From: FRIDE – A European Think Tank for Global Action
By Thomas Renard (Egmont – Royal Institute for International Relations)
Organised crime is a major security challenge.
Recognising the importance of this challenge, the European Union (EU) has acquired more competences in the area of justice and home affairs (JHA) over the last years and has become more active in the fight against organised crime, not only internally but also externally. Although the EU remains a modest player at the global level, it has become an interlocutor, and sometimes even a partner, in terms of combating various dimensions of organised crime, including drug-trafficking. This paper focuses specifically on the EU’s cooperation with its strategic partners on international crime-related issues. First, it describes organised crime as a security challenge, particularly to Europe. It then reviews the EU’s strategic approach to cope with this challenge, and how it is implemented. Subsequently, the paper looks at the EU’s cooperation with its strategic partners against organised crime, with a view to assessing the general effectiveness of these partnerships. This paper concludes that many strategic partnerships are still under-delivering, but most of them hold large potential for further cooperation.
Looking at the map of global flows, it is quite clear that Europe is a major hub for organised crime. There are an estimated 3,600 organised crime groups active in the EU. A third of these are involved in drug-trafficking, which is on the rise in Europe. Demand is growing (cocaine users have doubled over the last decade), while traffickers are diversifying routes and multiplying their activities. Europe is also a great producer of certain drugs, mostly synthetic ones. The challenge of drug-trafficking is compounded by increasing alleged links between cocaine trafficking to Europe and the financing of terrorist groups in the Sahel, which pose a threat to regional and European stability. Counterfeiting is another flourishing activity in Europe, controlled mostly by Chinese groups. Within this area, cigarette smuggling is increasingly popular, as a low risk high profit activity, controlled mostly by groups from China and the former Soviet Union. Illegal immigration and the trafficking in human beings are two additional major problems affecting the EU.
The transatlantic partnership is extremely important to curbing organised crime. The EU’s anti-fraud agency, OLAF, has cooperated on several occasions with its US counterpart, notably on cigarettes smuggling. The US Secret Services and Europol have regularly cooperated to dismantle euro-counterfeiting print-shops. Some of these operations are jointly run in third countries, with the support of local authorities such as in Colombia in 2012. There are many contacts between EU and US agencies, including between liaison officers. EU liaison officers in the US hold regular meetings with the US Secret Services (2005 agreement), the US Postal Inspection Service (2007 agreement), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Department of Treasury and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Experts and officers exchange information and participate in joint trainings and workshops. There are also exchanges of information on ongoing initiatives in the field in order better to coordinate efforts, such as in the case of assistance projects in West Africa.