SOCTA 2017

The European Union and Europol

The European Union (EU) is a unique economic and political partnership between 28 European countries.i It was created in 1958 as the European Economic Community with the aim to foster economic cooperation among its six founding partners. Since then, the number of EU Member States enlarged and the economic union developed into an organisation covering a wide range of policy areas. The official name changed to the European Union in 1993 to reflect the broader cooperation on which members’ partnership is based. EU law is built on a series of treaties, voluntarily and democratically agreed by all Members. These agreements set out the EU’s goals in its main areas of activity. There are three main institutions involved in EU legislation: the European Parliament, which represents the EU’s citizens and its members are directly elected by them; the Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of the Member States who share the presidency on a rotating basis. The third institution is the European Commission, which represents the interests of the Union as a whole.

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 20091 , Europol, or the European Police Office, 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. To give its partners deeper insights into the crimes they are tackling, Europol produces regular assessments that offer comprehensive, forward-looking analyses of crime and terrorism in the EU.

The SOCTA 2017

The SOCTA 2017 is the most comprehensive study of serious and organised crime in the EU ever undertaken. It is the outcome of a detailed analysis of the threat of serious and organised crime facing the EU providing information for practitioners, decision-makers and the wider public. As a threat assessment, the SOCTA is a forward-looking document that assesses shifts in the serious and organised crime landscape. The SOCTA 2017 sets out current and anticipated developments across the spectrum of serious and organised crime, identifies the key criminal groups and individuals active in criminal activities across the EU and describes the factors in the wider environment that shape serious and organised crime in the EU. The SOCTA 2017 also describes the dynamics that drive organised crime in the age of technology and reflects on how OCGs and individual criminal entrepreneurs seek to exploit the latest technological innovations.

The SOCTA is the product of close cooperation between Europol, the law enforcement authorities of the Member States and third parties such as EU agencies, international organisations and countries outside the EU with strategic or operational agreements with Europol. The involvement of these crucial stakeholders is also reflected in the SOCTA’s role as the cornerstone of the EU Policy Cycle for Serious and Organised Crime in the EU.

The EU Policy Cycle for Serious and Organised Crime in the EU

The Policy Cycle provides a robust framework that brings together the law enforcement authorities of the Member States, Europol and a wide range of multi-disciplinary partners in the fight against serious and organised crime. The Policy Cycle translates strategic objectives at the European level into concrete operational actions against serious and organised crime.

The Policy Cycle is a methodology adopted by the European Union in 2010 to address the most significant criminal threats facing the EU. Each cycle lasts four years and optimises coordination and cooperation on the crime priorities agreed by all Member States. During the cycle, all concerned services and stakeholders, at national and EU level, are invited to allocate resources and mutually reinforce efforts. Emerging threats are also monitored so that they can be effectively addressed. Relying on the analytical findings of the SOCTA 2017, the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers of the EU will decide on the priorities in the fight against serious and organised crime for the second full Policy Cycle from 2018 to 2021. These priorities will determine the operational work carried out in the framework of the Policy Cycle for the next four years. The crime priorities agreed at European level in the context of the Policy Cycle are reflected in operational activities at Member State level.

The SOCTA Methodology

As part of an iterative process, the SOCTA Methodology has been further developed and refined by experts at Europol and from the law enforcement authorities of the Member States. The SOCTA Methodology allows Europol to understand and assess serious and organised crime holistically. The SOCTA analyses and describes criminal markets and crime areas in the EU; the OCGs or individual criminals carrying out these criminal activities; as well as the factors in the broader environment that shape the nature of serious and organised crime in the EU. Using a mixed methods approach of qualitative and quantitative analysis techniques and a set of clearly defined indicators, Europol is able to identify and specify the most threatening criminal phenomena in the EU. Europol arrives at the recommended priorities for the fight against serious and organised crime for the Policy Cycle based on this Methodology. The SOCTA Methodology ensures transparency and reliability providing decision-makers with a solid basis for their deliberations. The SOCTA Methodology is a public document and can be accessed online.2

Data and sources

The findings of the SOCTA 2017 are the outcome of detailed analysis of intelligence gathered as part of the largest data collection on serious and organised crime ever undertaken in the EU. Member States, cooperation partners outside the EU and institutional partners contributed more than 2,300 questionnaires on crime areas and OCGs. The amount of data provided for the SOCTA 2017 has more than doubled compared to the SOCTA 2013.

In addition, Europol relied heavily on the operational intelligence held in its Analytical Workfile on Serious and Organised Crime (AWF SOC) to provide a thorough and extensive analysis of the criminal threats facing the EU. Where appropriate, the data collected through questionnaires and available in Europol’s databases were complemented by information from open sources.

The SOCTA 2017 is the most
comprehensive study of
serious and organised crime in
the EU ever undertaken.

  1. i. The Member States of the EU are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom. footnote i
  1. Council Decision of 6 April 2009 establishing the European Police Office (Europol) (2009/371/JHA), accessible at, footnote 1
  1. Council Document 12159/12, Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) - Methodology (04/07/2012), accessible at, footnote 1