POLICING IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: Comparing Firsthand Knowledge with Experience from the West,
© 1996 College of Police and Security Studies, Slovenia


Toon van der Heijden

With a view to improving police cooperation between the European Union member states, efforts have been made since 1993 to get an idea of the situation with regard to organized crime at (West) European level. In 1993 a first outline was made, which was found to contain substantial flaws. The Ministers of the Interior and of the Justice Departments of the EU member states concluded that particularly the aim to reach a common definition offered (too) many problems for the time being. The priority was given to the development of an assessment mechanism, which should focus on the approach and analysis of international criminal organizations that were known to the member states' competent authorities.

A number of meetings on expert level were held to develop an assessment mechanism. On the basis of the conclusions of these meetings a strategy plan was drawn up. This included, among other things, a list of topics to be dealt with in yearly national reports. Furthermore, consensus was reached on a list of eleven features of organised criminal groups. This list was to be used as selection instrument, for only groups that have at least six of these features were to be analysed.

In 1995 the above mentioned mechanism was put into use for the first time. Only six of the fifteen EU member states were able to provide quantitative data on organised crime in the year 1994. There are still a number of problems to overcome in order to establish a common assessment mechanism. Not all member states have a national criminal intelligence service. Also, the gathering and analysis of relevant information raises methodological as well as organisational problems. Still, the results give a better view of international organised crime than the earlier report. At an EU-expert meeting in February 1996 it proved highly interesting to learn from one another. As organised crime groups are not only active in Western Europe and the type of problems regarding the assessment of organised crime is not unique for Western European countries, a discussion on the experiences and results gathered so far could lead to conclusions that are beneficial both to Central, East and West European countries.


1.1. The 1993 situation report

With a view to improving police cooperation between the European Union member states, efforts have been made since 1993 to get an idea of the situation with regard to organized crime at West European level. In 1994 a first attempt was made. A questionnaire embodying six open questions regarding the organised crime situation in 1993 was sent out and on the basis of the answers a report was written. This contained the following findings on the number of active criminal organisations: "In Italy, there are four main groups (Mafia, Camorra, N'drangeta and Sacra Corona Unita). Ireland is mainly confronted with four groups. France is confronted with three groups of Italian origin (Mafia, Camorra and N'drangeta) and several Chinese groups. The Netherlands listed 321 groups in 1993, 98 of which can be considered as very organised."1

Before you decide never to visit the Netherlands because of its imminent unsafety, let us first examine the circumstances under which the Working Groups Drugs and Organised Crime tried to give an overview on organised crime in the European Union. It started with a decision of the Council of Ministers of Justice and Interior Affairs in November 1993. The Council declared that it would like to receive an annual report on the scale of and trends in international organised crime. This formed the basis for the first attempt to measure the nature and extent of organised crime in the European Union.

The resulting report, while recognising the positive result in acquiring information on the issue, highlighted the fact that the overview of organised crime in the European Union had been adversely affected by the following factors. There was (and there still is) no common information collection system with well-defined channels of information. There was (and is) no standard structure for the national collection of information which takes into account the specific aspects of the organised crime situation. There was n standardised structure for the preparation of national contributions and the overall EU-report. And, last but not least, the use of differing definitions, criteria and parameters in national efforts to collect and analyse information with the consequence that the information gathered from member states could not be correctly compared and that the analysis of the information as well as the assessment of the analytical results had been very restrictive. The above mentioned enormous difference between the number of organised criminal groups in Italy, Ireland and France compared to the Netherlands reported in the 1993 situation report can mainly be attributed to the lack of a clear definition of an organised criminal group.

Of course these problems were not new. In 1993 already the EU Council considered that particularly the aim to reach agreement in the short-term on a common definition of the phenomenon and the need to have reliable data on the trends of international organised crime available as soon as possible offered (too) many problems for the time being. Priority was given to the development of an assessment mechanism, which should focus on the approach to and analysis of international criminal organizations that were known to the member states' competent authorities. The collection of information should be done on the basis of investigations in progress in order to obtain reliable figures on the criminal activity of criminal groups.

1.2 The assessment mechanism

Two meetings at expert level, in Paris and The Hague, were held to develop an assessment mechanism. On the basis of the discussions during these meetings in December 1994 a strategy plan was endorsed. The main goal of the annual report on the situation of organised crime in the EU was defined as the identification of the scale of and trends in international organised crime. Consensus was reached on a list of eleven features of organised criminal groups that were registered by police authorities. This list was to be used as a selection instrument, for only groups that have at least six of these features were to be analysed on the national level within each of the EU member states. On the basis of analyses, annual national reports were drawn up using a list of topics to be dealt with. The national reports would function as input for the EU presidency in order to come to a synthesis. It was furthermore decided to improve the mechanism for measuring organised crime each year, based upon the results of a comparative analysis of the national reports, the characteristics and the other aspects of the data collection procedures used by the member states.

The following are the 11 characterics to identify organised crime:

  1. Collaboration of more than two people;
  2. each having their own appointed tasks;
  3. for a prolonged or indefinite period of time;
  4. using some form of discipline and control;
  5. suspected of the commission of serious criminal offences;
  6. operating at international level;
  7. using violence or other means suitable for intimidation;
  8. using commercial or businesslike structures;
  9. engaged in money laundering;
  10. exerting influence on politics, the media, public administration, judicial authorities or economy;
  11. determined by the pursuit of profit and/or power.

At least six of the aforementioned characteristics must be present, three of which must be those numbered 1, 5 and 11, for any crime or criminal group to be classified as organised crime.

The fact that the grid contains 'organised crimes' beside 'organised criminal groups' reflects two different approaches which have been outlined and compared in the expert meetings in Paris and The Hague. The former approach restricts the subject of research to the outcome of ongoing investigations into the offences considered as organised crime which take place in the given year, focussing the attention onto the individual offence from which the existence of criminal organisations committing them may be inferred. The latter approach places in the centre of the survey the identification of criminal structures which are believed to be active in member states on account of the overall information gathered by police and judicial authorities. This approach is in accordance with the 'Global plan against transnational organised crime' endorsed at the Naples Conference in November 1994. The adopted 'grid' is a compromise between the two approaches.

1.3 The 1994 situation report

In 1995 the above mentioned mechanism was put into use for the first time in an attempt to describe the organised crime situation in 1994. This was not very succesful. For most of the member states it was not possible to implement the new way of working within a few months. Only six of the fifteen EU member states were able to provide quantitative data on organised crime for the year 1994. And even these data were not completely reliable and comparable. There were still a number of problems to be overcome in order to establish a common assessment mechanism. Also, the gathering and analysis of relevant information raised methodological as well as organisational problems. To give you some idea, here are a few results. In Germany no criminal groups were counted but the number of investigations that were started up in, finished in or were ongoing during the calendar year 1994 against groups that met the German definition. This definition differs somewhat from the EU-list of eleven characteristics. In the Netherlands we had to assume that all criminal groups met some criteria because there were no data to check if criminal groups were active 'for a prolonged or indefinite period of time' and if they were 'determined by the pursuit of power and/or profit'.

Another problem has to do with the circumstance that many EU member states do not have a structured national criminal intelligence system with data on criminal groups. In Belgium, only the data of one of the three types of police, the Gendarmerie, were available. In Germany each State Criminal Police Office (Landeskriminalamt) of the sixteen federal states prepared a situation report on organised crime for the respective Federal state on the basis of an outline developed by a national commission which served as its contribution to the 1994 Situation Report in the Federal Republic of Germany. The fact that the definition of organised crime and the questionnaire were formally approved by the Ministers of Justice of all sixteen federal states makes the implementation of changes in the methodology a complex matter. In the UK, information on ethnic groups involved in organised crime is available on a national level along with specific data on a number of core individuals, but at that point in time there was no way to establish the number of organised crime groups in a manner similar to other EU member states. In the UK and in the Netherlands the national reports were based on criminal intelligence data, which can be described as 'soft', while other member states use 'hard' data derived from formal protocols or crime statistics. Some countries included information on dismantled groups in their national reports, while other member states only provided information on active criminal groups.

When comparing the 1994 situation report with that of 1993, one can conclude that there clearly was improvement. For the first time all member states produced their contribututions on the status of organised crime within their national boundaries. A number of member states used definitions that were much better comparable. But because of the many differences in the magnitude, analysis and treatment of the phenomenon among the states, it appeared to be very difficult to establish common trends and to formulate recommendations on the combatting of organised crime.

At an expert meeting in February 1996 it proved highly interesting to discuss the methodology used in the different countries and to learn from one another. It became clear that a number of EU member states (e.g. UK, Spain and Sweden) were introducing questionnaires in order to assess the organised crime situation in 1995. Progress was made in the sense that common mechanism was being perfected for the systematic analysis and collection of this type of information, strengthening its degree of reliability and validity. According to the planning that was agreed upon all EU member states were to produce national reports before the first of May 1996, on the basis of which the present Irish EU presidency would come to a synthesis.

1.4 The 1995 situation report

The (draft) Irish report on the organised crime situation in 1995 was completed in September 1996. The report is made up of two parts: one contains summaries of the national reports and the other one gives a synthesis on the nature, scale and development of organised crime in the European Union in 1995. In the introduction to the second part the authors state that the analysis is influenced by the substantial differences between the situation reports with regard to their extent, analysis and view of organised crime. Some provide no quantitative data, some others do not reply to all of the topics in the questionnaire, and many do not identify trends observed during the year under review. Is no progress being made than? Yes, there certainly is. In the next paragraphs a summary is given of the 1995 Annual Report on organised crime in the European Union. Following that a number of conclusions are drawn on the trends and the successfulness of this attempt to assess the nature and extent of organised crime in the European Union.


2.1 Groups involved

Examination of the composition of organised crime groups active in the European Union highlights the international dimension of the phenomenon. Cooperation by suspects of different nationalities occurs in a number of member states. In Germany these heterogenous structures were established with regard to two third of the investigations in the field of organised crime. In Spain mixed groups accounted for about half of the groups. The membership of all organised crime groups discovered in Greece contained a foreign suspect.

As for the geographic origin of suspects all member states have discovered domestic criminal organisations. Nevertheless, the foreign origin of groups is the predominant characteristic of organised crime as it is experienced in the European Union. With the exception of Ireland and Finland, where organised crime remains almost totally national in character, member states identify organised criminal activity as a world wide phenomenon operating across national borders which pose no significant obstacle to those involved.

Historic, cultural and geographic factors influence the distribution of organised criminal groups of foreign origin in each of the member states. For example, Spain and Portugal enjoy historic and cultural links with South American countries like Colombia and Argentina. The same sort of links between the Netherlands and its former colony of Surinam is without doubt one of the causal factors that explains the intensive smuggling of cocaine from South America to Western Europe via the Netherlands. The geographic proximity of countries like Germany, Austria and Greece to Eastern Europe has, since the political and economic change in countries in that area, a profound impact on the origins of those involved in organised crime. Eleven of the fifteen member states refer to Russian criminal groups; nine to groups originating from the former Yugoslavia. Another possible causal factor is the presence of ethnic minorities in member states that funtion as bridgeheads for foreign criminal organisations. The importance of relationships between local communities and groups of foreign origin has been highlighted in a number of national situation reports. The fact that there are fairly large ethnic minorities living in a number of European countries partly explains the finding that Turkish criminal groups are found in ten EU member states and Chinese groups in nine. Groups of both nationalities are primarily involved in heroin trafficking.

But not all foreign groups originate from non-EU countries.

Italian nationals are involved in ten EU member states and Dutch nationals are involved in seven. The Italian criminal presence in other European countries can be attributed to the existence in Italy of highly organised criminal organisations like the Maffia, Camorra, 'Ndrangeta and Sacra Corona Unita. The Dutch play a relatively major role as traders and transporters by road of legal goods in Europe. This probably explains the fact that they also play a major role in the smuggling of illegal drugs throughout the continent.

Organisational structures tend to be flatter among groups of domestic origin than among groups of foreign origin, with two notable exceptions. Motor cycle groups in the Nordic countries are organised on a hierarchical basis. In Italy, both hierarchical and flat structures are found among domestic groups. Available data suggests that the most significant change in organisational structures, during 1995, were seen among domestic Italian groups. The change arises as a result of (1) law enforcement measures employed, and (2) the need to develop internal structures best suited to the criminal activity being undertaken.

In the first case, Mafia structures are changing from the traditional hierarchical model, which typified that organisation, towards more compartimentalised structures because of the capture of leading figures and an increase in the number of police informants. Restructuring also allows for a separation of financial management functions from those associated with criminal activities (in the strict sense). In the second case, the N'drangeta groups are moving away from traditional horizontal structures based on families operating in clearly defined areas. The move towards a more collegiate organisation allows families to have joint participation in 'business' matters. It provides more effective management of drug trafficking and other complex activities beyond their regional area of activities.

Turkish, Pakistani and other Asian groups tend to be organised on a hierarchical basis controlled by family heads or core members, although Turkish groups in the Netherlands have shown a tendency to move towards loose knit networks. In contrast with groups of foreign origin, domestic groups are more likely to be constituted on the basis of family relationships or on ad hoc relationships with local criminals. In the United Kingdom, the distribution of crack cocaine is influenced by relationships with West Indian communities. West Indian groups, who dominate the crack cocaine market and were tradionally based in London, are becoming established in other cities where there are large West Indian communities.

In many EU member states domestic groups maintain international contacts with drug trafficking networks. Particularly important in this regard are relationships with Turkish, Moroccan and South American sources of heroin, cannabis and cocaine respectively. In the majority of the EU member states, cooperation at national and international level is most frequently found between fellow nationals.

The relationship within and between motor cycle groups is governed by a strong 'brotherhood' culture. Groups maintain contact with each other throughout Scandinavia. Their relationships with similar groups in Canada and the United States of America are described as extremely close. In contrast, groups of Asian origin, in general, and those of Chinese origin in particular, display strong internal cohesion where relationships rarely go beyond their own local community of their country of origin. Cooperation is limited to groups of the same origin.

2.2 Criminal activities and their locations

Groups are frequently involved in more than one type of criminal activity although some groups display significant degrees of specialisation. In Germany, more than half of the cases involved suspects who were engaged in a range of criminal activities. About 40% of organised groups in the Netherlands were involved in more than one type of criminal activity.

The most significant feature of the location of criminal activities is the degree to which international connections are relevant. For example, more than two thirds of cases in Germany involved international connections. Nearly a quarter of cases were connected to the Netherlands while one eighth were linked to Italy. A similar situation exists in the Netherlands: two thirds of groups active there are also active in other member states.

Available data indicate that the proportion of groups engaged in drug trafficking varies across the EU member states from 35% to almost 80% of groups. Foreign and domestic origin groups control importation and distribution functions to differing extents according to the location of their activity and the type of drugs which they are trafficking. Trafficking of heroin in the European Union is largely determined by the operation of Turkish groups along the Balkan routes and within many of the member states. Cocaine trafficking interests exploit the linguistic and historic ties which exist between Spain and South America. Colombian, Argentinean and Uruguayan (to a lesser extent) nationals are primarily involved in drugs trafficking activities in Spain. Cocaine was the drug most frequently involved in drug cases there during 1995. Also about three quarters of the cocaine seized in the Netherlands originates from Colombia. Groups from Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles are also engaged in the smuggling of cocaine into the Netherlands. Spain and France are important transit countries for the supply of cannabis from Morocco to the European Union.

Groups involved in drug trafficking are often involved in other organised criminal activities. Involvement in both drug trafficking and armed robbery is a defining feature of the principal groups engaged in organised crime in one EU member state. The experience in another country is characterised by a number of groups who were involved in traditional crimes of violence branching out into drug trafficking. A similar development is evident in Italy. Families, who were involved in traditionally based crime and kidnapping for ransom appear, in some cases, to have established direct contacts with drug traffickers at international level (Turkish and Colombian groups). These developments are seen as a clear example of a local organisation gaining a capacity to deal directly with major transnational drug traffickers.

Groups of domestic origin are frequently engaged in fraudulent activities, for instance in the Netherlands. Credit card fraud has been associated with Chinese groups while Nigerian groups are involved in advance fee fraud in several member states.

Besides fraud, extortion, armed robberies and vehicle theft are important property crimes reported in the EU situation report. Responsible for extortion are motor cycle gangs in Scandinavian countries. Chinese nationals use extortion within their own communities in several member states. Armed robbery is, generally, the preserve of domestic and foreign groups alike. Domestic nationals and groups of East European origin are involved in vehicle theft.

Trafficking in human beings is a type of organised criminal activity found in ten of the fifteen EU member states. Both domestic and foreign groups, often from regions in conflict, are involved. Other types of crime, reported by less than half of the member states, are illegal firearms trading, environmental crime, illegal gambling and forgery.

2.3 Resources

The fact that almost half of the national situation reports provide data on the use of commercial structures indicates the difficulties involved in establishing the extent of the resources associated with organised crime. Only three national reports provide estimates of losses and profits.

Commercial structures are used for a variety of reasons. They may provide direct support to a particular criminal activity, they may serve to conceal a criminal activity, or they may be used to launder the proceeds of crime. The extent to which commercial structures are used may vary considerably by location, from 40% to approximately 80%.

2.4 Use of violence

The use of violence is considered in terms of the three directions in which it may be directed. Intra group violence is directed at the members within the group in order to maintain discipline and the submission of the members to the group or organisation. Inter group violence is directed by one group at another group, typically, arising from territorial or cultural rivalry. Extra group violence is directed at the victims outside the criminal fraternity, and it is therefore typical of criminal activity directed at persons or property. These dimensions were not maintained in all of the national reports where the use of violence was indicated. There is little use of violence by groups in three member states.

Intra group violence was used to maintain discipline by groups in many countries, varying from approximately one fifth in one member state to all of the main groups in another country. For several foreign origin groups (Turkish, South American, Iranian and Chinese) operating in one member state the use of violence for internal discipline took precedence over violence directed at others within or beyond the criminal world. Also in the Netherlands a greater number used violence within their own group than that number which used inter group violence.

Groups of domestic origin use violence for similar purposes. Italian groups are the most significant in this regard. More than 250 persons were killed by the main criminal organisations (Mafia, Camorra, 'Ndrangheta and organisations from Puglia) during 1995. Many were killed in intra group violence as sanctions on behavior harmful to the organisation. The removal of key personnel by successful law enforcement operations caused internal conflict from which some deaths resulted.

Motor cycle groups display significant levels of inter group violence. In Sweden two murders (one involved the president of Bandidos) resulted in a war beween the Hell's Angels and the Bandidos. Also three other member states reported 'gangland' killings in 1995, varying from eight in one country to 66 (including attempts to kill) in another.

2.5 Use of influence

The use of influence by organised criminal groups is indicated by about half of the member states. The available data indicates that between 10% and 23% of groups use influence. In some cases one can without doubt talk about corruption, while in other instances its nature is much less clear. Influence is used, especially by domestic groups, as part of counterstrategies employed by groups in the Netherlands to obstruct the police and judicial authorities. One of the Scandinavian countries reported that fear of motor cycle gangs prevents appropriate media coverage of their activities. Also in Italy use of influence is associated with domestic groups. Tradionally, the Mafia combines the use of intimidation with the use of influence in institutional and economic life; several trials underway in Sicily are centered on the possible connections between the Mafia and the political/commercial network.

2.6 Money laundering

The proportion of organised criminal groups who are engaged in money laundering is estimated in very few national reports. Nevertheless, money laundering activities are indicated in all but one of the 14 member states where drug trafficking occurs. The data of two member states indicate that most of the drug trafficking groups are involved in money laundering. The association is significant although it is important to note that drug trafficking is not the only activity which leads to money laundering. Groups of Russian origin are more frequently associated with money laundering rather than drug trafficking activities. The 1994 European Union Organised Crime Report identifies the (in)adequacy of control mechanisms in eastern European countries as a contributory factor to the growth in organised crime which is associated with this area. Money laundering is an element of organised crime which displays a considerable capacity to exploit locations where control mechanisms are less well developed.

In its analysis of the phenomenon, one national report estimates that almost two thirds of organised criminal groups are involved in money laundering. Many groups use more than one method to launder the proceeds of their criminal activities: using financial routes abroad, using foreign currency exchange transactions, investing in legal enterprises, in real estate or in movable property. A less frequently used method is buying up winning lottery tickets.


The 1995 situation report reflects a continuation of a number of the trends identified in the 1993 and 1994 European Union Organised Crime Reports. The international dimension of organised crime is more and more clear, in the composition of criminal groups, in their working areas and in the cooperation between groups of different origins. Even in those member states where organised crime is national in character and the preserve of domestic criminals international relationships are of vital importance. Although the European Union is a single economic area this is not a specific European phenomenon. Drugs trafficking, money laundering, fraud, trafficking in human beings and other types of serious crime are more and more organised at global level. The burden of organised crime in many EU member states is becoming originated from many regions in the world, including central and eastern Europe, South America, Africa and Asia.

This makes the combatting of organised crime a highly complex matter. It takes much time to gather and analyse information on internationally operating criminal groups. Some criminal organizations are active for many years, which clearly indicates their ability to stay out of the hands of the police. The fact that organised criminal groups are capable of protecting their interests, in particular by being prepared to use violence or corruption to eliminate or control persons, including police and judicial authorities, makes things even worse. More sophisticated structures are being devoloped by both domestic and foreign origin groups. Groups who specialise in money laundering are emerging.

The organised crime situation in the European Union calls for immediate action. But what measures should be taken? Does the situation report give sufficient clues to be able to decide what to do?

The 1995 situation report admits that in some member states it is not possible to identify the extent of and trends in organised crime because of the absence of a centralised agency which is capable of collecting and processing the relevant information. The data relating to money laundering, in the national reports, suffers from the absence of a standardised procedure to collect information in relation to this subject. It has not been possible, therefore, to establish the impact of money laundering throughout the European Union. Another area in which progression is needed is the use of definitions. I would like to suggest that one or more expert meetings are arranged in order to try and reach consensus on the interpretation of the most important criteria.

In general, because of the lack of reliable quantitative data, an accurate assessment of the scale of organised crime in the European Union cannot be made. But there is a strong impression that the number of groups involved in organised crime is continuing to rise. Together with the trend of increasing international cooperation of criminal organisations, this should make us strong enough to act against organised crime. Within the European Union Europol is playing a role of growing importance in this respect. But international cooperation beyond the European Union is of vital importance in the effort to combat organised crime. The 1995 situation report indicates that drug trafficking and money laundering groups display a considerable capacity to use locations where control mechanisms are less well developed. Central and Eastern European countries are mentioned in this respect. I would say that the involvement of foreign groups in EU member states and other European countries should form a basis for cooperative action. A first step is a more thorough analysis of these common threats. Perhaps one or more project groups can be set up to study common trends and give suggestions on common action points. We need not wait for a perfectionised assessment mechanism in order to do something about organised crime. Let's get to work!


  1. Report from the Ad Hoc Working Group on International Organised Crime to the Council, Annex II: Systematic collection and analysis of information about international organised crime, p. 6.

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