Member of the European Commission responsible for Home Affairs
EU initiatives to fight organized crime and corruption – A case for increased asset recovery
Speech delivered via video message, FLARE Network conference “Organised crime, corruption and illegal economies: confiscation and social reuse as a European countermeasure”
Brussels, 9 December 2011
Allow me first of all to thank the FLARE Network and Transparency International for organising this important event on the International Anti-corruption Day. Although I cannot be with you in the Hémicycle today, I know that this conference gathered many participants from all over Europe. I am very pleased to speak to you and lend my support to the fight for legality and against organised crime in all its forms.
It is often said, but deserves to be said again: organised crime is intolerable in a Union built on human rights and respect for the rule of law.
That is, of course, why fighting organised crime is at the forefront of EU internal security policy. It is a key element of our 5 year strategic plan, the Stockholm Programme, and of the "EU Internal Security Strategy in Action" Communication recently adopted by the Commission.
Organised crime is above all a profit driven activity. At EU level, our goal therefore remains that crime should not be a profitable business! That is why the Stockholm Programme makes it a priority for the EU to develop a modern and effective policy on confiscation and recovery of criminal assets.
It is difficult to estimate precisely how big profits organised crime creates in our Member States, but one thing is certain: they end up in the wrong hands and any figure is therefore too high!
Confiscation of criminal profits hits criminal groups where it hurts the most: it is known that some criminals prefer to spend time in jail rather than losing all their gains.
But in the EU, we do not use confiscation enough to tackle crime. The overall number of confiscation cases in the Union is limited and the amounts recovered from organised crime modest compared to the estimated revenues of organised criminal groups. Think about it: in the United Kingdom the value of assets recovered in 2009 amounted to approximately €185 million. At the same time, a study by the UK Government estimated that organised criminal revenues in 2006 to be around €18 billion.
We can and should do better than that. It is therefore a good sign that the Member States in the Council in June of this called year for more action, and stressed that confiscation is not merely a legal procedure. It is a sequence of events, a chain that should have no weak links. All the phases of the asset recovery process must work together: tracing the assets, seizing and confiscating them through judicial procedures, storing and managing them so they do not lose their value, and eventually disposing of them in a suitable way.
The EU has done some good work in this area already. Recognising that organised criminal groups increasingly acquire in other EU Member States (and in third countries), several legal acts were adopted since 2001. They seek mainly to help the enforcement of freezing and confiscation orders between Member States.
But much points to the conclusion that the legal framework is still incomplete and insufficient. The Commission therefore has started preparing a new legal initiative - which will be of course based on a thorough impact assessment. Depending on the results of that assessment, I expect to present in 2011 a proposal to strengthen the EU legal framework on confiscation. That proposal will be part of a broad and ambition initiative aimed at protecting the lawful economy. It will also include several initiatives to combat corruption in the EU, and against fraud against EU financial interests.
But having the legislation in place will not be enough. Effective confiscation of criminal assets requires close cooperation and the right institutional setup. That is why the EU decided already in 2007 that Member States should establish centralised Asset Recovery Offices. Today over 20 Member States have Asset Recovery Offices in place, and the Commission recently [in its Internal Security Strategy] sets the ambitious goal of having by 2014 effective Recovery offices across the Union, equipped with all the necessary resources, powers and training.
Finally, we have to prevent criminals from re-acquiring confiscated assets through "front men". I know that in some countries, for example Italy and Spain, confiscated assets are re-used for law enforcement or social purposes. I find those practices very interesting – they could be a model to follow in other Member States.
Let me finish by saying that I welcome the active contribution of civil society organisations such as FLARE in the fight against crime. I look forward to hearing your suggestions and to continue the dialogue.