Tuesday

15th Oct 2019

Feature

The changing face of Europe's mafia

  • European policymakers and law enforcement are struggling to combat an increasingly diverse network of organised crime groups. (Photo: ukhomeoffice)

The landscape of European organised crime is “completely changing”, dominated by groups that are “more powerful and flexible but smaller in terms of organisation”.

So says Ernesto Savona, a professor of criminology and director of Transcrime, a research centre on transnational crime based at universities in Milan and Trento.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • (Photo: Mihail Kurshovski, Trud Daily)

“If you look at the overall picture of organised crime ... you are looking at a complete typology of groups ... small, medium and large, just like normal companies,” he adds.

For a decade Transcrime has been Europe’s de facto think tank dedicated to studying organised crime in the continent.

Its researchers do not use private investigators, but instead rely on "open sources" such as police and government reports and news articles, as well as information taken from seizures. Savona comments that there is “lots of material available”.

It is now on the verge of completing a two-year ‘Organised Crime Portfolio’ project on the business investments held by crime groups across Europe.

The report will be presented in Brussels in late September.

But the research won’t stop there.

The ‘Organised Crime Portfolio’ project is a dry run for a pan-EU research project aimed at gathering information on assets held by crime groups across all 28 EU countries.

Although Savona is tight-lipped on the precise start-date of the project, which he hopes will also be funded by the European Commission, he believes that work will start in the second half of 2015.

Savona says that the intention is to paint a “warm picture” of what organised crime looks like across Europe.

For the moment, the picture is still a partial one. Most of Transcrime’s research is focused on western Europe and Savona admits that more work is needed to assess organised crime in eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Smaller, but more transnational

If crime groups have become smaller in terms of organisational size, they have spread their tentacles across more countries and more activities.

EU law enforcement agency Europol, estimates that just a quarter of Europe’s more than 3,600 organised-crime groups have a main nationality.

In terms of illegal activity, Transcrime estimates that crime groups in just seven European countries – France, Italy, Finland, Ireland, Spain, the UK and the Netherlands - generate around €40 billion per year from drug trafficking, counterfeit goods and sexual exploitation.

Going legitimate

But what is arguably more disturbing, not to mention much harder for law enforcement agencies to trace, is the infiltration of mafia groups in the legitimate business world.

“Trading in the legitimate economy ... is the most relevant effect of organised crime in Europe,” Savona tells this website, describing the way that their money is used to “pollute the legitimate economy”.

Savona claims that crime groups across the EU rake in €150 billion per year from legitimate business interests, although he concedes that this is “a rough estimate”.

So what do organised crime groups do with their ill-gotten gains?

Transcrime’s database has logged more than 550 separate investments across the seven EU countries.

Among the most eye-catching is the operation of Europe’s largest land-fill site in Romania by Sicilian mafia group Cosa Nostra, until it was seized last year, while Camorra provided the catering services for a national embassy in Spain.

But overall a pattern emerges.

“They don’t invest in high-tech industries ... they don’t have the resources or know-how to do this,” says Savona.

Instead, crime groups whether Italian, Russian or Chinese tend to pump their money into construction, bars and restaurants and real estate, while Chinese groups have extensive interests in the clothing sector.

Meanwhile, Spain’s motorcycle gangs tend to own tattoo shops and operate in the private security industry.

Although Italy is the traditional centre of Europe’s organised crime, and Cosa Nostra, Camorra, Apulian, and ‘Ndrangheta still generate more than €10 billion per year, Savona says that their influence is waning.

“Italian groups were very powerful in the 1980s and 90s but they are now much smaller and less powerful,” he says.

Savona hopes that creating an “observatory of organised crime” will make it easier for policy-makers and law enforcement authorities to tackle it.

“We want to have a reliable picture in order to produce risk indicators”.

Governments are still struggling to get their hands on more than a tiny fraction of the profits reaped by organised crime. The UN estimates that a mere 1 percent of criminal proceeds are frozen or confiscated each year.

A new EU directive agreed by MEPs and ministers earlier this year aims to make it easier for governments to seize assets and cash held by organized crime groups. But without a clear picture of what they are looking for, and where it is, they will still be fumbling in the dark.

EU targets profits of organised crime

The European Commission outlined a new set of rules on Monday that could make it easier for law enforcement to freeze and confiscate criminal assets.

Investigation

Free movement of organised crime in Europe

The mafia is often seen as being a traditionally Italian concern, but evidence shows that it might be much closer to home than many Europeans think.

Investigation

Mafia money pollutes the EU economy

Huge amounts of money from criminal activities are funnelled into the legitimate European economy. But little is being done about it at EU or national level.

EU countries to halt arms sales to Turkey

EU states have agreed to stop arms sales to Turkey over its invasion of Syria, marking a nadir in relations with their Nato ally. In response, Ankara mocked the decision as a "joke".

Investigation

EU proposes pesticide ban, but key documents still secret

Time is running out for chlorpyrifos, the pesticide which is a cause of brain damage to human fetuses and newly-born children. The EU Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have both stated approval should not be renewed.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Latest News

  1. EU countries to halt arms sales to Turkey
  2. Nine Catalan separatist leaders given long jail terms
  3. Poland's right-wing ruler wins four more years
  4. EU powerless in new Syrian mayhem
  5. Hungarian opposition wins Budapest in blow to Orban
  6. New Dutch terror bill must not target aid workers
  7. EU proposes pesticide ban, but key documents still secret
  8. Brexit nail-biter and EU nominations This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us