Europe: Drug trafficking, organized crime increasing by “an order of magnitude”

8 May 2023
At INTERPOL’s 50th European Regional Conference, delegates have gathered to discuss common crime threats from drug trafficking to cybercrime.

OHRID, North Macedonia - Strengthening international police cooperation to counter the rapidly escalating threat posed by organized crime networks was the key focus of INTERPOL’s 50th European Regional Conference.

The three-day (8-10 May) conference brings together more than 140 participants from 53 countries in Europe and beyond to discuss the most pressing crime issues facing the region.

The conference takes place in Ohrid, North Macedonia, which itself marks 30 years as an INTERPOL member country this year.

“These past 30 years, through our membership in the world's largest police organization, have witnessed our commitment and willingness to be engaged in global police cooperation,” said Oliver Spasovski, Minister of Interior of the Republic of North Macedonia, in remarks during the conference’s opening ceremony.

“With the establishment of the global INTERPOL I-24/7 communication system, our country was among the first to connect with this global police family, to exchange information between members and the General Secretariat, as well as directly access global criminal databases,” the Minister added.

Unprecedented scale

Fueled by historic levels of drug trafficking, organized crime groups are increasingly posing a direct threat to state authority in many countries, and there is evidence that levels of violence related to these criminal networks is also increasing.

“Organized crime is a top concern,” said INTERPOL President Ahmed Naser al-Raisi in the conference’s opening ceremony. “These transnational crimes not only threaten the safety and security of the region, but also have a spillover effect on the rest of the world.”

Last month, INTERPOL announced its largest ever firearms trafficking operations, which saw more than 14,000 suspects arrested across Central and South America, and an unprecedented USD 5.7 billion in illegal narcotics seized.

“Over the last five years, [drug] trafficking and consumption have increased by an order of magnitude, with Europe one of the main transit and destination markets,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock.

“We continue to see record seizures at European borders and ports, and a corresponding rise in violent crime, corruption and money laundering of unprecedented scale,” added Secretary General Stock.

The global scale of many organized crime networks, often spanning multiple continents, has underlined that international cooperation through INTERPOL is often the only means for police in Europe and other regions to bring fugitives to justice or gather crucial intelligence.


European crime landscape

Beyond drug trafficking, the results of INTERPOL’s 2022 Global Crime Trend report, which surveyed police across the Organization’s 195-country membership, show that money laundering and cyber or cyber-enabled crimes also top European law enforcement’s list of concerns.

Money laundering ranked second among the crime trends most frequently indicated by member countries in the region as posing a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ threat, with financial fraud also ranking very high.

The report notes that the use of online tools by criminals to perpetrate financial fraud schemes has also rapidly expanded in recent years, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Especially concerning, 76 per cent of police respondents from Europe expect online child sexual exploitation and abuse to increase or increase significantly in the next three to five years.

The report notes that the demand for livestreaming abuse has steadily increased in recent years, likely intensifying during the pandemic. While live distance child abuse most often take place in Southeast Asia, cases in the European Union have also recently been detected.

Keeping Europe safe

Founded in the heart of Europe – in Vienna – during the region’s interwar period 100 years ago, INTERPOL’s history is closely intertwined with that of Europe.

Established in a 1920s context of geopolitical upheaval and concerns of rising international crime, the Organization’s founding representatives agreed that only through collaboration could police combat transnational crime threats – a common goal shared throughout periods of political or economic tension.

Later, in one of the Organization’s darkest chapters, the Nazis assumed control of the International Criminal Police Commission – as INTERPOL was then called – after deposing its President. In 1946, Belgium spearheaded INTERPOL’s rebuilding in the new postwar era.

Today, European member countries remain global leaders in their use of and contribution to INTERPOL capabilities – and this activity is quickly growing. With regards to INTERPOL databases, European member countries contribute more records, undertake more searches and – crucially – receive more hits than any other region.

New historical peaks for records, searches and hits in INTERPOL databases from European member countries were reached in 2022. In the past year alone, searches of INTERPOL databases by European law enforcement have risen by nearly a third.

The figures underscore the fundamental place INTERPOL capabilities occupy in European countries’ approaches to keeping their communities safe.