Tuesday

24th Jan 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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.

News in Brief

  1. VW's internal Dieselgate probe not yet done
  2. Israel defies EU policy with huge settlement expansion
  3. Martin Schulz to be candidate for German chancellor
  4. EU commission gives MEPs Dieselgate paper at last moment
  5. EU parliament committee backs EU-Canada deal
  6. UK MPs must vote on Brexit trigger, court rules
  7. Greek island mayors plead for the transfer of migrants
  8. Tzipi Livni cancels Brussels trip amid war crimes probe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsKyrgyzstan: no Justice for Human Rights Defender Azimjan Askarov
  2. Dialogue PlatformThe Influence of Turkish Politics in Europe After the Coup Attempt
  3. World VisionEU Urged to do Better Ahead of Helsinki Conference on Syria
  4. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  5. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  7. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  8. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  9. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  10. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  11. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  12. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism

Latest News

  1. No Turkey-type migrant deal with Libya, says EU commission
  2. EU to Trump: Protectionism is 'doomed to fail'
  3. The French town that swung from socialist to far-right
  4. UK parliament must give Brexit approval, judges rule
  5. 'No indication' VW used EU loans to cheat
  6. Fillon promotes pro-Russia views in Berlin
  7. Dutch PM tells people to 'act normal, or go away'
  8. EU to step up effort against Russian and Islamist propaganda

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  2. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  3. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey
  4. Zero Waste EuropePublic Support Needed to Promote Zero Waste in More Municipalities
  5. Belgrade Security ForumEU Cannot Afford to Ignore the Western Balkans as Populism Surges
  6. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for an Investigation on the Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey
  7. World VisionAmid EU Talks on Migration, Children on the Move Remain Forgotten and Unprotected
  8. Centre Maurits CoppietersAlex Salmond Receives Coppieters Award for His Service to Scotland and Europe
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsStrong Support for Hamburg Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
  10. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Use Bioenergy Coming From Forests in a Sustainable Way?
  11. Counter BalanceReport Reveals Corrupt but Legal Practices in Development Finance
  12. Swedish EnterprisesMEPs and Business Representatives Debate on the Future of the EU at Winter Mingle