As part of Debating Europe’s ongoing discussion of the Eurozone crisis, we’ve recently been looking at how the crisis is affecting the EU’s neighbours. As part of that discussion, one of our readers left a comment arguing that:
Regarding the Western Balkans in particular, it’s early to make a decision regarding their final integration. Issues such as widespread corruption and organized crime structures that penetrate the highest echelons of local power simply do not conform with the EU norms and rules. Unless these issue are addressed via the complete wipe out in political and social terms of those disruptive criminal elements, no EU succession would be positive and would just migrate the problem to other EU states. Hopefully, in the coming years, these issues will be addressed thoroughly.
We recently interviewed Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, and asked him about the threat from criminal gangs in Europe – including from the Western Balkans. What developments has he been noticing?
One thing we’ve been seeing is increased mobility. We have seen organised crime groups, including from the Balkans, whose trademark enterprise is to be active in many member-states. In some cases, the same group will literally travel across Europe at an alarming rate. We’ve got this difficulty of tracking these highly flexible, entrepreneurial but highly mobile groups. I would say [law enforcement] haven’t yet got the same fleetness of foot. We’ve probably got enough of a framework after a decade of legislative building, but the point is the police authorities around the EU are not using that framework.
What we’ve seen over the last several years is a rapidly evolving criminal culture. We don’t see these large hierarchical organisations as much; they do still exist in places like Italy, but today you see very enterprising criminals who work much more across ethnic barriers, deliberately making it a blurry landscape and harder to track.
Might this suggest that, contrary to our readers’ argument, criminal gangs are able to cross borders and evade detection whether the Western Balkans are part of the EU or not? It also suggests that criminals are quick to cross not just physical borders, but also ethnic and national barriers as well. It’s like a demented black-market mirror of “pan-European harmony”.
But how is the Eurozone crisis affecting these developments? We’re in a situation where a lot of people are frustrated and angry with the political process. As Christos, one of our commenters, has argued:
How can you expect [people] to support the euro or EU when it is them who must pay the price and all they see is their leaders bowing to the banks and the corporate multinationals? Haven’t you noticed that they are taking to the streets protesting?
The vast majority of these protests have been peaceful, but is there a threat that unless the Eurozone crisis is resolved soon it could lead to rioting and violence? And how are criminals exploiting this?
We do see some evidence of the way [criminals are choosing] to exploit people’s misery. There’s been a greater supply of cheap counterfeit goods, for example. What we’ve also noticed, which we think is partly connected to the financial crisis, is an increase in violent extremist and anarchist groups; particularly on the left wing. The scale of that activity has notably increased in the last two or three years. We feel that anarchists have deliberately exploited the situation.
What do YOU think? Is the Eurozone crisis increasing the threat of violence and criminality in Europe? Has the borderless nature of the EU made it too easy for criminals to operate? Or are criminals simply faster than the law at exploiting a globalising world? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.