European Initiatives against Drug Trafficking

In March 2014, the European Union (EU) announced at the fourth Caribbean Basin Coastal Surveillance and Maritime Security Summit that the Union will boost up its contributions to the fight against drug trafficking and international criminal networks in the Caribbean region. The European financial contribution is estimated at Euro 2.5 million.

As announced by the EU Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean:

The funding, which is being provided through the EU Seaport Co-operation Project (SEACOP) will assist with the establishment of joint national maritime intelligence units, a regional maritime information system, as well as regional and trans-regional networking and technical assistance.
The development of such infrastructure should lead to increased targeting of suspected vessels, a unified maritime intelligence system, increased drug seizures and enhanced multi-agency co-operation.

The question of drug trafficking is vital to European security as Europeans consume a quarter of total world production of cocaine behind the US. Additionally, cocaine is the second most popular illicit drug after marijuana in Europe. Aside from the use of cocaine, drug trafficking is a serious cause of instabilities in many countries affecting their economic growth, societal stability and peace, and weakening of state institutions. In transit countries, like the ones located in Africa, it has been fueling civil wars, financing local militias and terrorists networks and affecting state-building initiatives.

Cocaine Route Programme

In 2004, the European Council approved the EU drugs strategy 2005-2012. It was then in 2009 that the EU launched an initiative, the Cocaine Route Programme (CRP), managed by the European Commission and DG Development Cooperation in order to combat organized crime and drug trafficking from Latin America through the Caribbean and Central America and West Africa to the European market. The Programme includes countries from Europe, Latin America, Caribbean and West Africa. The EU has committed over 35 million Euros since 2009. “Cocaine Route Programme was the first of its kind” wrote the Jamaica Observer, “to think strategically about the flow of drug trafficking and to provide support, technical advice, capacity building and encourage coordination between states situated along the entire route.” The Europeans estimate that over 140 tonnes of cocaine is trafficked on yearly basis into Europe at an estimated benefit of $1 billion. The European initiative launched in 2004 seeks in deepening cooperation with countries in the Caribbean and West Africa.

Monitoring and limiting the trafficking of drugs from Latin America is of direct interests for Europeans, as Western and Central Europe are the second largest consumers of cocaine after the Americas. In a matter of 10 years, the market for cocaine in the Northern Hemisphere has considerably changed. In the 1998, the main consumer of cocaine was the US, while in 2008 the consumption of cocaine has become almost even in between Europe and the US (see chart below). The new market – Europe – for cocaine has led to a shift in the routes to access the European market. The routes going through the Caribbean and Africa demonstrate that organized crime networks are following a clear map of failed states in order to transport their product to Europe.

Source: UNODC. World Drug Report 2010 (p. 233)
Source: UNODC. World Drug Report 2010 (p. 233)

The issue of drug trafficking is greater than simple drug production, trafficking and addiction. Research have clearly demonstrated that countries with high level of drug production (Colombia in the case of cocaine, or even Afghanistan with heroin production) are facing serious domestic challenges such as high violence, political instabilities, ramping corruption, organized crime and money laundering permitting the flourishing of criminal organized networks.

Source: BBC News. 2009
Source: BBC News. 2009

European Drug Consumptions

Aside from ethical and normative disagreements, the issue of drug trafficking is a simple question of market relations between producers and consumers. In recent years, drug trafficking, which is a directly related to transnational organized crime, is considered as one of the biggest challenge to the EU.

In the case of cocaine, the base product can be sold under two forms: an expensive version, powder cocaine (mainly consumed in European countries); or a cheaper option, cocaine-based products such as ‘crack’ (mostly consumed in the US and the UK). Cocaine has become a very ‘trendy’ product in Western European countries since the 1980s and especially since the turn of the millennium. The three largest global cocaine producers are Colombia, Peru and Bolivia (see chart below):

Source: UNODC. World Report 2010 (p. 66)
Source: UNODC. World Report 2010 (p. 66)

The routes from the Americas to the European market are either maritime or by air. Most of the seizure of cocaine is taking place in Western and Southern EU Member States such as France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. However, routes are now being shifted to Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Baltic countries. As illustrated in the chart

Source: EMCDDA. European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments (p. 23)
Source: EMCDDA. European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments (p. 23)

below, the number of seizure have augmented since 2002. More and more, the cocaine routes to European market go through the Balkans considering their weak governmental structures, high level corruption, weak institutions, and organized crime networks.

According to the yearly report, European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments, produced by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), an estimated 80 million of Europeans (1/4 of total Europeans) have used illicit drugs at some point in their lives. The largest number is cannabis (73 million) followed by cocaine at the second spot with 14 million. Despite a fall in recent years, cocaine remains the principal illicit stimulant drug in Europe. The chart below illustrates the illicit drug use in the EU:

Source: EMCDDA. European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments (p. 13)
Source: EMCDDA. European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments (p. 13)

The question of drug trafficking is directly intertwined with European security and stability. The reports produced by the UNODC and EMCDDA clearly demonstrates the threats of illicit drugs to public health. For instance, the injection of drugs, which is a little less the case for cocaine, remains the principal cause of transmission of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C. Aside from domestic public health problems, illicit drugs are the cause of flourishing of organized crime networks inside the EU and in neighboring countries.

It is in the interest of the Union to fund and facilitate initiatives fighting drug trafficking and organized crime in the Caribbean region. If a first round of protection and seizure is already taking place in the Caribbean region, it will already facilitate seizure in Europe. At the end of the day, seizure is only one instrument in fighting drug trafficking. European initiatives promoting development, human rights, institutional solidification – judiciary, police and legislative – in countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are more of long-term solutions, but with a higher financial cost.

In Europe, the question of illicit drugs is as well facing the complex nature of multi-level governance. At the EU level, initiatives and framework for cooperation are designed, while the main drug legislations remains in the hands of national governments. Nevertheless, European governments tend to have moved away from prison sentences for personal use of illicit drugs (which is not the case in the US), while, drug supply remains a criminal offense. The question of drug trafficking is one part of the broader problem of organized crime networks. Only through regional and global cooperation can EU Member States tackle such threat to European stability.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission). 

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