Drug trafficking has grown significantly over the past 50 years and now generates a fifth of all proceeds from organized crime worldwide. This illegal trade has strained governmental institutions and upended the framework of economic relations by upsetting society’s regular routine. While the technical and organizational complexity of drug trafficking methods is constantly evolving, the only thing that never changes is the increasing profitability of this illegal business.
Due to the instability in Europe’s neighboring regions, the war in Ukraine has also increased drug-related activities, and the amount of drugs entering the continent has increased to the point where Europe is about to become a major hub for the production and trafficking of cocaine and other drugs. The EU agencies are paying attention to this problem after warning in a report from May 2022 that Europe is evolving into a major hub for the production and exportation of drugs, particularly cocaine, around the world. Methamphetamine production, supply, and export to other countries have all increased significantly, and its market in Europe has become a growing threat, according to the joint report of Europol and the EMCDDA.
With millions of users and an estimated market value of $11.1 billion in 2020, cocaine is currently the second-most commonly used drug in the European Union after hashish. The problem of cocaine in Europe is being made worse, according to European Union agencies, by the rise in production in South America and the growing importance of Europe as a destination and transit region for cocaine headed to the Middle East and Asia. More than 214 tons of cocaine were seized in Europe in 2020, with Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain accounting for about 75% of this total. Data gathered by EU agencies indicates that these three nations are also responsible for the increased processing of cocaine in Europe.
European agencies have discovered that methamphetamine availability has increased and that its use is gradually spreading throughout a number of European nations. The methamphetamine facilities discovered in Belgium and the Netherlands since 2019 are exceptional in terms of the volume of production and the complexity of distribution because European synthetic drug producers collaborated with Mexican criminal organizations to create production methods and take advantage of the region’s infrastructure.
Statistics show that between 2010 and 2020, the number of methamphetamine seizures in the EU more than doubled, from 3,000 to 6,200, while the amounts seized rose by 477 percent to 2.2 tons in 2020. Aside from other production hubs like Nigeria and Mexico, Europe serves as both the final destination and a transit zone for this drug before it is shipped to Asia and the Pacific. On the other hand, it is important to note that Afghanistan’s growing methamphetamine industry poses a new danger to Europe.
According to Catherine de Boule, Executive Director of Europol, drug trafficking makes up the majority of serious and organized crime in the European Union, and nearly 40% of the internationally active criminal networks reported to Europol are involved in drug trafficking.
The European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction’s director (EMCDDA), Alexis Goosdeel, claimed that Europe has experienced unprecedented levels of drug access, which has, in turn, increased violence, corruption, and deteriorating health issues. The lack of coordinated action within Europe and the lack of cooperation with nations that produce drugs or are on the transit route for drug trafficking are thus the cause of the problem in Europe.
Around 300 tons of cocaine were seized in Europe in 2021 alone, but according to Claire George, deputy spokeswoman for Europol, this represents a very small portion of the drugs coming into the continent. Officials and drug-trafficking analysts are convinced that only 10 to 15 percent, or even less than one percent, of what it is currently entering the European market is due to more sophisticated drug trafficking techniques, such as injecting cocaine into plastic chips, charcoal, or clothing. Meanwhile, because cocaine can sell for twice the wholesale price in the United States in recent years, smugglers have increasingly sought to increase their customer base in booming European markets.
The presence of consumer markets in Europe and the production hubs in South America make it simple to identify the smuggling routes for cocaine, which is currently seen as a significant threat in Europe. The major cocaine markets in Europe are depicted in the chart below. The cocaine market has shifted from southern to northern Europe over the past 20 years, as is well known.
Cocaine detection cases in Europe by country (2000 to 2019)
European authorities acknowledge that it is challenging to keep up with the fight against drug trafficking because criminal gangs are adapting quickly and constantly changing delivery routes, to the point that smaller European ports are already being targeted by the gangs. The aforementioned elements, both separately and collectively, pose significant difficulties for Interpol and the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, two of Europol’s partner organizations.
In fact, a long-running arms race over trafficking techniques has been going on in Europe between drug traffickers and law enforcement. Traffickers are faced with two choices: either they must find new routes or develop new techniques that make their methods more sophisticated as law enforcement develops new strategies or increases its capacity for detection or deterrence. The rise in violence in Europe, which is primarily brought on by increased competition, especially in the drug trafficking industry, coincides with the methods of trafficking becoming more complex.
All of this is happening while Europe’s attention and resources are primarily focused on addressing the security threat posed by Russia, which has lowered Europe’s ability to combat organized crime, including drug, human, and arms trafficking. The problem becomes more pressing when we consider that, in recent years, Ukraine has consistently been one of the most significant nations to witness the growth of international criminal organizations, and that the outbreak of war in this nation gives these organizations more opportunities.