Press remarks by Vice-President Schinas on EU Strategies to tackle Organised Crime and fight Trafficking in Human Beings

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC) i, gepubliceerd op woensdag 14 april 2021.

When we presented our Security Union strategy last year, we committed to stepping up the EU's work against organised crime. We have already made strides since then with the adoption of a new EU Agenda and Action Plan on Drugs and an Action Plan on firearms trafficking but today we are taking a look at the big picture.

Serious and organised crime touches the lives of Europeans in unprecedented ways. It is destructive, pervasive and complex.

We're talking about the internet scams that rob people of their identities or life savings.

We're talking about the organised exploitation of children.

About the illegal movement of firearms, risking more of the kind of attacks we have seen across European cities.

About the organised gangs that operate their appalling trade in human misery.

About the trade in illegal drugs that harms our communities and our health.

Or the traffic in cultural goods, chipping away at our heritage and used to fund terrorist activities.

All of these crimes often generate enormous proceeds. And all of these crimes are run by groups operating too easily across borders. Their business models thrive on the lack of coordination between states.

And they continue to adapt and evolve their methods, as shown by their rapid adaptation to the coronavirus pandemic, for example through the increase in counterfeit medical products and online and cyber-dependent crime. We have already detected attempted scam sales of over 1 billion vaccine doses.

The only way to effectively fight against cross-border organised crime is through consistent, European-level action. Which is why today we are coming with the first EU Strategy on organised crime since the Lisbon Treaty.

This strategy comes at the same time as the latest report from Europol identifying a number of high priority crime areas that the operational response in the EU should focus on and follows on from the Council's decision earlier this year to implement the EU Policy Cycle for organised and serious crimes (EMPACT) as a permanent instrument.

And with this Strategy we are setting the stage for the next five years of EU policy.

Firstly, by giving an extra boost to law enforcement and judicial cooperation.

  • One of the most critical contributions we can make to protecting our citizens is through helping those responsible for security to work well together.
  • Which is why today we are presenting a detailed approach to strengthen EMPACT, the structure that since 2010 brings together all relevant European and national authorities to fight organised crime.
  • We will also propose a modern rulebook to help law enforcement across the EU work better together, in the form of a new EU Police Cooperation Code.
  • We can rely on the strong support of the reinforced Europol within the EU but organised crime does not stop at the EU's borders either, so today we are also proposing to start negotiating a cooperation agreement with Interpol.

Secondly, we are taking a targeted approach to specific priority crimes.

  • For instance, we will place a renewed focus on tackling cybercrime, building on the work of the European Cybercrime Centre at Europol and proposing new legislation to tackle child sexual abuse online.
  • The targeted approach will also include new EU rules against environmental crimes, and against counterfeiting, notably of medical products.
  • And to counter the scourge of the trade in cultural goods, the Commission will, as a first step set up a network of cultural heritage experts that Member States will be able to rely on under the EMPACT framework to support their investigations. In a second step, we will present the first every EU action plan on the trafficking of cultural goods.
  • A particularly heinous form of organised crime is trafficking in human beings. Given the grave and specific nature of this crime, we are today presenting a standalone strategy on combatting trafficking in human beings, which Ylva will present to you in more detail.
  • When it comes to trafficking, we will use a three-pronged approach, using legislation, policy and operational support and funding in tandem to reduce demand, break criminal business, and empower victims of this abominable crime.

Thirdly, we will help make sure that crime does not pay. As I said earlier, these are crimes that generate huge profits.

  • Criminal revenues in the nine main criminal markets in the European Union amounted to €139 billion in 2019. We're talking about 1% of the EU's GDP here.
  • To tackle organised crime, we therefore have to go after the money. To do this, we will propose to revise the EU rules on confiscating criminal profits, develop the EU anti-money laundering rules, promote the early launch of financial investigations and assess the existing EU anti-corruption rules.

Lastly, we will help keep law enforcement fit for the digital age.

  • As our lives and activities have moved online more than ever, the footprints of crime are also increasingly digital.
  • This means our law enforcement agencies need to be able to access digital evidence investigate effectively, whether it is terrorism, organised crime, child sexual exploitation, cybercrime, drug trafficking, money laundering or other offences.
  • Member States tell us that 85% of all criminal investigations require access to some form of electronic evidence, including access to communications metadata.
  • We all remember the Bataclan attack in Paris back in November 2015: data initially retrieved from a mobile phone found in a bin nearby was instrumental to identify the perpetrators.
  • This issue of data retention is politically sensitive and complex matter. We need to find proportionate measures that respond to law enforcement and judiciary needs in a way that is operationally useful, technically possible and legally sound, including by fully respecting fundamental rights. To chart the way forward, the Commission will consult Member States by the end of June on possible options.
  • We will also by next year propose a way forward to allow for a lawful access to encrypted information in the context of criminal investigations and prosecutions that would also protect privacy and security and the confidentiality of communications.

I will now hand the floor to Ylva to go into some of these actions in more detail.

But allow me to conclude by saying that what we are doing today with this Strategy is setting the stage for the next five years of bringing more organised criminals to justice and saving more victims from these heinous crimes.

The threat is serious and the challenge significant. But together we have the ability to make a difference. Today's Strategy will hit these criminals them where it hurts the most, by undermining their business model which thrives on a lack of coordination between states.