Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to warmly thank the Director of Europol, Mr. Rob Wainwright, for his excellent hospitality during my first official visit to Europol, here in The Hague.
I hope you all understand how much importance I attach to this visit; Europol is indispensible for Europe and for my work as Commissioner in charge of migration and security.
I have now seen first-hand the impressive work that takes place in the headquarters of Europol. Thanks to this work, we are able to uncover, disrupt, and dismantle criminal networks across Europe and beyond.
We should also not forget the work that the Agency is doing in other areas to protect European citizens.
For example, Europol is very active in 'checking the web' to detect illegal content and counter radicalisation efforts.
Europol plays and will continue to play an important role in the fight against terrorism. In fact, and in light of the recent attacks in Paris and Copenhagen and the counter-terrorism operations in Belgium, we need to strengthen this role.
Also, the exchange of information on illegal firearms is crucial to prevent as much as possible attacks.
So, exchange of information is of great importance. That is why I am in favour of setting up a European counter-terrorism centre that will support and improve the exchange of information.
Moreover, Europol’s role will be highlighted and supported in the upcoming European Agenda on Security.
I am also particularly pleased to be able to personally witness the official launch of a very important initiative: the Joint Operational Team (JOT) MARE or "JOT MARE".
This dedicated maritime intelligence centre, hosted and supported by Europol, has great potential: it will reinforce our actions against smugglers; against the ruthless criminals who facilitate irregular migration to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
We all know that today's situation in the Mediterranean is particularly worrying. We are confronted with an unprecedented increase of people embarking on dangerous journeys to escape wars, seeking international protection or simply looking for a better life. To put it in numbers, over 220.000 migrants entered Europe in 2014 compared to 60.000 in 2013.
And unfortunately, in many of these journeys we also witnessed the tragic loss of lives: according to estimates, in 2014 there were more than 3000 deaths; while in 2015 there have already been more than 1000 deaths.
Therefore, doing more and better to counter smuggling is a priority for the European Commissionand it will also be one of the main pillars of the European Agenda on Migration that we will adopt in May this year.
So the JOT MARE initiative is, indeed, a concrete example of how the Commission, the Agencies and the Member States can, together, do more and better to counter migrant smuggling.
Thirteen Member States - Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom - are participating directly in JOT MARE. Close cooperation between border guard and police authorities inside the Member States, as well as with Europol, Frontex and Interpol, will be the key for the success of this operation.
For example, Frontex is currently monitoring in the framework of the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) several third country ports and about a dozen large vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, which might be used for smuggling migrants. For this purpose, Frontex closely cooperates with the European Maritime Safety Agency and the EU Satellite Centre, providing information to the national coordination centres for border surveillance in the Member States.
The information collected in the framework of EUROSUR as well from the Frontex Joint Operations, is essential for Europol and JOT MARE to better understand and analyse the routes and methods used by organised crime groups.
I would like to stress that JOT MARE is not an isolated initiative. It is part of a broader multidisciplinary cooperation effort among Member States, supported by Europol and Frontex, to tackle serious organised crime.
In this regard, let me also highlight some positive results from the Greek operation 'Daedalus'. Just last week, and with the support of Europol, operation Daedalus led to the arrest and dismantling of a multinational criminal group suspected of facilitating the entry of irregular migrants.
Further investigations are ongoing but it appears that this criminal group had collected millions of Euros (at least 7.5 million) from smuggling and related criminal activities.
So as you can see, we have many important activities in place. But, of course, as I said before, there is always more that we can do.
Needless to say, and in the spirit of today’s initiative, we will continue to encourage close cooperation among all national and European stakeholders, in order to pursue further our common objectives and to deliver concrete results.