It is the home of Scarface, Al Capone and the Godfather. But not only has the US housed some of the most famous criminals - fictitious or otherwise - it has also pioneered some of the most efficient crime-busting methods. As the EU is plagued by the same crimes and many of the same criminal organisations, their way of working is well worth studying. This is why a special EP task force will be visiting Washington this week.
Criminal organisations are increasingly making use of the opportunities offered by globalisation with groups forging alliances with counterparts in other countries. Experts estimate that illegal activities account for 3.6% of the world's gross domestic product. It is also very costly to governments. Cigarette smuggling alone, for example, results in an annual tax loss for EU member states of €11billion and corruption costs the EU €120billion a year, according to the European Commission. Such an international threat needs to be met with an equally international response. The European Parliament has set up a special committee to look into how Europe could fight organised crime more efficiently,
Special committees are temporary committees set up to deal with a specific topic. They typically have a mandate of 12 months, but this can be extended. Since 1979 there have been more than 15 special committees, investigating issues ranging from German unification and maritime safety to human genetics and foot-and-mouth disease. Their reports often include recommendations, which can be passed onto the Commission to help it come up with new legislation.
In March 2012 the EP launched the special committee on organised crime, corruption and money laundering to study and analyse criminal activities and draw up a comprehensive, structured plan to combat them at EU level. This involves speaking to a lot of people and organisations involved in the fight against crime and learning from best practices. During the Washington visit from 28 April to 2 May the delegation will look at how the Americans agencies and departments coordinate efforts to tackle trans-border crime and will discuss ways to improve transatlantic cooperation in this field.
The committee is drafting a report, which includes ideas such as establishing an EU public prosecutor to coordinate and encourage national investigations, interact with Europol, Eurojust and OLAF and combat crimes affecting the EU's financial interests. It also proposes that member states simplify their rules for confiscating criminal assets and use these proceeds for initiatives benefitting the community. In addition, it suggests new legislation to protect witnesses and informers throughout the EU and says people convicted for corruption, money laundering or any other serious offence should be excluded from all public tenders in the EU.
MEPs are expected to vote on the draft report during the June plenary. Once it has been adopted, Parliament will urge the Commission to translate its recommendations into new legislative proposals.
Photo copyright Sumi-I