Organised crime is a threat to European citizens, businesses, state institutions as well as the economy as a whole. Criminals easily operate across borders, which creates a need for consistent European–level action. The EU continuously adapts its response in relation to the growing complexity of the situation, including the development of specialised EU agencies, such as Europol, Eurojust and CEPOL.
In April 2021 the European Commission adopted the EU Strategy to tackle organised crime for the period 2021-2025. The Strategy sets out priority work strands and actions to tackle the organisation and business model of criminal networks. The strategy is aimed at boosting law enforcement and judicial cooperation, disrupting organised crime structures and tackling high priority crimes, eliminating the profits generated by organised crime and making law enforcement and the judiciary fit for the digital age.
Trafficking in human beings is a highly profitable crime that brings enormous profit to criminals while incurring a tremendous cost to society.
The EU has been coordinating activities to counter firearms trafficking for several years, but new threats have emerged that demand new actions.
The EU is taking strategic and operational measures to reduce drug supply and demand by working closely with EU countries and other partners.
Financial investigations are an essential tool of a modern and effective response to criminal threats including terrorism financing.
Counterfeiting, infringements of intellectual property rights, and fake products constitute a serious threat to national economies, as well as to the health and safety of EU citizens.
Confiscation and asset recovery are a strategic priority in the EU's fight against organised crime. Substantial efforts have been made to better trace and confiscate the proceeds of organised crime.
Trafficking in human beings
Trafficking in human beings for whatever purpose – sexual or labour exploitation – and the sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, are despicable crimes affecting the most vulnerable citizens. Preventing and fighting them is a top EU priority. Therefore, the Commission has proposed new rules for tougher action against criminals responsible for child sexual abuse and trafficking, as well as better assistance for victims.
In April 2021, the European Commission adopted a dedicated EU Strategy on Combating Trafficking in human beings 2021-2025 to:
- identify and stop trafficking early on
- go after criminals
- protect the victims and help them rebuild their lives
The reality of cybercrime
Large-scale attacks against information systems and various other forms of cybercrime, such as the creation and spread of malware, hacking to steal sensitive personal or industry data, or denial of service attacks, are subject to rapidly evolving technological developments.
The EU's responses to such crimes are equally innovative and flexible, ranging from support for cross-border cyber-investigations and training of police to legislative measures. A dedicated European Cybercrime Centre within Europol started operation in January 2013.
Going after criminals' money
Modern financial turmoil highlights the prominence of financial crime, including tax fraud, identity theft, money laundering and outright corruption. The ratification of the United Nations' Convention against Corruption has been a further step towards a more coherent EU anti-corruption policy. Nevertheless, more needs to be done to ensure effective cooperation between EU States' authorities, in particular on preventing crime by effectively freezing, confiscating and recovering proceeds of crime. Our action also entails promoting EU-wide standards on financial investigations, which includes making more frequent use of joint investigation teams.
Counterfeiting and infringements of intellectual property rights are becoming increasingly widespread. They now include commodity goods and pharmaceuticals, which not only hurt legitimate commercial interests, but also put the health and safety of European consumers at risk. This profitable business is generating income that can compete with drugs and firearms trafficking, but at a much lower risk.
The EU’s action to fight drugs is closely connected to the fight against organised crime and to the high level protection of health. Organised crime groups make considerable profits from trafficking illegal drugs (up to EUR 230 billion a year).
To contribute to countering this threat, the EU has developed a comprehensive Drugs Strategy, which is implemented through an EU Action Plan that covers drug supply and demand reduction, coordination between EU States, information and research on the drugs problem and cooperation with non-EU countries. A dedicated EU pact to combat international drug trafficking, with a special focus on disrupting cocaine and heroin routes, was adopted in June 2010.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) provides the EU and its States with factual overviews of the European drugs problem and a solid evidence base to support the drugs debate.
The EU also increasingly cooperates on crime trends that dominate the political agenda, such as fraud or trafficking in cultural goods. Environmental crime deserves particular attention due to its harmful effects on biodiversity and on the environment, health and social cohesion within the EU and in third countries. The Commission is reviewing the EU Waste Shipments Regulation and the Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking as well as the Environmental Crime Directive.
How can the EU contribute to the fight against organised crime?
Operational activities, such as pursuing and prosecuting criminals, remain the responsibility of EU countries. The Commission’s objective is to assist EU countries in fighting organised crime more effectively. The EU's action extends from crime prevention to law enforcement and is based on various tools, such as:
- legislative measures harmonising rules concerning offences in relation to a criminal organisation
- gathering of reliable crime statistics
- funding of European projects or specialist networks
Modern organised crime requires a multi-disciplinary approach to effectively prevent and counter it. Therefore, the EU has developed the so-called "Administrative approach", which can best be described as a combination of tools at administrative level to prevent organised crime from infiltrating the public sector, the economy or key parts of the public administration. Preventing such infiltration is equally important as fighting organised crime with the tools of the criminal justice system. Some EU States are fairly advanced in implementing this new approach, while others only recently discovered it. In order to further develop and implement the approach EU-wide, the Commission facilitated the establishment of a network of informal contact points for exchanging best practices. Europol has offered its infrastructure to exchange administrative information between EU States at a more operational level.