Organized Crime in the European Union
The Council Framework Decision of October 24, 2008 (2008/841/JHA), based on the 2000 UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, defines organized crime as "a structured association, established over a period of time, of more than two persons acting in concert with a view to committing offenses to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit." According to Europol investigators, this definition "does not adequately describe the complex and flexible nature of modern organized crime networks" (Socta 2017 report). Finding a common definition of organized crime was the starting point of the debate and, unfortunately, also the end of the debate. No commonly accepted definition has so far been found. The EU's 2008 Framework Decision, which sought to find a compromise definition, has been widely considered a failure. The European Parliament's 2011 resolution asked all individual member states to "make associating with mafias or other criminal rings a punishable crime (...) even without any specific acts of violence or threats" (Corresponds to law 416 bis in the Italian penal code). Yet, no country has followed up on this request and it was not included inside the final report of 2013 by the Special Committee on Organized Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering (CRIM). Even now, laws and punishments vary across the EU countries: Germany and the Netherlands have legislations considered rather lenient, while Denmark and Sweden still have no organized crime law at all.
Of course, organized crime in the European Union does not stop at the Italian mafia. According to the Europol 2017 report, about five thousand organized crime groups are under investigation. Seven out of ten of these operate in more than one country, and they split an illegal market which Transcrime estimates at almost 110 billion euro (that is about 1% of the EU GDP). Europol's 2009 report distinguished particularly dangerous groups as those that are "able to interfere in the repression of law enforcement and its processes through corruption. Beside Italian, Russian and Turkish mafias, investigations and reports highlight the importance of the rise of Albanian clan bosses and the danger of lesser-known groups, for example biker gangs spreading in Northern Europe, and Vietnamese clans active mainly in Eastern Europe. This development is also visible in countries with excellent civic traditions and low levels of crime, as the case of the Syrian mafia in Sweden shows.
The Economic Aspect of Organized Crime
Like companies, organized crime tends to follow opportunities for profit, making their way to the most convenient locations: Northern Europe because they are rich; Eastern Europe because several checks are skipped partly due to widespread corruption among local law enforcement. Also, mafias and criminal organizations end up "shopping" for jurisdictions, meaning that they take advantage of countries where standards are lower and investigations are softer. Following this logic, several organizations have become global players. A study by the Demoskopika research institute based on analysis of documents from Italy's interior ministry and police, parliament's anti-mafia commission and the national anti-mafia task force detailed the international crime syndicate's sources of revenue. Last year, the 'Ndrangheta mafia from southern Italy made more money than Deutsche Bank and McDonald's put together with a turnover of €53bn. That means that they earned the equivalent of 3.5% of Italy's gross domestic product (GDP) last year.
A 341-page report was coordinated by the Joint Research Center of Transnational Crime in Trento, Italy, in partnership with law enforcement authorities in Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. The report “From Illegal Markets to Legitimate Businesses: the Portfolio of Organized Crime in Europe” can be considered to be one of the first assessments of the economics of organized crime in Europe. It states that nearly all of the EU nations had been infiltrated by large scale criminal organizations. Accordingly, Russian/Georgian, Italian and Chinese organized crime syndicates, motorcycle gangs and criminal groups of British, Dutch and Turkish origin are involved in the highest number of illicit markets in Europe. Apart from drugs and human trafficking, organized crime in Europe has infiltrated legitimate businesses used both for income and laundering money from illegal activities. Those businesses are primarily bars and restaurants, construction firms, food, clothing and other wholesale and retail trade products, transportation and real estate.
European Plans and Action
Several EU agencies have been set up to deal with cross-border crime in the EU, including Europol, Eurojust and CEPOL. Particularly Europol’s mandate has been a hotly debated topic since its inception. Voices have been raised in favor of creating a fully-fledged European police force ("the European FBI" scenario). However, proposals to grant Europol executive powers are highly controversial, since any debate on new competencies leads to questions on democratic oversight and civil liberties. In spring 2017, the EU adopted its next 4-year plan for the fight against organized crime. This plan, known as the 'EU policy cycle', will run until 2021. The EU priorities include cybercrime, drugs trafficking, facilitation of illegal immigration into the EU, organized theft and burglary. The progress of the EU’s fight against organized crime is published by the Council of the European Union.
Italy, for obvious reasons, has the most advanced anti-mafia regulations. Even without a final conviction, assets can be permanently confiscated by the state. For particularly serious offenses, there is a "reversal of the burden of proof”; if a suspect fails to demonstrate the legitimacy of his or her money and assets, the state can remove them, regardless of any later conviction or acquittal in court. This preventive measure, introduced in 1982, is a cornerstone of Italian anti-mafia legislation. The corresponding law 646 was named for Pio La Torre, a PCI parliamentary member that Cosa Nostra killed that same year in Palermo.
*The next post on this article series will be: "The Fight Against Organized Crime - Russia"