Drugs in Europe: enhancing law enforcement responses to high-risk organised crime

The 4th international drugs conference was virtually hosted by Europol this year

Delegates from EU and non-EU countries and international organisations attended the 4th annual Drugs in Europe conference, Enhancing law enforcement responses to high-risk organised crime.

The conference focused on Europe’s unprecedented drug situation. As organised crime is increasing, they pose the highest and most diverse risk to EU internal security. Drug trafficking is the cornerstone of the criminal activities of these high-risk organised crime groups and neither the COVID-19 pandemic nor related restrictions have had a decreasing impact on their activities. Europol holds this annual conference to offer a platform for senior law enforcement officials to enhance the situational awareness of drugs and to assess and discuss proper operational future responses.

Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle remarked in her keynote speech: “The fight against drug trafficking is one of the top crime priorities in the European Union and a priority of Europol’s strategy 2020+ which led to the establishment of a dedicated Drugs Unit. We will continue to support EU Member States in their investigations targeting individuals that constitute the highest risk of serious and organised crime threats. Europol contributes to a measurable reduction to the availability of illicit drugs by providing operational and strategic services to law enforcement.”

Five factors that indicate the seriousness of the situation

  1. Supply: the supply of all kinds of drugs is increasing and so are the numbers of substantial seizures. The number of cross-border organised crime investigations supported by Europol has increased between 2018 and 2019. This increasing trend has also continued in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, Europol supported an investigation that dismantled an international drug trafficking network, which was responsible for the annual importation of at least 45 tonnes of cocaine into main European seaports, with profits exceeding €100 million in six months. Recent intelligence indicates significant changes in trends of cocaine-related trafficking, with the EU becoming the leading destination.
  2. High illicit profits: billions of euros in profits from drug trafficking support a vast underground economy that threatens Europeans’ prosperity, particularly in economic downturn situations such as those created by the current pandemic. High-risk organised crime groups are making extensive profits – at least €110 billion a year. Despite comprehensive money laundering legislation in EU Member States, asset-tracing results in terms of confiscations remain at an extremely low level. Of the billions of euros generated by the illicit drug trade in Europe, a low percentage is confiscated and more needs to be done to address this situation.
  3. Drug-related deaths: numbers in Europe are at an all-time high. These mostly affect younger, more vulnerable members of society. This situation looks set to worsen as drug purities increase and an increasing number of hazardous substances reach the market.
  4. Violence: the involvement of organised crime groups in the drug supply chain brings violence and security threats to our societies. Europol sees an increase in the number and quality of violent attacks associated with organised crime and, in particular, drug trafficking in the EU over recent months. Contract killings, shootings, bombings and stabbings are used by drug traffickers to intimidate associates, remove competitors and threaten officials and the public.
  5. Corruption: drug trafficking is an entire criminal industry that largely relies on corruption to function. Eliminating corruption will go a long way in reducing the supply of drugs in the EU.

Europol organised the annual conference for the fourth year in a row to increase the understanding of the latest trends in illicit drug production and trafficking and to agree on bold law enforcement responses to protect the public from the threats posed by illicit drugs. Given the rapid evolution of both crime trends and operational response measures, Europol hosts this drug conference annually.