16 September 2019

“A Europe that protects”- the EUROPOL platform takes action

Stelian Teodorescu

For the 2018-2021 EU policy cycle, Europol uses the name EMPACT (the European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats) as a “brand” to promote the “Joint action days” in the fight against international crimes.

Image source: Mediafax

10 action fields for EMPACT. How things went in 2018

In 2018, the EU member states joined Europol and its institutional partners within some joint fight actions against active organized crimes groups, in the 10 uppermost criminal fields which are included in the European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats (EMPACT). The most important fields are: cybercrime, drug trafficking, facilitation of illegal immigration, organized property crime, trafficking in human beings, excise and MTIC fraud, illicit firearms trafficking, environmental crime, criminal finances and money laundering and document fraud.

Within the same year, Europol has supported the “2019 Join action days”, as part of EU’s policies cycle, through operational coordination actions, information exchanges, data and intelligence checks through operational analyses, as well as in situ assistance. The EMPACT “2018 Joint action days” was only one of a series of joint actions and the first of the new EU 2021 policies cycle. Another successful operations, like “Archimedes 2014”, “Blue Amber 2015”, “Ciconia Alba 2016” and “Dragon 2017”,  are also planned.

During the eight joint cross-border actions developed in 2018, they got the following results: 1.026 initiated investigations, more than 1,4 million euro cash confiscated, 1.137 arrested suspects, 337 human trafficking people identified (including 52 minors), 730 kg of heroine confiscated, 207 confiscated firearms.

Europol’s executive director, Catherine De Bolle, has stated that the “2018 Joint action days” results show the positive effects of the international cooperation.

Also, the European Commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, has underlined that “Security threats today are rapidly evolving and multiplying. Whether it is fighting cyber or organised crime, drugs or firearms trafficking, or terrorism, the only way we can do this effectively is through joint efforts. This is precisely what the intensified cooperation between Member States and Europol has demonstrated over the past year. Europol has been an essential partner in targeted and joint actions on the ground, delivering a Europe that effectively protects its citizens.”

The European Commissioner for the Security Union, Julian King, also stated that: “The most dangerous security threats we face today are cross-border in nature – criminals and terrorists are no respecters of national boundaries. That’s why we need strong and committed cooperation in the EU between all actors, as the excellent results of the EMPACT Joint Action Days show. Europol is a vital part of this cooperation, and I look forward to a similarly successful 2019.”

Herbert Kickl, Austria's Minister of the Interior on behalf of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2018: “This is another example of the outstanding results EU law enforcement can achieve together with Europol and international partners. These operations are also the final highlight of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU, whose motto “a Europe that protects” has been turned into reality.“

Given these circumstances, we must highlight the impact of the Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security (COSI) of the Council of the EU had, by offering strategic advices for the common operation planning and by monitoring their implementation.

September 2019- height of tasks in security checks

Between 5th and 9th of September 2019, at the Europol headquarter from Hague (Holland), it was created a coordination center, dedicated to information exchange between the participatory forces. Consequently, 50 officers from almost all EU member states and the Western Balkans countries, Europol, Frontex, INTERPOL and IPA/2017 (a project that offers permanent support for the investigations and prosecutions and is contributing a lot to the fight against organized crimes in Western Balkans) have intensified the checks in high risk areas, based on information collected and analyzed at the coordination center.

The preparatory phase of the 2019 operations have been developed at the beginning of the year and it involved the organization of several operational meetings and information collection activities, organized by the participatory countries, as well as checks and controls at certain border crossing points. The operations were conducted by the EMPACT- Firearms work group, led by Spain. Europol has coordinated also the development of mobile structures at some countries’ demand, in order to analyze the information in situ.

The “2019 Western Balkans Joint action days” (JAD) has involved 6.758 law enforcement officers: 6.708 field officers and 50 officers at the Operational Center, Europol’s headquarter, from 30 countries, as well as 8 agencies and international organizations. The priorities were: firearms traffic, illegal immigration, document fraud and drugs traffic.

The participatory states were:

-EU member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Sweden, Spain, Great Britain.

- the participatory entities, not EU member states, were: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH), North Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Switzerland, Moldova, US;

-EU agencies: Europol, Frontex;

- institutional partners: INTERPOL, UNODC, SEESAC IPA/2017 Serious crimes’ combat in Western Balkans, PCC-SEE, SELEC.

Therefore, within all JAD operations developed in the fight against organized crimes in Western Balkans, in the first week of September 2019, 214.147 people, vehicles and places were verified, and 175 of them were arrested.

The most relevant examples were: 329 entry refuses; the identification of 164 illegal/clandestine entries, 111 expired visa / accommodation deadlines, 14 visa frauds or abuses when using them, 71 fraud documents cases, 51 firearms discovered (49 of them were identified within the investigations discovered based on information), 895 munition elements.

A conclusion for the future of Western Balkans’ security actions

An effective borders management and fight against illegal migration, ethnical and religious radicalization, frauds, drugs traffic and terrorism will remain the essential priorities for both EU and the Western Balkans entities which are still trying to reach some integration standards in the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. A consolidation of data, intelligence and experience exchange, but also a proper understanding and estimation of their main challenges and consequences in the Western Balkans are asking for some action and estimation mechanisms, as well as some effective cooperation methods between the entities in the region, them and the international community.

Translated by Andreea Soare