Saturday

23rd Sep 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • (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.

Visual Data

The Merkelisation of Europe

Angela Merkel, the EU's most powerful leader, is running for a fourth time in Germany's election on Sunday. But what has changed in Europe over the 12 years of her chancellorship?

News in Brief

  1. Dutch state appeals ban on taking air-polluting measures
  2. May proposes 2-year transition period after Brexit
  3. May to call on EU's 'sense of responsibility'
  4. Catalonia has 'contingency plans' for independence vote
  5. Last German polls confirm Merkel's lead
  6. EU to step up sanctions on North Korea
  7. Tusk calls 'euro summit' in December
  8. Report: May to seek two-year EU transition

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUGermany Stands Ready to Deepen Cooperation With China
  2. World VisionFirst Ever Young People Consultation to Discuss the Much Needed Peace in Europe
  3. European Jewish CongressGermany First Country to Adopt Working Definition of Antisemitism
  4. EU2017EEFour Tax Initiatives to Modernise the EU's Tax System
  5. Dialogue PlatformResponsibility in Practice: Gulen & Islamic Thought
  6. Counter BalanceHuman Rights Concerns Over EIB Loan to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline Project
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina Leads the Global Clean Energy Transition
  8. CES - Silicones EuropeFrom Baking Moulds to Oven Mitts, Silicones Are a Key Ingredient in Kitchens
  9. Martens CentreFor a New Europeanism: How to Put the Motto "Unity in Diversity" Into Practice
  10. Access MBAGet Ahead With an MBA Degree. Top MBA Event in Brussels
  11. Idealist QuarterlyIdealist Quarterly Event: Building Fearless Democracies With Gerald Hensel
  12. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Urges Bigger Global Role for Emerging Economies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEAre We Socially Insured in the Future of Work?
  2. European Jewish CongressFrench Authorities to Root Out "Societal Antisemitism" After Jewish Family Assaulted
  3. European Federation of Local Energy CompaniesClean Energy for All? On 10.10 Top-Level Speakers Present the Clean Energy Package
  4. UNICEFUp to Three Quarters of Children Face Abuse & Exploitation on Mediterranean Migration Routes
  5. Swedish EnterprisesEurope Under Challenge; Recipe for a Competitive EU
  6. European Public Health AllianceCall to International Action to Break Deadlock on Chronic Diseases Crisis
  7. CES - Silicones EuropePropelling the construction revolution with silicones
  8. EU2017EEEU 2018 Budget: A Case of Three Paradoxes
  9. ACCAUS 'Dash for Gas' Could Disrupt Global Gas Markets
  10. Swedish Enterprises“No Time to Lose” Film & Debate on How Business & Politics Can Fight Climate Change
  11. European Free AllianceSave The Date!! 26.09 - Coppieters Awards To... Carme Forcadell
  12. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Grave Concern Over Rise in Antisemitism in Poland