Drug trade funding terrorism in Europe, study reveals

Written by Martin Banks on 5 April 2016 in News

Illicit drug markets remain one of the key threats to EU's security, warns Europol chief.

A new report says that illicit income from the drug trade is helping to fund migrant smuggling and terrorism in Europe.

The report comes in the wake of the recent terrorist atrocity in Brussels which killed 32 people, and the ongoing migrant crisis in Greece and Turkey.

The 2016 EU drug markets report estimates that Europeans spend at least €24bn on illicit drugs each year, making it one of the main profit-generating activities for organised criminals in Europe. 


Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, the EU policy agency, said, "What is clear to us is that illicit drug markets remain one of the key threats to the security of the EU. Efforts to understand them and the key actors involved are essential if we are to make sound policy decisions that will have any lasting impact."

The report was published on Tuesday by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol.

It provides analysis of the EU illicit drug market, covering the trends along the supply chain from production and trafficking to marketing, distribution and consumption. 

It also analyses the considerable costs of these markets for society, including their impact on businesses, government institutions, neighbourhoods, families, individuals and the environment.

It estimates that cannabis accounts for around 38 per cent of the retail market for illicit drugs and is worth more than €9.3bn annually, making it the most widely used drug in Europe.

Some 22 million adults in the EU have used it in the last year and around one per cent of European adults use it on an almost daily basis, increasing the risk of health and social problems. 

While the market is dominated by herbal cannabis grown within the EU, cannabis resin from Morocco has been increasing in potency and may be trafficked to the EU alongside other illicit goods and human beings, a trend potentially exacerbated by instability in North Africa and the Middle East, it says.

The heroin market, according to the report, is the second largest illicit drug market in the EU. It is estimated at €6.8bn annually and is responsible for a significant proportion of drug-related deaths and social costs. Following a period of decline, there are recent signs of increasing availability that may signal increased harms.

A large number of new psychoactive substances are sold openly as 'legal' replacements for illicit drugs, according to the report.

There are no signs of a slowdown in the development of these substances; 100 new substances were reported for the first time in 2015 and the EU early warning system is monitoring over 560.

Presenting the findings, Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship said: "Today's drug business criminals are quick to exploit and harm global flows of transport, goods and people, while posing a threat to public health. 

"They use new technology and the internet, the growth of global trade and commercial infrastructure to perform their criminal activities rapidly across international borders. In addition, the instability in regions neighbouring the EU could have potentially profound effects on the drug market in Europe. 

"This valuable report explores the links to other criminal activities and how the illicit income from the drug trade can fund migrant smuggling and terrorism, and undermine international development efforts."

Alexis Goosdeel, EMCDDA Director, added, "The EU drug market is driven by two simple motives: profit and power. Understanding this, and the wider impacts of drug markets on society, is critical if we are to reduce drug-related harm. This knowledge is essential for the development of new strategies for tackling crime and safeguarding the health, security and prosperity of our citizens."

Further comment came from Wainwright who said, "Illicit drug production and trafficking remains one of the largest and most innovative criminal markets in Europe. As it grows more complex and becomes entwined with other forms of crime, and even terrorism, it represents a key threat to the internal security of the EU. 

"Concerted cross-border law enforcement cooperation is essential in reducing its scale and impact, and this can be achieved through the unique operational capabilities of Europol and other EU instruments."

About the author

Martin Banks is a Brussels-based freelance journalist

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