Fighting Organised Crime: New Priorities for Europe

Legal - June 28, 2024

In May 2021, the European Council defined the 10 priorities of the European Union in the fight against organised and unorganised crime for the EMPACT cycle 2022-2025. In 2022, the priorities devised by the European Union led to 9,922 arrests within the member states, the seizure of more than 180 million euro and 62 tonnes of drugs, and the opening of 9,262 investigations. In addition, 4,019 victims of human trafficking were identified and 3,646 migrant smugglers were arrested (source: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/). Interesting numbers, but they certainly cannot be touted as an achievement, especially when one considers the huge volume of business related to human trafficking on the migrant routes to Europe’s Mediterranean coasts. Next year, with the expiry of the EMPACT cycle 2022-2025, the priorities put down on paper by the European chancelleries will necessarily have to be updated, probably following the trend of a profoundly changed international scenario facing completely different challenges. Instability on Europe’s doorstep is opening up new channels of migration and criminal flows, just as opportunities and risks linked to the use of new technologies – first and foremost artificial intelligence, not forgetting cryptocurrencies – are opening up new and diversified investigation scenarios.

Priorities for Europe 2022-25

Let us start by analysing what Europe has set as its priorities in terms of the fight against organised and serious crime for the EMPACT cycle 2022-2025. As already mentioned, these are 10 different priorities that aim to cover all declinations of crime and criminal acts within the European landscape.

It starts with the fight against high-risk criminal networks. The aim here is to identify and eliminate all those criminal networks characterised by the use of violence, firearms, corruption, intimidation and laundering of criminal proceeds through submerged or parallel financial systems. Something that in our country, unfortunately, we have known and fought against for far too long in our fight against different kinds of mafia. A topic for which many European chancelleries could look to the assets proposed by the Italian government at international summits.

An absolutely central theme, especially with many election deadlines approaching in major international scenarios, is the fight against cyber attacks. Unfortunately, the declination of the priority put forward by the European Union does not seem to completely look at international scenarios and the criminal behaviour of some countries towards Western democratic processes. For instance, there is no reference to fake news and foreign interference on social media on the eve of the most important elections. In fact, the focus for this second priority is more on countering individual criminals who organise cyber attacks, with a particular focus on those who offer services of a criminal nature online. A look that should perhaps be extended to the entire system, in this case.

The third and fifth priorities are unfortunately closely related in terms of the phenomena they aim to dismantle. They concern the fight against human trafficking, or rather the dismantling of the criminal networks that thrive on this activity, and the fight against migrant smuggling. In particular, they look at the exploitation of minors and at the whole system of threats to families left behind to which trafficking victims are often subjected. An activity that increasingly also uses cyber channels, especially to recruit new victims. As far as migrants are concerned, an attempt is being made to target the network that acts as a link and facilitator of illegal migration flows along the entire migration route, from the migrants’ places of origin to the European coasts.

The fourth priority concerns a terrible phenomenon that is unfortunately still present even within European borders: the sexual exploitation of children online and offline. In this area, the aim is to combat the production and dissemination of child pornography, with a focus on online exploitation.

The focus is then on drug trafficking and the criminal networks that deal with it. In this sense, also in view of the international flows and the nature of the substances on the European market, there is no distinction between the various narcotics, initiating all-round counter activities. This is a battle that cannot lose strength, especially in relation to the European context.

Fraud, as well as economic and financial crimes are also a priority, not only online, but also in relation to excise duties, intellectual property, counterfeiting of goods or money laundering. These are important elements on which, however, harmonisation of legislation is also necessary, especially for the prosecution of crimes that may involve several member states. A commitment that in the new shape that Europe is taking after the 2024 elections can certainly not be abandoned.

Another priority is that of environmental crime, as well as crimes against property, i.e. robberies and organised theft, also linked to luxury goods (such as vehicles) and to illegal trade in cultural goods, up to firearms trafficking and the supply of false documents, as a cross-cutting element of all other priorities.


The new European set-up and security challenges

The formation of the new European Parliament after the June 2024 elections, with its different dynamics compared to the previous political landscape, will also have to take into account the issues of security and the fight against crime. The demands coming from the peoples of Europe are clear and the chancelleries will also have to take into account what the citizens of Europe are clamouring for. Especially in view of the crises that have erupted on the borders of the European Union with the war in Ukraine, in the Middle East with Gaza, and mainly on the southern front of Europe with immigration across the Mediterranean. The fight against organised crime, with the conclusion of the EMPACT 2022-2025 cycle, will therefore have to see a new set-up and new priorities for action. Naturally, Italy’s task will be to try to make the approach that our country has developed in the fight against the mafia and terrorism prevail. We can talk about what Premier Meloni’s government itself has dubbed the ‘Italian model’. The concept of cooperation between the Member States in the fight against crime within the borders of the European Union cannot be left out. We have to be ready and prepared – also at the level of law enforcement – to face all those threats that may come from criminal networks that now operate on a transnational level. We are no longer dealing with local criminals, but with real multinationals of organised crime. In this way, in addition to legal certainty and punishment – working once again on the harmonisation of the systems of the Member States – even across borders, we must aim to increase the security of the citizens of the European Union. It must be remembered that on these issues Italian legislation represents a real vanguard, especially in the fight against organised crime.

It is therefore quite clear where the priorities for the next EMPACT cycle should be focused on. First and foremost, the commitment among the EU Member States to facilitate the exchange of information between the various national prosecution services must be central. In this regard, one of the proposals put forward by the Italian Government is to standardise the data processing system. This will make it easier to cross-reference information and get to the bottom of the threads woven by criminal networks. The next step can only be the guarantee, on a civil level, of the fulfilment of obligations in any of the States of the Union. We cannot, in fact, think that someone can enjoy different treatment once they have crossed a border. Lastly, one of the points that the Italian government has strongly felt about and brought to the attention of the European Union is the fight against religious fundamentalism and Islamist terrorism. An issue that is also strongly felt by the rest of the European chancelleries and that could mark an important point in the fight against crime for the next EMPACT cycles.