Statewatch News Online: Targeting Roma: How the EU security apparatus is mobilised for the "fight against itinerant crime"

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How the EU security apparatus is mobilised for the "fight against itinerant crime"

At a meeting of the EU Council's Law Enforcement Working Party held on 15 February 2012 in Brussels the Danish Presidency, supported by Europol, presented a discussion paper that is alarming in several aspects. The paper on "intelligence-led policing through closer cooperation with Europol in the fight against itinerant criminal groups" shows that only a minority of EU Member States are making use of the Europol Information System (EIS). Hence, the paper promotes the use of the EIS for the "fight against itinerant criminal groups".[1]

"Itinerant crime" has been on top of the agenda of EU home affairs since summer 2010 when Belgium took over the EU Presidency and used it, as announced by policy statement of the Belgian Federal Police, as "an opportunity to increase the recognisability of the phenomenon on an international level" and "make sure itinerant offenders are given the attention of international institutions, proportionally to the social impact they cause".[2] The definition offered by the Belgian police reads as following:

"An itinerant criminal group is an association of offenders, which systematically commits burglaries in houses, in companies or shops, including ram-raids, cargo thefts, metal thefts and thefts of heavy equipment (on construction sites); whose members mainly originate from the former Eastern bloc countries or form a sedentary group of offenders in Belgium; which operates or is directed from abroad or from the big urban areas in Belgium; which commits a considerable number of offences in a large part of the territory and; sometimes exploits minors for committing thefts."[3]

Claiming that "sedentary offenders are increasingly entering the picture" the Belgian police's policy statement further defines:

"Sedentary criminals are understood to be nomads, originally from the former Yugoslavian Republic, Romania, France or Belgium. These nomads are actually people without a real homeland. In historic terms this population group came to Western Europe in large migration waves. They now have Belgian nationality, are seeking asylum or are illegal. Despite the fact that a large part is settling down, the break between being sedentary and being mobile is not radical and never final." [4]

Based on such crude lay anthropology that is "othering" even Belgian citizens as "nomad" people "without a real homeland", the Belgian chair circulated a questionnaire among delegations of the Council's GENVAL Working Party at the very beginning of the Presidency, raising the question:

"Is your country faced with 'mobile' (itinerant) crime groups? These are offenders, which are not a part of the autochthonous population and who travel long distances to commit acts of property crime, both on a national and international level." [5]

Informed by input from the French Gendarmerie Office for the Fight Against Itinerant Delinquency (OCLDI), notorious for targeting Roma,[6] the GENVAL Working Party drafted a "Conclusion on the fight against mobile (itinerant) criminal groups" within four months that was passed by the Council of Justice and Home Ministers at their meeting on 2/3 December 2010. As the meeting's minutes state:

"The goal of the conclusions is to raise awareness about and combat the activities of criminal groups who systematically acquire wealth through theft of property or fraud, have a wide ranging area of operations and are internationally active. Among other things, the conclusions:

- invite the member states to develop an administrative approach in order to tackle this type of crime (closing premises serving as meeting and fencing places, imposing the registration of certain transactions such as the recycling of used metals, encouraging the registration and marking of precious objects), as a complement to prevention, police and judicial work, for example;

- invite the member states to improve bilateral or multilateral cooperation with third states and the private sector;

- invite the member states, Eurojust and Europol to draw up a security picture/image, when appropriate, of the phenomenon of mobile (itinerant) criminal groups, on the basis of which further operational action should be considered;

- invite the member states and the Commission to stimulate and facilitate an informal network of contact points, competent in the field of administrative measures to tackle the phenomenon of mobile (itinerant) groups and where necessary also other relevant crime areas."

Thus, the conclusion - under the newspeak label of "itinerant" - implicitly endorsed measures such as the eviction from informal settlements taken around the same time by the French government to expel Roma and recommended their adoption by other European countries.[8] But what is more, the conclusion is reframing the "problem" by suggesting that petty crime committed by members of "itinerant groups" is in fact serious organised crime deserving the full-scale response of European police cooperation.

In April 2011 Europol added fuel to the flame of populism when it published its annual Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA).[9] In the chapter on drugs it claims:

"Across the EU, the use of members of Roma communities for low level drug distribution is on the rise."[10]

And further in the chapter on trafficking in human beings:

"Bulgarian and Romanian (mostly of Roma ethnicity), Nigerian and Chinese groups are probably the most threatening to society as a whole. Roma organised crime groups are extremely mobile, making the most of their historically itinerant nature." [11]

As usual, the "elite" of Europe's criminal police saw no need to reveal the sources at the national level, to question their categories and methods of measuring crime or the validity of information being digested into the abstract "intelligence" of its "security picture".

However, in June 2011 the JHA Council adopted a "Conclusion on setting the EU's priorities for the fight against organised crime between 2011 and 2013" recommending to "reduce the general capability of mobile (itinerant) organised groups to engage in criminal activities", later referred to as "Priority G".[12] The lead in implementing this priority was taken by Belgium, co-driven by France [13], and on 8 December 2011 the first annual Operational Action Plan (OAP) on "Mobile OC Groups" was agreed by the Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation in Internal Security (COSI).[14] A week later the incoming Danish Presidency announced that it would focus its police cooperation policy on "itinerant criminal groups and cash couriers" at a meeting of the Council's Law Enforcement Working Party [15], which is, this should be recalled, the merger of the two former Working Parties for Police Cooperation and for Europol.

Thus, two conclusions can be drawn when reading the introduction of the "discussion paper on intelligence-led policing through closer cooperation with Europol in the fight against itinerant criminal groups" that states:

"When considered in isolation most of the crimes committed by itinerant groups are minor offences. They are therefore generally not regarded as organised or serious crimes. However, when added up, such crimes committed by itinerant groups constitute a serious problem that in many instants appears to be organised and has a significant impact on the daily life of many EU citizens." [16]

First, the EU security apparatus is going to abuse powers intended to combat serious and organised crime to mobilise racist discrimination against the Roma and is shamelessly justifying these activities as a "quality-of-life" offensive. Second, Europol is exploiting the opportunity to stretch the limits of its legal mandate, feeding its appetite for new powers and data while awaiting the forthcoming review of the Europol Decision. Bad prospects for the future of fundamental rights in Europe.

(Eric Töpfer)


1. Discussion paper on intelligence-led policing through closer cooperation with Europol in the fight against itinerant criminal groups: Council doc no: 6038/12.
2. Commissioner General of the Belgian Federal Police: Tackling of itinerant criminal groups. New challenges. 2010 , p7.
3. Ibid., p.3.
4. Ibid., p. 10-11.
5. Council doc no: 11871/10, p 6.
7. Council doc no: 16918/10, p14
8. See also: Council of the EUintervenes in France-Roma controversy - proposing the targeting of "mobile(itnerant) groups": "itinerant"=traveller=Roma and
9. Council doc no: 8709/11
10. Ibid., p. 8.
11. Ibid., p. 12.
12. Council doc no: 11050/11, p. 5.
13. Council doc no: 15850/11, p. 3.
14. Council doc no: 17827/2/11. The Operational Action Plan is a classified document but a partly declassified version can be found as Council doc no: 17827/11.
15. Council doc no: 5360/12, p. 4.
16. Council doc no: 6038/12, p. 2.

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