Fight against organised crime [Archived]

The issue of organised crime has, since the 2004 Madrid bombings and the 2005 London attacks, taken a back seat to the overriding priority of the fight against terrorism. However, drugs and human trafficking are still policy priorities.

Organised crime covers a range of criminal activities such as fraud, arms and drug trafficking, smuggling of radioactive and nuclear materials, trafficking in human beings, money laundering and financial crime. 

Since 2004, measures to combat organised crime have been subsumed into anti-terrorism policy, as many of the steps taken against terrorist attacks also cover old-fashioned criminal activities. This dossier will concentrate on non-terrorist criminal activities. For a detailed analysis of anti-terrorism measures see our separate Linksdossier. See also EURACTIV report  on urgent measures following the July 7 attacks in London.

The Hague programme 2005-2010 aims for closer co-operation between member states in justice and security. Key areas are fighting terrorism and organised crime through police and judicial co-operation, information sharing and border control. (See further Linksdossier).

The EU has set up various bodies and structures to fight organised crime:

  • Europol: the EU's own criminal intelligence agency, set up in 1992 by the 
    Europol convention
    to co-ordinate law enforcement activity throughout the Union and operate international bilateral co-operation agreements
  • Eurojust: a unit of national prosecutors and magistrates;
  • European Judicial Network: a network of ‘points of contact’, intermediaries intended to assist in judicial co-operation between Member States;
  • European Forum on Organised Crime Prevention, a forum involving the business community, researchers and civil society to discuss the relevance and coherence of initiatives to tackle organised crime;
  • EU Crime Prevention Network, which consists of National Representatives designated by each Member State plus substitutes and crime prevention contact points within academia or umbrella organisations.

Police and judicial cooperation

Lack of co-operation between member states had been the main hurdle in fighting organised cross-border crime but since 2004, the situation has greatly improved. The Hague programme introduced the ‘principle of availability’ whereby all law enforcement agencies should have access to information held by any other member state as and when required. 

International and domestic

While there are well established European criminal organisations with their own specialities (Italy – mafia, Holland – drugs production; Poland – money laundering, Lithuania – counterfeiting), organised crime is becoming more international. Chinese and Russian and Albanian groups are increasingly operating in the EU in multi-crime activities. The EU is also cooperating in international initiatives such as the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.

Human trafficking

One of the priorities of the UK Presidency (June – Dec 2005), is to develop an action plan against people trafficking in the EU. In 2003 the Commission set up an experts group on trafficking in human beings: building on the work of this group, the Commission will present a communication on the issue before the end of 2005.


According to Europol, ‘drug production and trafficking remain the most common forms of transnational organised crime in the EU’. The EU has up to two million problem drug users. In October 2004, the Commission presented its evaluation of the 2000-2004 drugs strategy which found that a multidisciplinary approach to drugs had been adopted in most member states but that more data on the effectiveness of policies was needed.

A new 2005-2012 Council drugs strategy has been adopted along with a 2005-2008 action plan. It focuses equally on demand reduction and supply reduction i.e. prevention, treatment, and eradication of drug production and trafficking.

Financial crime

Money laundering and credit card fraud continue to increase in the EU. Two successive EU directives (the third is in the pipeline) have imposed duties on professionals to report any suspicious financial transactions made by their clients. Bodies covered include banks, accountants, lawyers and casinos (see Money laundering Linksdossier). Initiatives to fight fraud are continuing at EU level through the 2004-2007 fraud prevention action plan (see finance fraud links dossier).

Other initiatives

Recent specific initiatives to improve cross-border co-operation include:

  • European arrest warrant
  • Proposed European evidence warrant
  • Recognition by all EU courts of previous convictions from other member states
  • Proposal to increase powers of hot pursuit
  • SIS III database of stolen vehicles, persons on the run, lost or stolen passports 
  • Bank fund transfer regulations (see EURACTIV 26 July 2005)
  • Data retention.

Civil liberties concerns

Many civil liberties and human rights organisations are very concerned that the raft of measures taken to fight terrorism are incrementally eating away at the freedoms of law-abiding citizens and the safeguards of those accused of not only terrorist but other offences. 

In its 2004 report, Europol identifies a diversification of organised crime groups away from single specialities to multi-crime. It sees a concentration on low risk, high profit crime, such as human trafficking, smuggling, drugs. To combat human trafficking, Europol advocates harmonisation of EU asylum and visa laws and a uniform format for all visas and passports.

Civil liberties group Statewatch has warned that measures brought in to combat terrorism in particular amount to a large increase in the level of surveillance over the whole population. In a submission to the EU network of experts on fundamental rights, it said: "There is no longer a balance between freedoms and liberties on the one hand and the demands of security on the other. The demands of security, the law enforcement and internal security agencies are dominant and emergency powers are becoming the norm."

Again on civil liberties, the European Criminal Bar Association has warned that the European arrest warrant, "sacrifices essential safeguards and the rights of accused persons." In Germany, the legislation implementing the scheme has recently been held to be contrary to fundamental freedom principles of the German constitution (see EURACTIV 19 July).

There are signs of progress on drug use, says the 2004 annual report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Drug related deaths are down as is drug-related HIV infection. This reflects the declining use of heroin. However the use of cocaine and new synthetic drugs appears to be rising.

The Council of Europe sees trafficking in human beings as a major problem in Europe. In May 2005, it finalised a Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and envisages a monitoring mechanism. However, the effectiveness of any such convention depends on the level of member state commitment.

  • Many of the measures contained in the anti-terrorism action plan, to be in place by December 2005, will also apply to organised criminal activites. 
  • The Council will issue conclusions on human trafficking strategy in October 2005.
  • Implementation of the EU drugs action plan will be reviewed in October 2005.


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