value targets, planning and implementation of operational activities should be done in cooperation with Europol who must have appropriate resources to provide financial support to the Member States and to cover the costs of the demanding cross-border investigations;
- The investigations on cross-border drug trafficking and organised crime demand timely availability of, among other things, the latest technology. Europol’s functions should be enhanced in the development and production of its forensic and surveillance services for the benefit of the EU Member States’ relevant law enforcement authorities;
- Since organised crime affects all aspects of society there is a need to emphasise the importance of the development and implementation of comprehensive asset recovery legislation to effectively prevent these phenomena;
- To meet the challenges of the increasing drugs trafficking and organised crime a (informal) European Network for the Heads of Central Organised and Drug Crime Investigation Services has been established in order to enhance cooperation at both tactical and strategic levels, design common actions and pursue a holistic approach.
- The majority of synthetic drugs is produced in the EU and its production is continuously rising.
Europol’s support in the fight against the drug trade
Europol is the EU’s law enforcement agency and assists the Member States in their fight against serious international crime and terrorism. Established as an EU agency in 2009, Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, is at the heart of the European security architecture and offers a unique range of services. Europol is a support centre for law enforcement operations, a hub for information on criminal activities as well as a centre for law enforcement expertise. Analysis is at the core of Europol’s activities.
Europol supports the Member States in the fight against illegal drugs with a team of experienced specialists and analysts based in the European Serious and Organised Crime Centre. They provide operational, coordination and analysis support to investigating officers in the Member States. A large share of the information flowing to Europol from EU law enforcement authorities concerns drug-related investigations and operations.