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Communication on the EU Roadmap to fight Drug Trafficking and Organised Crime - guide

18 October 2023
by eub2 -- last modified 18 October 2023

The European Commission adopted on 18 October an EU Roadmap to step up the fight against drug trafficking and criminal networks, building on the legislative and operational initiatives put forward so far.


What is the EU Roadmap and why is the Commission proposing it?

The size of the threat and its worldwide reach calls for a robust response, both within the EU and at global level. Therefore, the Commission proposes an EU Roadmap to fight drug trafficking and organised crime, by setting out 17 targeted and concrete actions, to enhance the resilience of logistic hubs, dismantle criminal networks, increase prevention efforts, and strengthen cooperation with international partners. These actions will strengthen the ongoing implementation of the existing EU Strategy on Organised Crime and EU Drugs Strategy.

What is the EU Roadmap aiming to achieve and what actions will be put in place?

The impact of criminal networks engaged in illicit activities is felt throughout communities, and economies, and demands a collective, coordinated response from governments, law enforcement, and private actors in key sectors. As such, it requires a multifaceted response, which goes beyond traditional repressive measures. The EU Roadmap sets out actions in four priority areas:

1. Enhancing the resilience of logistical hubs against drug trafficking and criminal infiltration: the Commission will establish a European Ports Alliance to mobilise all relevant actors operating in the ports: from customs to law enforcement, to the private sector, such as shipping companies and other service providers in the ports. The Ports Alliance consists of three pillars:

  • Mobilising the customs authorities in ports against drugs trafficking, strengthening risk management and controls in ports, including through using the Customs Control Equipment Instrument (CCEI) programme and allocating more than 200 million EUR to fund state-of-the-art equipment that can help customs authorities scan containers and check imports for hidden consignments of illicit drugs or drug precursors.
  • Strengthening law enforcement operations in ports by mobilising the actions of the Member States, the Commission, Europol, Eurojust, European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO) and the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).
  • Setting up a Public Private Partnership against drugs smuggling and criminal infiltration to support port authorities and private shipping companies in their role in the fight against drug trafficking and criminal infiltration. 

2. Reinforcing actions to dismantle high risk criminal networks: the Commission will set out to identify those criminal networks posing the highest threat to society and will scale up efforts to tackle organised crime. It will work on providing the framework and necessary tools for law enforcement and judicial authorities to investigate the most harmful networks more effectively across borders, for instance through a network of specialised prosecutors and judges against organised crime, or by facilitating financial and digital investigations.

3. Strengthening actions on prevention of crimes from happening in the first place: the Commission will focus on creating and supporting technical and administrative barriers that reduce the space for criminals to operate and prevent them from infiltrating the legal economy. Furthermore, the Commission will focus on promoting best practices to mitigate factors that encourage crime and recidivism, including on preventing people from ending up in vulnerable situations that may lead them to engage in criminal activity, and take measures to combat the proliferation of designer precursors.

4. International cooperation remains fundamental to develop comprehensive solutions to a transnational threat: the Commission will prioritise cooperation with those countries and regions on main drug supply routes, as well as with key partners. For this reason, the Commission sets out to enhance the support to operational anti-drug trafficking operations in West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, reinforce EU cooperation with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in the fight against organised crime, continue to work together with important partners in the fight against synthetic drugs, and reinforce law enforcement and judicial cooperation to tackle international ‘safe havens'.

What are the threats posed by criminal activities of drug traffickers in the EU?

Organised crime leads to increased violence and instability, which disrupts the safety and security of our neighborhoods. Through money laundering and corruption, criminal networks infiltrate legitimate businesses and erode trust in our institutions.

Drug trafficking is highly lucrative for criminals, as demonstrated by the unprecedented increase of illicit drug available in Europe and the fact that drugs seizures in the EU are hitting record levels. In August 2023, it took only two 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).

As a highly visible consequence of the threat, criminals' global reach and iron grip on drug trafficking supply chains have led to a wave of violence in the streets, with many victims not only among rival gangs themselves, but also among innocent people, such as an 11-year-old girl in Antwerp (Belgium) this January, a 10-year-old boy this August in Nimes (France) and of a 13-year-old boy this September in Stockholm (Sweden), who died as a consequence of drug-related violence. Moreover, it is estimated that in 2021 in the EU, 6 200 people died from drug overdoses.

Recognising the significant harm that organised crime inflicts on our society, we can work together to implement effective strategies and initiatives to counter its influence, protect our communities, and preserve the integrity of our social fabric.

What is the Commission already doing to fight against drug trafficking and organised crime?

The EU response against drugs trafficking and organised crime is set out in the EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime 2021-2025 and the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2025, which outline concrete ongoing policy initiatives, operational actions, and international cooperation.

1. At legislative level, the Commission has already put forward several policy initiatives and legislative proposals to reinforce the EU legislation to fight criminal networks and these include:

  • Going after criminals' money through strengthening of the asset recovery and confiscation Directive to ensure that illicit gotten gains cannot be used to further fund criminal activities and amending existing rules to allow competent authorities to have access to centralised bank account registries to facilitate financial investigations. This is paired with a package of legislative proposals to strengthen the EU's anti-money laundering rules.
  • Reforming the EU Customs Union to strengthen the capacity of customs to stop unsafe or illegal goods, such as drugs (among other strategic goals), from entering the Union, improving cooperation between customs and law enforcement authorities. This will be supported by data-driven risk management and sharing of real-time information. The customs reform proposal also aims to further improve the monitoring of trade flows, data driven risk management, sharing of real-time information and overall cooperation through the setting up of an EU Customs Authority, EU Customs Datahub and a fully-fledged EU analytical capacity.
  • Going after corruption, with the Commission proposing to reinforce the EU rules on combating corruption in May 2023, and issuing the annual Rule of Law reports, with the last one in July 2023.
  • Strengthening law enforcement capabilities with a Police Cooperation Code, which once adopted will improve cross-border operations, provide clear channels and timeframes for exchanging information and gives Europol a stronger role.
  • Strengthening the judicial response against organised crime through amending and improving rules cross-border access to electronic evidence and the work of the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) since 2021.
  • Strengthening the mandate of key actors in the fight against drugs trafficking, with the establishment of the new EU Drugs Agency for 2024, including the development of a European drug alert system to quickly notify national authorities of new dangerous substances entering the market.

2. At operational level, the EU has strengthened its support for the Member States law enforcement authorities:

  • Strengthening the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Crime Threats (EMPACT), cooperation platform of Member States, supported by all EU institutions, bodies and agencies, with reinforced funding.
  • Developing cooperation through the funding of the @ON Network against mafia style organised criminal groups, which supports complex investigations against high-risk criminal networks.
  • Europol continues supporting investigations aiming at dismantling encrypted communication networks such as EncroChat, SkyECC and AN0M and operations such as operation ‘Desert Light' of November 2022, in which a ‘super cartel' of cocaine traffickers was taken down.
  • Supporting the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N), which supports maritime interventions. Its work has already led to the seizure of 327.653 tonnes of cocaine and 667.344 tonnes of cannabis.

3. At international level, the Commission is working towards strengthening cooperation with its international partners:

  • EU cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean will be strengthened through the New Agenda for Relations between the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean, the Declaration of the EU-CELAC Summit of 17-18 July 2023, and the cooperation between the EU and the Latin American Committee on Internal Security (CLASI), which confirm 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 to step up national and regional capabilities to fight organised crime.

What is the European Ports Alliance?

The European Ports Alliance brings together all relevant public and private actors in the fight against drugs smuggling and criminal infiltration of logistic hubs. It mobilises Member States, local authorities, law enforcement authorities including customs, EU Agencies, and private actors operating in the ports with the aim of i) strengthening risk management and implementing more targeted and effective controls in ports including through funding state-of-the-art equipment that can help customs authorities scan containers and other means of transport; ii) strengthening law enforcement operations in ports; iii) setting up a Public Private Partnership helping against drugs smuggling t Drawing from the expertise and experience of public and private actors, the Alliance will promote best practices and due diligence, and put in place coordinated measures to step up efforts to tackle drugs trafficking and protect the logistic hubs from criminal infiltration.

What are precursors?

Drugs precursors are substances used to manufacture illicit drugs. Most precursors also have legitimate commercial uses and are legally used in a wide variety of industrial processes and consumer products, such as medicines, flavourings, and fragrances.

Designer precursors are close chemical relatives of traditional drug precursors, are purpose-made to circumvent the controls and usually do not have any known legitimate use.

How will the Schengen Information System (SIS) be used to fight organised crime?

The exchange of operational information across borders is vital to detect and apprehend criminals. The features of the Schengen Information System - as upgraded in March 2023 - help to ensure that criminals and terrorists do not enter or move within the EU undetected. The renewed SIS includes new categories of alerts, biometrics such as palm prints, finger marks, and DNA records, to allow the correct identification of persons travelling under a false identity, and information about the cars, or other objects, that they are using. New inquiry checks alerts allow authorities to collect targeted information on suspects of serious or organised crime or terrorism.

The EU Roadmap promotes Member States' use of these tools to fight serious and organised crime available to them in the Schengen Information System (SIS). In particular, it is crucial that Member States issue alerts related to members or enablers of high-risk criminal networks in the system and report hits to Europol, whose recently strengthened mandate permits the agency to support Member States in processing data transmitted by third countries or international organisations and may propose that Member States enter information alerts in the SIS.

The use of SIS will be paired with several other actions to dismantle high risk criminal networks:

  • mapping the criminal networks that pose the highest threats to society;
  • establishing a network of specialised prosecutors and judges to dismantle criminal networks to build connections, trust, and overcome practical obstacles for cross-border investigations;
  • promoting and supporting the use of digital and financial investigations;
  • working with Member States, the European Parliament, EU Agencies and bodies and other relevant stakeholders to explore ways to strengthen the legal framework against organised crime and improve its implementation.

What is the Commission doing on the fight against synthetic drugs?

In response to the growing concern over the production and proliferation of synthetic drugs in Europe, the Commission is scaling up its actions against the proliferation of synthetic drugs.  For example with the new EU Drugs Agency, that is set to become operational in July 2024, turning the existing European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction into a fully-fledged agency and strengthening its role. The Agency will carry out health and security threat assessments on synthetic drugs. It 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.

Furthermore, from 2024, the Commission plans to set out innovative ways for speeding up and broadening the existing approach of scheduling (controlling) drug precursors, to stop criminal networks from finding innovative ways of getting the chemicals to make illicit drugs.

The fight against synthetic drugs should be fought globally, to break the trafficking routes of precursors and synthetic drugs. The Commission is therefore pursuing stronger multilateral cooperation, but is also partnering up with key international players, such as the United States, within the US Global Coalition against Synthetic Drug Threats.

Through the EU flagship initiative EMPACT, supported by the Commission, law enforcement authorities continue to investigate and share intelligence on drug production and detection, trafficking routes, and drug trafficking networks' methods.

What prevention measures does the Commission envisage?

The Commission considers crime prevention an integral part of a sustainable response to combating organised crime. The EU's policy on crime prevention focuses on creating technical or administrative barriers that prevent individuals from committing a crime, as well as facilitating exchanges of best practices to mitigate factors that encourage crime. This includes preventing people from ending up in vulnerable situations that may lead them to engage in criminal activity. Prevention is an integral part of the EU's security policy: from drugs, to corruption, to cybercrime, and many other areas.

The EU actions as outlined in the Roadmap will focus on:

  • Promoting and strengthening the administrative response that mobilises other actors than law enforcement and the judiciary, such as local authorities, in the fight against organised crime. It is vital to ensure that adequate procedures are put in place to shut down a business, perform background checks before granting permits, tenders and subsidies, and put in place other barriers, such as inspections that prevent criminals from being able to commit a crime.
  • Promoting measures to prevent the recruitment of children and young people by criminal organisations by engaging local communities, families, schools, the social welfare sector, civil society, law enforcement, the judiciary, prisons authorities and the private sector. The Commission will gather crime prevention practitioners and policymakers for a crime prevention conference in 2024 and present a compilation of best practices on the prevention of recruitment into organised crime.
  • Taking measures to combat the proliferation of designer precursors, close chemical relatives of traditional drug precursors which are purposefully made to circumvent customs controls, through faster and broader scheduling methodology. The Commission may also review the EU Drugs Precursors Regulation and will continue to work with the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and like-minded countries pursuing concrete actions to tackle this phenomenon.
  • Improving public safety and public health in areas affected by the consumption and sale of drugs and by drug-related crime. The Commission will gather law enforcement, health and social professionals and local authorities, including health services in a high-level conference in 2024, with a view to compile best practices. Within EMPACT, joint actions and trainings will be take place based on EMCDDA's European Prevention Curriculum.

Source: European Commission