EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime & EU Strategy on combatting Trafficking in Human Beings – Actions on combatting Trafficking in Human Beings – Questions and Answers

Source: Organised Crime & Trafficking in Human beings: Q&A (

What is the Commission presenting today? 

The Commission is presenting today a Strategy to tackle Organised Crime in order to better respond to the threat of organised crime groups and break their business models. The Commission is also putting forward a Strategy on combatting Trafficking in Human Beings aimed at reducing demand, breaking the business model of traffickers and protecting, assisting and empowering victims. The two strategies are closely related as trafficking in human beings is itself an organised crime. Alongside these strategies, the Commission is adopting a recommendation to the Council to open negotiations with Interpol on an EU-Interpol cooperation agreement in order to allow EU agencies to exchange up-to-date information on criminals and crimes with Interpol.  

A new EU Strategy on organised crime 

Why are you proposing a Strategy on Organised Crime now?  

Despite progress made by Member States over the years in this area, the threat posed by organised crime groups remains high as they are constantly adjusting their ‘modi operandi’, using new technologies and seizing opportunities to make illicit profits. The coronavirus pandemic illustrated the agility of organised crime groups in adapting their operations to changes in their environment. As reported by Europol, criminals have exploited the health crisis to sell counterfeit medical products (such as vaccines, test kits and personal protective equipment) and to engage in cyber-related attacks, online scams, and other criminal activities online. The volatile economic situation resulting from the pandemic is also increasing the risks of organised crime infiltrating society and the legal economy, for instance taking over weakened companies, and exploiting new possibilities for corruption and money laundering. The aim of the Strategy is to step up the EU’s action against organised crime, better tackle criminal activities and infiltration methods, protect the sectors at risk, and adapt to the latest developments, including in the digital world.  

What are the main actions under the Strategy?  

A summary of the main actions is available at the end of this MEMO.  

What are the main threats organised crime poses to the security of Europeans? 

Criminal revenues in the 9 main criminal markets in the European Union (illicit drugs, trafficking in human beings, migrant smuggling, fraud, environmental crime, illicit firearms, illicit tobacco, cybercrime activities and organised property crime) amounted to €139 billion in 2019, corresponding to 1% of the Union’s Gross Domestic Product. The latest Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment report by Europol shows that organised crimes groups are increasingly resorting to violence and are increasingly involved in money laundering and corruption activities. Over 80% of criminal networks are involved in the trafficking in illicit drugs, organised property crime, excise fraud, trafficking in human beings, online and other frauds or migrant smuggling. Drugs trafficking dominates the organised crime landscape in the EU in term of number of criminals involved (38% of criminal groups in the EU) and profits generated. The threat from cyber-dependent crime has been increasing over the last years when it comes to the number and sophistication of attacks reported. Migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings remain key activities for organised crime groups. The overall number of incidents of organised property crime remains high, especially for domestic burglaries with more than 1 million cases a year. As part of excise fraud, illicit tobacco products are increasingly produced in the EU. 

What will be done to effectively disrupt organised crime structures?   

According to the 2021 EU Serious and Organised Threat Assessment report by Europol, 43% of organised crime groups are structured around a core group, and 40% are hierarchically structured. The strategy emphasises that the focus of law enforcement investigations should not stop at seizing illegal items or arresting low-level criminals, but target those actors and networks which present higher risks for the EU’s security. The strategy will promote operational cooperation against organised crime groups through the EU funded @ON Network and encourage Member States and Europol to work together on “High-Value Targets”: suspected members of criminal organisations posing a particularly high risk. The Commission will also promote the exchange of best practices in this area where some Member States have already established national structures or specialised bodies focused on tackling organised crime structures. Finally, the Commission proposes a number of measures in order to allow Member States to use the European Multidisciplinary Platform on Organised Crime (EMPACT) to its full potential. EMPACT was created in 2010 and is delivering results: in 2019 alone, it led to 8,000 arrests, helped safeguard more than 1,400 victims of trafficking in human beings and child sexual abuse, and prevent €400 million in fraud affecting the interests of the EU. The new measures will build on this successful approach, possibly also through new legal proposals.  

How will the Commission make sure that crime does not pay?  

Tackling criminal finances is crucial to uncover criminal activities, to deter crime, and to prevent infiltration in the legal economy and society. Despite the development of EU rules on anti-money laundering and asset recovery, only a minor share of money laundering activities is detected, and only 1% of criminal assets is confiscated in the EU. The Commission is preparing legislative proposals to reinforce and develop the EU Anti-Money Laundering Framework. The Commission will also propose in 2022 a revision of the Confiscation and asset recovery framework to expand the scope of criminal offences covered, ensure effective management and social reuse of confiscated assets and compensation of victims of crime and reinforce the capacity of Asset Recovery Offices.  

How will the Commission provide law enforcement with the tools and skills to fight organised crime online? 

The Strategy sets out actions to develop technological solutions and training activities to improve the tools and skills for law enforcement to conduct investigations in the digital world. To do so, the European Cybercrime Training and Education Group will develop and deliver training to improve law enforcement experts’ and first responders’ IT forensics and IT crime expertise. The Commission will also fund a network of law enforcement authorities, academia and private parties that will produce new technological tools, avoiding license costs for law enforcement authorities, under the coordination of the Europol Innovation Lab. In order to make it easier and faster for police and judicial authorities to access the electronic evidence they need in their investigations, while ensuring data protection safeguards, the Strategy also encourages swift Member State participation in the e-Evidence Digital Exchange System which allows the secure electronic communication between judicial authorities in cross-border cases. 

What is the Commission doing to fight corruption? 

Corruption is a central part of the modi operandi of organised crime groups, used by more than 60% of criminal networks active in the EU. In the past years, important progress has been made on legislation on anti-money launderingpublic procurementwhistle-blower protection and asset recovery.  

The EU Rule of Law Report highlights the fight against corruption as a fundamental pillar for upholding the rule of law. Corruption also has an impact on the business environment, which is why anti-corruption is also an important component of the Recovery and Resilience Plans. In the framework of the European Semester, the fight against corruption is among the topics addressed in country-specific recommendations. Further EU measures are in place for the protection of financial interests, including the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office for crimes against the EU budget.  

The Commission also organises regular anti-corruption experience-sharing workshops across the EU to support Member States, and provides support via the Internal Security Fund and the European Structural and Investment Funds.  

On the global stage, the EU will join efforts also in the framework of the Special Session of the UN General Assembly planned for June 2021 to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation.  

As part of the Organised Crime Strategy, the Commission will also assess whether the existing EU anti-corruption rules to ensure that they cover all relevant corruption-related offences and are up to date with evolving criminal practices.  

How will the proposed cooperation agreement with Interpol help better protect Europeans? 

The Commission proposes to negotiate a cooperation agreement with Interpol to better support Member States in preventing and combatting organised crime and terrorism and protecting Europeans. Organised crime and terrorism often have links beyond the territory of the Union. Once in place, the agreement will enable EU agencies to efficiently exchange up-to-date information on criminals and crimes with Interpol, which is the largest global law enforcement cooperation organisation. The agreement should regulate the cooperation between Europol and Interpol, taking into account the latest developments in combatting cross-border and transnational serious, organised crime, current operational needs and Europol’s mandate. It should provide the necessary safeguards and guarantees to authorise controlled access to Interpol databases* and to achieve an efficient exchange of information with Interpol to help address existing information gaps of EU law enforcement authorities. Following the Commission’s proposal, it is now for the Council to authorise the opening of negotiations with Interpol, which will allow the Commission to start the negotiations of the cooperation agreement.    

What will be the aim of the new Police Cooperation Code? 

The level of police cooperation between EU countries varies greatly. The EU ‘Police Cooperation Code’ will address the fragmentation of the legal framework for cross-border police cooperation. At present, this framework consists of a patchwork of various EU tools and multi-lateral cooperation agreements. The Code will develop and consolidate different existing EU instruments into one modern and coherent EU legal text, making sure law enforcement across the EU can work together better under a modern rulebook and allowing Member States to move away from occasional law enforcement cooperation towards systematic partnerships.   

EU strategy on Trafficking in Human Beings 

Why is the Commission proposing a new EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings? 

Significant progress has been made in the EU action against trafficking in human beings since the adoption of the EU Anti-trafficking Directive in 2011. However, the crime has evolved and new risks have arisen. Traffickers are constantly adapting their business model, moving their activities online; with the demand for exploitation online expected to continue. As highlighted by Europol, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to create the conditions for increased exploitation by human traffickers. The Strategy puts forward actions to identify and stop trafficking early on, to go after criminals by turning trafficking from a low-risk and high-return crime to high-risk and low-return crime, and to protect the victims and help them rebuild their lives. In addition to further supporting Member States in implementing the Anti-trafficking Directive, the Commission will launch a study for its evaluation to see whether it is still fit for its purpose. 

What are the main actions under the Strategy?  

A summary of the main actions is available at the end of this MEMO.  

Who are the victims of trafficking in human beings today? 

According to the latest available data, there were 14 145 victims reported for 2017 and 2018 within the European Union. The actual number of victims is likely to be significantly higher, as many victims remain undetected. Trafficking in human beings is a European issue: nearly half of the victims of trafficking within the European Union are EU nationals. A significant number of these are trafficked within their own Member State. Trafficking especially affects women and girls, who form the majority of all victims trafficked in the EU (72%) and nearly all of the victims trafficked for sexual exploitation (92%). Men were the majority of victims (68%) trafficked for labour exploitation. Nearly a quarter of all victims of trafficking are children (22%), most of them EU citizens and trafficked for sexual exploitation. Traffickers prey on social inequalities as well as on the economic and social vulnerability of people. Children in migration, and in particular unaccompanied migrant children, are particularly vulnerable to traffickers. LGBTIQ people, persons with disabilities and people from ethnic minority backgrounds, such as those belonging to marginalised Roma communities, vulnerable women and girls in migration can be particularly at risk of trafficking.  

What will the Strategy change for women and children? 

Data shows that women and children are particularly at risk of falling victims to trafficking in human beings, especially for sexual exploitation. The Strategy proposes a set of actions for attending to their specific needs and to ensure that they receive tailor made assistance and support, as well as safe accommodation and protection. These include support for shelters for victims of trafficking, including specialised facilities for women and children, promoting gender-sensitive and child rights based training for practitioners likely to come into contact with the victims, and facilitate re-integration and victim empowerment programmes, as well as enhancing dialogues between Member States and relevant Internet and technology companies.  

What will the Commission do to address victims of trafficking working in specific economic sectors?  

Labour exploitation concerns 15% of all victims of trafficking within the EU, with an increasing number of victims remaining undetected. The agricultural sector is particularly affected by labour exploitation, due to the large number of workers employed on a non-regular basis, through third parties or as illegal workers. The Strategy calls on Member States to intensify efforts and carry out joint inspections in high-risk sectors to identify victims and their exploiters and to improve detection.  

The Commission will also support responsible management of global supply chains of products and human rights due diligence. To do so, the Commission will put forward a legislative proposal on sustainable corporate governance and will provide guidance on due diligence against forced labour and guide socially responsible public procurement.  

Finally, the Commission will also assess how to strengthen the effectiveness of the Employers’ Sanctions Directive in prohibiting the employment of irregularly staying non-EU nationals, including victims of trafficking in human beings. The Commission will further support anti-trafficking efforts through a campaign targeting high-risk sectors and high-risk environments. 

Will the Commission amend the Anti-trafficking Directive?  

The Commission has monitored and supported the transposition and implementation of the EU Anti-trafficking Directive in the Member States in many ways, including through regular progress reports every second year. There is room for improvement in the transposition of the directive by Member States as regards the protection, assistance and support measures to victims, including child victims. Despite prevention initiatives across Europe, the demand for exploitation has not been reduced. The numbers of prosecutions and convictions of traffickers remain low. The minimum rules established for victims may not take sufficiently into account their actual needs. For this reason, the Commission will evaluate the Directive and, based on the outcome of this evaluation, consider revising the Directive if necessary. 

Will the Commission propose EU rules on criminalising the users of exploitation? What will this entail?  

Trafficking in human beings is a demand and profit driven crime. Addressing the root causes that make people more vulnerable to trafficking is indispensable, but not sufficient.   

To discourage demand, the EU Anti-trafficking Directive invites the Member States to consider criminalising the knowing use of services exploited from trafficked persons. The Commission has encouraged those Member States who have not yet done so to criminalise the knowing use of services exacted from victims of trafficking in human beings.  

As part of the evaluation of the Anti-trafficking Directive, the Commission will assess the possibility of having minimum EU rules criminalising the use of exploited services of trafficking victims.  

What is the Commission proposing to address the international dimension of trafficking in human beings?  

In 2020, more than 120 countries reported victims from more than 140 different countries of origin. The Commission, with the support of the European External Action Service, will step up cooperation with non-EU countries of origin and transit of victims as well as with international and regional partners. These efforts will be supported using existing EU foreign policy instruments, such as dedicated human rights and security dialogues, systematic engagement of EU delegations, and closer cooperation with Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations where relevant and applicable. The Commission will continue promoting sustainable development goals, including human rights and employment standards and will consider whether current international standards against trafficking in human beings could be better reflected in trade agreements. 

Will the Commission adopt a separate EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling for the period 2021 to 2025? What will it entail? 

Migrant smuggling is often linked with other forms of organised crime, such as trafficking in human beings. In the context of the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, the Commission will put forward an EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling. It will contribute to disrupting traffickers’ business in moving victims for exploitation to Europe and strengthen further operational information exchange and cooperation among EU Member States and EU law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute migrant smuggling networks.  

Main actions under the Strategy to tackle Organised Crime: 

Boosting law enforcement and judicial cooperation  

The Commission will:  

  • Propose to strengthen the Prüm framework (Q4 2021), to create an EU Police Cooperation Code (Q4 2021), and to revise EU rules on Advanced Passenger Information (Q1 2022); 
  • Establish a collaboration platform for Joint Investigation Teams (Q4 2021); 
  • Establish the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) as the EU flagship instrument to fight organised and serious international crime (2023), and significantly reinforce its funding for 2021-2027; 
  • Start negotiations for agreements on cooperation between Eurojust and non-EU countries, step up negotiations on cooperation between Europol and non-EU countries, and reinforce – jointly with the European External Action Service –international cooperation with non-EU countries and international organisations. 

The European Parliament and the Council are invited to:  

  • Advance in the negotiations on the revision of the Europol mandate with the aim of reaching a swift agreement. 

The Council is invited to: 

  • Adopt the recommendation to open the negotiations for a cooperation agreement with Interpol. 

Effective investigations 

The Commission will:  

  • Propose amendments to EU rules on Environmental Crime (Q4 2021) and strengthen provisions on enforcement against illegal shipments of waste (Q2 2021); 
  • Establish an EU Toolbox against counterfeiting (2022), explore the possibility for the Union to accede to the Council of Europe Medicrime Convention and propose measures against trafficking of cultural goods (2022); 

Member States are urged to:  

  • Join and strengthen the @ON Network on mafia type organised crime groups; 
  • Establish or further develop specialised bodies focused on tackling organised crime structures; 
  • Accede and ratify the Council of Europe Medicrime Convention.  

Member States and Europol are urged to: 

  • Develop common identification criteria to select and investigate High Value Targets and prioritise investigations against individuals and criminal networks posing the highest security risk in the EU; develop a strategic and tactical intelligence picture on high-risk organised crime groups; 
  • Reinforce cooperation in the fight against counterfeiting of medical products. 

Eliminating criminal profits and preventing infiltration into the legal economy and society 

The Commission will: 

  • Propose to revise EU rules on confiscation and on Asset Recovery Offices (2022); 
  • Assess existing EU anti-corruption rules (2022) and promote information exchange on the link between corruption and organised crime. 

Member States are urged to: 

  • Systematically conduct financial investigations in organised crime investigations; swiftly transpose EU rules on facilitating access to financial information by the deadline of August 2021; 
  • Exchange strategic information with those sectors at risk of being infiltrated by organised criminality groups (public-private partnerships); 
  • Strengthen the bodies responsible for investigations, prosecutions and judicial proceedings of high-level corruption cases. 

Member States and Europol are urged to: 

  • Improve the intelligence picture on the threat of infiltration in the legal economy. 

Making law enforcement and judiciary fit for the digital age 

The Commission will: 

  • Analyse and outline possible approaches and solutions on data retention for law enforcement and judiciary and consult Member States on these by the end of June 2021;  
  • Propose a way forward to address lawful and targeted access by law enforcement authorities to encrypted information in the context of criminal investigations, based on a thorough mapping of how Member States deal with encryption and on a multi-stakeholder process to explore and assess the concrete lawful options; 
  • Encourage and facilitate full and swift Member State participation in the e-Evidence Digital Exchange System
  • Develop a monitoring tool to gather intelligence on illegal activities developing in the Darknet; 
  • Support the development of training modules and materials. 

Europol is urged to: 

  • Coordinate a comprehensive analysis of technological gaps and needs in the domain of digital investigation; 
  • Create a repository for tools, allowing law enforcement to identify and access state of the art solutions; 
  • Create and maintain a database of experts in investigations and forensics in specialised areas such as Internet of Things or cryptocurrencies. 

CEPOL is urged to: 

  • Create certification/accreditation schemes for digital investigation experts; 
  • Provide and regularly update a Training Competencies Framework. 

The European Parliament and Council are urged to: 

  • Urgently adopt the e-evidence proposals to ensure speedy and reliable access to e-evidence for authorities. 

Main actions under the Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings: 

Prevention, protection and prosecution  

The Commission will: 

  • Ensure the effective implementation of the Anti-trafficking Directive, through dedicated funding, with a particular focus on gender specific and child sensitive aspects and taking infringement action as appropriate;  
  • Launch a study for the evaluation of the Anti-trafficking Directive, and based on the outcome consider reviewing the directive;  
  • Ensure appropriate funding to combat trafficking inside and outside the EU.   

Reducing demand that fosters trafficking 

The Commission will:  

  • Assess the possibility of  criminalising the use of exploited services from victims of trafficking; 
  • Assess how to strengthen the effectiveness of the Employers’ Sanctions Directive;  
  • Put forward a legislative proposal on sustainable corporate governance to foster long-term sustainable and responsible corporate behaviour; 
  • Provide guidance on forced labour due diligence in line with international due diligence guidelines and principles; 
  • Organise a prevention campaign, conducted together with Member States and civil society organisations, targeting high-risk sectors and high-risk environments.    

Member States are urged to:   

  • Continue focussing on all forms of exploitation, including on trafficking for sexual exploitation, in their criminal justice responses and prevention initiatives; 
  • Make full use of relevant EU agencies in particular Europol, and within its remit the European Labour Authority, to combat labour exploitation; 
  • Improve the capacity oflabour inspections, facilitate multiagency cooperation for identifying trafficked victims for labour exploitation and for bringing perpetrators to justice; 
  • Develop further public-private initiatives with businesses in high risk sectors and high risk environments.  

Breaking the criminal model to halt victims’ exploitation 

The Commission will: 

  • Improve data recording and collection to ensure reliable and comparable information for tailor made policies;  
  • Facilitate the creation of a focus group of specialised prosecutors against trafficking in human beings;  
  • Enhance the coordination of law enforcement services in cross-border and international cases and support coordinated responses between different actors, including via funding of simulation exercises;  
  • Enhance law enforcement and judicial cooperation between Member States through projects funded under the Internal Security Fund;  
  • Promote dialogue and exchange of best practices with support from EU agencies with the private sector and digital industries. 

Member States are urged to:  

  • Improve their national data recording and collection on trafficking in human beings;  
  • Make full use of existing instruments for operational cooperation, such as joint investigation teams, with support from Europol and operational cooperation through EMPACT;  
  • Systematically exchange data on investigations on human trafficking with the support of Europol;  
  • Improve digital capabilities of law enforcement and expertise to keep up with technological developments 

Protecting, supporting and empowering victims 

The Commission will:  

  • Enhance capacity building and sharing of best practices for identifying victims of trafficking, including through dedicated funding for training; 
  • Facilitate re-integration and victim empowerment programmes and exchanges on best practices in this regard;  
  • Enhance cooperation towards a European referral mechanism;  
  • Enable targeted funding support to specialised shelters for victims of trafficking, including specialised facilities for trafficked women and children via the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and Internal Security Fund;  
  • Ensure funding in non-EU partner countries to non-governmental organisations, to support victims’ psychosocial needs; 
  • Develop close cooperation with the European Economic and Social Committee and  the Committee of the Regions to improve impact of anti-trafficking actions with social and economic partners and on local and regional level;   
  • Enhance partnerships with non-EU countries to ensure that victims’ rights are guaranteed during all the steps of the return process and that they receive specific, tailor-made assistance and protection upon return, including specific safeguards for children.    

Member States are urged to:  

  • Promote gender and child-sensitive rights based training for officers and all practitioners that come into contact with victims;  
  • Promote awareness-raising activities for frontline professionals in high-risk sectors and high-risk environments where victims of trafficking are exploited;  
  • Create safe environments for victims to report their crimes without a fear of prosecution, secondary victimisation, intimidation or retaliation in the context of criminal proceedings;  
  • Improve the functioning of National Referral Mechanisms;  
  • Provide training to health care workers on diversity management and the needs of victims of trafficking in human beings who are migrants, under the EU health programmes;   
  • Fund community-led and peer-mentoring empowerment programmes. 

International dimension 

The Commission will:  

  • Adopt an EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling (2021-2025);  
  • Step up cooperation with non-EU countries of origin and transit of victims as well as with international and regional partners, including international organisations;  
  • Use dedicated human rights and security dialogues in engaging with partner countries;  
  • Enhance cooperation with the Council of Europe and its Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in human beings;  
  • Support the European External Action Service’s systematic engagement of EU delegations in specific countries by regular and targeted communication, action and exchange of information.  

Member States are urged to:   

  • Enhance information sharing and criminal intelligence on trafficking and related crimes and criminal networks; and facilitate cross-border and international operational and judicial cooperation in countries affected by trafficking notably in the Western Balkans, countries in the Neighbourhood, Africa, the Middle East, and South-East Asia, including with support from EU agencies, such as Europol and Eurojust. 

For More Information  

Press release: Fight against organised crime: New 5-year strategy for boosting cooperation across the EU and for better use of digital tools for investigations  

Press release: Fighting trafficking in human beings: New strategy to prevent trafficking break criminal business models, protect and empower victims 

Factsheet: Tackling Organised Crime

Factsheet: Fighting Trafficking in Human Beings

Communication on an EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime for 2021-2025 

Communication on the EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings 2021-2025 

Commission Staff Working Document on EMPACT, the flagship EU instrument for cooperation to fight organised and serious international crime 

Recommendation for a Council Decision authorising the opening of negotiations for a cooperation agreement between the EU and Interpol 

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