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European Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs
A strategic EU approach in the fight against organised crime
European Parliament Special Committee on organised crime, corruption and anti-money laundering (CRIM) /Brussels
4 June 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,
I’m very pleased to be here, to mark the beginning of the work of the CRIM Committee. It shows the European Parliament's strong engagement in the fight against organised crime, an important part of my portfolio as Commissioner.
Today, I am mainly here to listen, to understand better what topics you wish to focus on in the coming months, and to reassure you that my services stand ready to provide any input and expertise you would need. But to introduce the debate, let me say a few words about the threat that organised crime poses to the EU, and about the steps the Commission is taking to address it.
The own initiative report adopted by this house last October rightly stresses that organised crime has become one of the biggest threats to Europe's society and values. Organised crime affects the ability of individuals, communities and businesses to enjoy the rights that underpin our democratic systems. It taps into the finances of public authorities, and undermines there their ability to deliver services to citizens. And it harms the confidence needed - not least in these difficult economic times - in the EU rules-based economy and its legitimacy.
It is hard to precisely quantify the cost and impact of organised crime for our societies. With the adoption of the Commission's second EU Action Plan on Crime Statistics earlier this year, we hope to make some progress on this in the coming years. But there can be no doubt that the cost is enormous, and that decisive action is needed to address it – at EU, Member State and local level.
I will limit myself to a few striking examples: money laundering, according to the IMF, amounts to something between 800 and 1600 billion US dollars a year throughout the world. That represents the GDP of a whole country like Poland or, on the upper limit, Italy. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA) estimates that 1.5 million EU citizens consume cocaine on a regular basis: this is more than the combined population of Cyprus and Malta. A number of specialised bodies estimate that 120 billion Euros are lost every-year to corruption – equivalent to one percent (1%) of the EU GDP.
It is also clear that organised crime groups increasingly act both across internal and external EU borders, in different criminal markets, and that organised crime impacts on many different sectors of the EU economy. No single Member State is able to respond to these threats on its own.
The EU therefore has an important and increasing responsibility to establish common policies – notably legislation - and to promote practical measures in order to improve police and judicial cooperation as well as border management. Internal EU policies alone, however, do not suffice: in a global market global crime is often facilitated by economic weaknesses and political instabilities that afflict other regions of the world, not least neighbouring regions of the EU. This external dimension means that the EU should integrate – even more systematically than it has done so far - security in strategic partnerships and political dialogues with third countries and regional organisations.
Let me say a few words about what our approach to organised crime has been so far, and point to some of the initiatives we plan.
Our approach has sought to be strategic, based on common priorities and a clear division of activities and tasks. This vision and shared agenda is laid down in the Stockholm Programme, the multiannual policy blueprint for the area of Freedom, Security and Justice. It was further elaborated in the Commission's Internal Security Strategy Communication in Action of November 2010 which, as you know, the Commission is following up through annual implementation reports. (We are currently preparing the second implementation report). The Member States have in parallel laid down joint operational priorities for law enforcement work in what is known as the EU Policy Cycle on Organised Crime (the "Harmony Cycle"), which are now being implemented, with the help of EU Agencies.
The Commission's work on organised crime falls, basically, in four parts.
1) We have, first of all, taken action against some types of crime that are serious, increasing in scale and lucrative for organised crime groups – namely trafficking in human beings and cybercrime.
Trafficking in human beings is a very serious crime and a gross violation of human rights which requires a forceful response at EU level. The Directive adopted last year lays down minimum sanctions, brings robust provisions on the protection of and unconditional assistance to victims, and confirms that victims should not be punished for petty crimes they have been forced to commit. It will soon be complemented with an integrated strategy which will address the challenges in the EU for the next five years, setting concrete and practical priorities and steps. The strategy will guide the work of the EU Anti-Trafficking Co-ordinator who took office on 1 March 2011 and who will continue working to co-ordinate the Commission's and EU Member State efforts to prevent and fight trafficking in human beings, to raise awareness and work with third countries on preventing trafficking.
To protect persons and businesses from cybercrime and the criminal use of the internet efforts are needed from EU institutions, Member States, agencies and private sector actors. The Directive, adopted last year, on child sexual exploitation addresses problems such as child pornography. The Commission's proposed Directive on attacks against information systems, which the LIBE Committee is now debating, seeks to respond to, for example, organised attacks on banking IT systems. But the most important development is, perhaps, the decision to establish, by 2013, an EU cybercrime centre within EUROPOL to strengthen criminal intelligence sharing and analysis for law enforcement across the EU. The success of that Centre will depend on resources and on Member States cooperating effectively.
2) Secondly, we have taken a number of steps to attack what drives organised and much serious, crime - namely the profit incentive. A Parliament's own initiative report pointed out that if we want to weaken criminal networks, we must first and foremost tackle their financial motive and gains.
This is why the Commission proposed a directive this spring to make it easier for Member States to freeze and confiscate criminal wealth. That Directive will fill gaps which have benefited criminals until now. It will, in particular: lay down clearer and more efficient rules on extended confiscation, strengthen rules on confiscation where assets have been transferred from the suspect to a third party, allow confiscation where a criminal conviction is not possible because the suspect is deceased, permanently ill or has fled (limited non-conviction based confiscation) and require Member States to manage frozen assets so that they do not lose economic value before they are eventually confiscated. I am counting on the firm support of this Committee to bring that proposal forward.
Last year, in June, the Commission took another step in that direction, with the adoption of an anti-corruption package. It includes a new mechanism to report and assess Member States' efforts to fight corruption – a tool much used by organised crime. The Commission stressed in that package that the implementation in practice of existing anti-corruption rules is uneven across the EU, and generally insufficient. The future EU anti-corruption Report will therefore seek to encourage more political commitment at national level to tackle corruption. The Commission will issue the first such Report in 2013 and every two years after that. I hope that there will be some synergies between the Commission's work in this area and the activities of this committee. Corruption-related issues are always highly sensitive. In order to produce an effective analysis from the Commission side, the reality is that we need political backing.
All help and support that the CRIM Committee can provide via the experts you invite, your contacts in national parliaments and reports you write will be welcome from my side.
The Commission has also, together with Member States, worked to update global standards for the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing in the OECD Financial Action Task Force. The new version of the Task Force's Forty Recommendations, agreed earlier this year, include for example stronger language on the transparency of legal persons. Only if authorities know who the owners of companies and trusts are, can they follow the money flows, and reveal their criminal origin or purpose. Drawing on the new Action Task Force recommendations, my colleague Commissioner Barnier is preparing a reform of the EU's Third Anti-Money Laundering Directive in co-operation with my services. At the same time, we are assessing whether there is a need for an EU Directive on criminal sanctions against money laundering. I would be interested in the views of this Committee on this.
3) Thirdly, another key element in the fight against organised crime is the access to, and exchange of, information between law enforcement authorities in the EU and beyond. Information is simply vital in order to identify, prosecute and dismantle criminal networks, and of course to identify and protect the victims.
As for access to information, international travel is an important feature of organised crime. For that reason, and to lay down common EU data protection standards, the Commission proposed a Directive in February 2011 on the use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data to assess the criminal risks connected with travel routes. This is particularly relevant for drugs and human trafficking, but also for terrorism and other serious forms of crime.
On the exchange of information, it is crucial to fully exploit Europol's potential. The Commission intends to propose a revision of Europol's legal basis later this year. One of the aims will be to make the agency more effective as a hub for pooling information and assisting cross-border investigations, while fully safeguarding individuals' fundamental rights.
But EUROPOL is part of a wider picture. Although the exchange of information between Member States has intensified over the years, it has developed in the absence of an overall plan. Building on the Commission's communication from 2010, giving an overview of all existing information exchange instruments, we are preparing an initiative – the European Information Exchange Model (EIXM) - to consolidate all the existing tools and channels into a more coherent system. We aim to bring out a Communication on this early next year.
Last but not least, law enforcement services need sufficient funding and training to face the threat of organised crime. We therefore plan to propose a new European Training Scheme for law enforcement later this year covering, amongst other things, EU tools for cross border cooperation and specialised investigative techniques to fight organised crime. To support and help implement the new training policy, we also intend to propose a revision of the legal basis of CEPOL, the European Police College. I see great potential in building skills, trust and networks through a stronger EU training policy, and look forward to discussing it with this Committee.
As for funding, negotiations on the EU's multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020 are well underway. In the field of internal security, the Commission wants a fund that meets the needs of police cooperation, counter-terrorism and border security. We hope to have more flexible mechanisms to disburse financial resources and a simplification of management rules. In this spirit, EU agencies can help us implement certain tasks decided at EU level. Here, the Parliament's support will be crucial.
I hope this was a useful introduction. I look forward to a dialogue, starting today, on what issues you would like us to work on together in the coming months.