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Europol Chief Warns of Undermined Rule of Law in Europe Due to Surge in Drug-Related Crime

Catherine De Bolle, the head of Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency, has cautioned that the rule of law in European democracies is at risk unless leaders take significant action to address the rise in drug-related crime.

Europol Chief Warns of Undermined Rule of Law in Europe Due to Surge in Drug-Related Crime

De Bolle revealed that Europe has surpassed the United States as the primary target market for international drug traffickers, and drug arrivals are expected to increase over the next two years due to a surge in production.

The influx of drugs has led to a rise in violence and creeping corruption in several drug-trading hotspots, including Belgium's port of Antwerp. Criminal gangs are increasingly attempting to infiltrate logistics companies, local governments, and even the judicial system. De Bolle emphasized, "We see that the European Union has become more important [for the criminals] compared to the United States... We see that for the upcoming two years we will have an increase in drugs toward the European Union because there is more production."

The warning from De Bolle, a former chief of the Belgian federal police, comes at a time when the EU is already facing challenges to the rule of law in various member states. Bulgaria, for example, lies along a key drugs import route from the Middle East and is plagued by organized crime intertwined with the government. However, De Bolle stressed that the worsening problem of drug-related organized crime extends beyond Central and Eastern Europe, affecting affluent hubs in Western and Northern Europe as well.

Cities such as Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and various ports in Spain and Sweden have become lucrative targets for drug traffickers. The collaboration between drug exporting cartels from South America and mafia groups in Europe has led to a surge in violent crime. De Bolle expressed concern about the increase in violence, including contract killings, torture, and explosions, with significant casualties.

European countries have been shaken by high-profile drug-related killings in recent years. The Netherlands, for instance, experienced the brazen murders of a prominent crime journalist in 2021 and a lawyer in 2019, prompting national outrage and a commitment to cracking down on drug gangs. Similar incidents in Antwerp, Belgium, including the killing of an 11-year-old girl, have raised concerns. In Sweden, Spain, and Germany, De Bolle highlighted the Port of Hamburg as a key destination for drug traffickers.

The challenge for EU leaders lies in the gradual erosion of the rule of law by drug traffickers, who corrupt logistics workers, infiltrate local governments, IT systems, courts, and police forces. De Bolle emphasized the need for this issue to be a priority in the coming years to protect vulnerable groups and prevent criminals from exerting influence over societal matters.

While Europe may not be as heavily affected by fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid responsible for numerous overdose deaths in the United States, its use is increasing in countries such as Estonia, Sweden, Finland, and Germany, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

In response to the worsening situation, EU leaders and law enforcement agencies have intensified their efforts to combat organized crime. In 2021, a large-scale international operation led to around 800 arrests, with a focus on encrypted phones. Additionally, the leaders of Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands formed an anti-crime coalition to share intelligence and collaborate against organized crime.

However, De Bolle stressed that leaders must prioritize the fight against organized crime to prevent a loss of trust in the system. She stated, "We are in a very difficult situation... We are behind."



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