Let me start first by thanking you and your staff at Europol and the EU Drugs Agency for the tremendous work these past years to address the challenges related to drug issues.
The evidence provided in the third European Drug Markets Report and the links to organised crime it draws are a major contribution to informing us as policy-makers well as all those involved on the ground.
It is very important that we are standing here together because drugs is as much about health as it is about security. If we want to truly protect our citizens, the two must go hand in hand.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This report presents a worrying picture of Europe’s drug market, one that is evolving rapidly.
Drugs are increasingly potent and pure when they arrive on the market. There has been a record number of seizures, which together with increased production in the EU, points to growing availability of illicit substances.
We have also seen a dramatic increase in new, and often highly potent, synthetic substances appearing on the market.
This results in more drug overdoses, deaths, and individuals seeking help from treatment providers and emergency services, but also in more violence and crime.
As you know, organised crime benefits significantly from the drug trade.
Moreover, violence and corruption long seen in drug producing countries is now increasingly evident within the EU.
This is linked, in part, to the huge profits that the illicit drug’s trade provides and the growing willingness to use violent means to extend market share.
It is also driven by Europe’s growing importance as a drug producing area.
Organised crime is forward-looking and quick to innovate in order to reduce threats to its ‘business model’ or seize new opportunities.
Drug markets have become more digitally-enabled. When purchased online, they can be rapidly transported across borders and delivered to consumers.
This creates new challenges for law enforcement and this means we must be equally innovative and forward-looking in our responses.
The drug market is now one of the major sources of income for organised crime and is linked to other areas of criminality or even terrorist activities.
It is an important driver for the recruitment of young people into criminal organisations and gangs.
Let me be clear: The increasingly global nature and reach of groups involved in drug production and trafficking is a major cross-border health and security threat.
Confronted with such a threat, the European Union must step up its effort to fight these criminal activities, while keeping drugs policy anchored on a balanced and evidence-based approach.
At the EU level, I can say that our efforts the last five years have started to bear fruit.
The latest Action Plan on Drugs and the legislation we adopted on new psychoactive substances provide a strengthened response to the newly-emerging health and security challenges in the area of illicit drug use and trafficking.
Moreover, our work with our international partners is starting to gain traction. For example, Europol in cooperation with Eurojust and the law enforcement authorities of Germany, the Netherlands and the United States took down the second largest market on the Dark Web, known as the “Wall Street Market”.
I suspect that this will be my last press conference as European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship.
It has been a privilege to serve the Union these last five years.
When I started, no one knew that migration and security would race to the top of the European and the Global Agenda – and stay there.
This Commission made security a priority from day one. We have taken decisive actions to modernise the European security framework through new legislation, through reinforced operational cooperation between Member States, and through strengthening the role and involvement of our agencies.
The EU Drugs Agency and Europol, as well as all of the Agencies in the Justice and Home Affairs family, have played a critical operational role in our policies. Without them, we would all have done our jobs less well.
Over the last five years, we have come a very long way and have accomplished much, but the work is not finished today. It will continue under the new Commission.
And when it comes to our fight against drugs, we need to continue showing determination and commitment in order to strengthen our fight in all its aspects.
For our youth, our citizens, our society.
Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to Catherine and to Alexis. They have done a fantastic job and I am grateful to them.
Commissioners come and go but the Agencies are here and we have been striving the past years to keep the European project and the European vision alive.
During the last five years we have been confronted with huge challenges that put the European project at stake. In the heart of that was migration and security. But, in all my efforts I was accompanied by capable people and convinced Europeans who are here today and I wish them all the best for their future.
Allow me now to pass the floor to Alexis.