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Von der Leyen vows EU strategy to combat drug trafficking

Von der Leyen vows EU strategy to combat drug trafficking

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The European Commission is planning a strategy to combat drug trafficking with a focus on Europe’s ports.

While President Ursula von der Leyen made no mention of either ports or drugs in her State of the Union address Wednesday, her letter of intent to the European Parliament and Council of the EU promised an “action plan on anti-drug trafficking,” trailing a “European Ports Alliance” as a part of that effort.

The plans are among a limited number of new initiatives in response to “emerging challenges,” which von der Leyen wrote will be “detailed and complemented in our work programme for 2024.”

The pledge comes amid increased worries about drug trafficking and drug-related crime in the bloc. In Belgium, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne warned earlier this year that violence had reached the “phase of narco-terrorism,” while Brussels is grappling with a crack epidemic.

Last week, Belgium’s new drugs czar Ine Van Wymersch told POLITICO that a European strategy to tackle the problem was vital.

Europe’s seaports are a key entry point for illicit drugs: In 2022, 110 tons of cocaine were intercepted at the Antwerp port, while another 50 tons were seized at the Rotterdam port. That’s likely just “10 to 15 percent of what actually travels to Antwerp and Rotterdam,” Jacques Vandermeiren, the CEO of the Antwerp-Bruges port, told POLITICO earlier this year.

According to June’s European Drug Report, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain report the highest seized volumes, “reflecting the importance of these countries as entry points for cocaine trafficking to Europe.”

But EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson has also listed Hamburg, Barcelona, Gioia Tauro, and Le Havre as “massive points of entry.” Meanwhile, traffickers are also “increasingly targeting smaller ports in other EU countries and countries bordering the European Union, which may be more vulnerable to drug trafficking activities,” the report warned.

At a June summit in Antwerp, ministers from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain called for an EU-wide approach against organized crime, sounding the alarm about “the threat of drug-related organized crime to our societies.”

That followed a deal in February between Belgium, the Netherlands and five major shipping companies to join forces in combating drug trafficking at the Rotterdam and Antwerp ports. 

“We need to connect the dots and make sure that if the measures are taken in one port, that [the criminal groups] do not immediately move to another port,” Johansson said at the countries’ Antwerp summit.

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