Wednesday

19th Sep 2018

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.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us