Strain on and corruption of government institutions (EU Drug Markets Report)

Strain on and corruption of government institutions

Government expenditure

A large amount of government spending that would otherwise be available for other purposes is used in tackling drug markets or responding to the problems associated with it. The amount of public expenditure invested in the supply reduction area is difficult to estimate with any precision simply because of the wide range of public sectors involved and the fact that many activities are undertaken as part of general policing or customs activity. This expenditure forms part of the broader expenditure category of public order and safety but will not be identified (or ‘labelled’) as drug related.

Despite these difficulties, just over half of EU Member States have in the last decade attempted to estimate overall drug-related expenditure, including both those expenditures labelled as drug related and those related to day-to-day activities. Overall, these data indicate that drug supply reduction initiatives account for the largest share of drug-related expenditure in most countries. There is, however, considerable variation between countries in the proportion of overall expenditure on public order and safety that is estimated to be drug related, which ranges between 1 % and 20 % of the total (EMCDDA, 2014a).

Recently, economic conditions have resulted in European countries reviewing and seeking savings in many areas of public finance. Drug-related budgets have come under scrutiny and, while there is no clear pattern to be seen, some reductions have been observed. More generally, overall public expenditure on public order and safety, the source of finance for most supply reduction activities, appears to have declined markedly in real terms since 2008, especially in 2011.

Early findings from a repeat survey of the availability and activity of drug squads across Europe show a mixed picture, with some countries reporting reductions in staffing — through reductions in either total posts or posts filled — but others suggesting no decrease. Several respondents reported reorganisation or re-prioritisation of work on drugs, in the latter case most commonly suggesting a possible downgrading of the priority being given to drug markets in the face of other threats such as terrorism and border security.

Corruption of officials

Countering corruption is generally a solely national competence; however, as it is identified as a key threat at EU level, concerted efforts are being made to monitor and improve the situation. Such efforts include the adoption of the ‘Communication on Fighting Corruption in the EU’ (European Commission, 2011) and the establishment of the EU Anti-Corruption Report.

Corruption of public officials, from low-level law enforcement officers at one end of the spectrum through to high-level members of the judiciary and politicians at the other, is a systemic feature of all illicit markets. That said, some countries are more affected than others as a result of historic and social factors as well as cultural specifics; in some countries, corruption is present in all levels of public administrations while in others cases are sporadic. Drug markets have been identified to be one of the two most corruptive influences in the EU, with OCGs most commonly targeting low-ranking police and public administration employees, with tax authorities and financial regulators targeted to a much lesser degree.

The aim of police corruption by OCGs is usually to obtain information on investigations or operations, or to protect on-going illegal activities. Pressure from corrupt magistrates or prosecutors may, for example, obstruct police investigations of influential individuals who are members of criminal networks. In relation to drugs, the goal of corruption of customs officers is usually to facilitate the free passage of smuggled goods and avoid investigations. This is most apparent in small town border areas in the eastern EU; in the large western European ports, rather than attempting to corrupt officials, smugglers prefer to rely on the fact that the risk of detection is relatively low because of the huge numbers of containers passing through. 

In most countries the judiciary appears to be much less targeted than police officers or politicians. When it occurs, the most frequent reasons are to avoid pre-trial detention, to delay court action or to influence trial outcomes. Staff working in public prosecutors’ offices may also be bribed to leak information about on-going cases. Political corruption at the level of elected representatives or heads of agencies/departments appears to be rare. However, political corruption at local level is more common, as evidenced by the fact that in many EU Member States, but especially those along the EU’s eastern land border, mayors or city councillors have been convicted of associating with organised or ‘white-collar’ criminals. These officials may be accessed via social, political, professional and family networks, and in some countries elite social networks allow criminals direct access to the upper echelons of public office.

Most Member States have legislation to address corruption in the private sector (sometimes called ‘white-collar’ corruption) following the adoption of EU regulations (7); however, data are not routinely collected by governments. The term ‘collusion’ may also be used to describe the behaviour of professionals such as lawyers, accountants and real estate brokers who provide services to organised crime. Examples of practices for which corruption may be used include diversion of chemicals to illegal markets, the facilitation of drug trafficking by workers in the transportation industry, and the distribution of illicit goods, as, for example, when nightclub door staff distribute drugs. However, it is money laundering, as discussed above, that is the key reason for corruption within the private sector, with the most common issue being bribery to avoid suspicious financial activity being reported to authorities (CSD, 2010).

Some observers draw a distinction between offences based on the official’s motivation (Carter, cited in Stinson, 2015). Thus, offences undertaken for personal gain, such as taking bribes, can be distinguished from those that are committed by officials because they are perceived to be legitimate ways of achieving their organisational objectives, such as in the case of perjury, violations of criminal procedure or the planting of evidence. What is clear is that, whatever form it takes, corruption exerts a corrosive effect, undermining the authority of governments, and facilitates the work of organised crime.

Drug markets and development

The global nature of drug supply means that the impact of drug markets on other countries can have serious repercussions for the EU. The impact of drug production and supply on development and stability within developing and transitional countries that are producer or transit countries are wide ranging and complex. The associated corruption and violence can undermine both social and economic development. As noted already, trafficking groups are attracted to areas of the world where governance and judicial structures are weak. The dominance of the illicit economy also encourages other forms of criminality, decreasing tax revenues and reducing respect for the law and state institutions in a vicious circle that increases vulnerability to further exploitation and destabilisation.

It also needs to be recognised that, in some communities, involvement in the drug trade may represent one of the few opportunities available for income generation. This has been acknowledged in the focus given to alternative development support alongside crop eradication efforts in producer countries, articulated in the 1998 UN Action Plan on International Cooperation on the Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development, reaffirmed in 2009 and again in the 2013 United Nations Guiding Principles on Alternative Development (UNODC, 2015a). That said, there has been criticism that current investments are more focused on eradication and interdiction activities (Buxton, 2015), and that the alternative development programmes lack a strong evidence base on which to judge their effectiveness.

This has led to an increasing recognition in the international policy debate in this area of the importance of integrating drug policies with international development policies and programmes if either is to be successful. There have been calls for a paradigm shift to a more holistic approach that addresses a broader set of issues: sustainable development addressing issues such as land distribution as well as income opportunities, strengthening state governance, resilience building and human rights (Gutierrez, 2015; UNDP, 2015). The EU and Member States make significant investment in both drug control measures and development support to drug producer and transit countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas, so ensuring coherence and seeking synergies between these areas is important.

European cooperation against corruption

The European Partners Against Corruption (EPAC) and the European Contact-point Network against corruption (EACN) are high-level European networks of anti-corruption practitioners operating since 2004 and 2008 respectively, composed of more than 70 organisations, including the EU’s anti-fraud agency, OLAF. In November 2015, OLAF, together with 52 other European anti-corruption and police oversight bodies, adopted the Paris Declaration, which calls on European decision-makers to strengthen the fight against corruption.

The Declaration calls for:

  • deterrent punishment of crimes of corruption through both custodial and financial punishments and effective systems of recovery of assets;
  • the introduction of a cross-border automatic exchange of financial information for the investigations of crimes of corruption by the law enforcement agencies;
  • the establishment of an appropriate tool at both national and transnational level for the protection of threatened key witnesses and disclosers of crimes of corruption;
  • further intensified cooperation and information sharing between anti-corruption authorities and police oversight bodies in Europe through the newly launched EPAC/EACN communication tool within the Europol Platform for Experts.


Short title: 

(7) Council Framework Decision 2003/568/JHA on combating corruption in the public sector.