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European Union seeks personal data exchange pact with Mexico to tackle drug trafficking

Brussels considers Latin American criminal organizations a ‘serious threat’ to the bloc’s internal security as shipments increase and entry routes evolve

drug trafficking
A customs officer in Munich, Germany, displays a package from what was the largest cocaine seizure in the Bavarian region, in July 2022.Peter Kneffel (Getty Images)
Georgina Zerega

Brussels is seeking to seal an agreement with Mexico to combat drug trafficking from Latin America to Europe. The huge increase in the circulation of narcotics in European Union (E.U.) countries, principally cocaine and methamphetamines, has set alarm bells ringing at the European Commission (E.C.), which is considering an alliance between Europol and Mexican authorities to facilitate the exchange of information in the fight against drug trafficking. These negotiations will focus on reaching an agreement for the sharing of personal data in order to dismantle organized crime groups on both sides of the Atlantic. Brussels is also weighing up similar agreements with Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, and Bolivia.

The E.U.’s reasoning to seek an agreement, as detailed in a recommendation dated March 9, is that Latin American criminal organizations represent a “serious threat” to the bloc’s internal security as high drug consumption influences the incidence rate of other crimes. Brussels has stated that “cocaine availability in Europe is at an all-time high and the drug is more affordable and accessible for consumers than in the past.” Of the seizures made in Europe, the majority arrived via maritime routes, mainly in cargo containers shipped from narcotics-producing countries, among them Mexico and other ports of departure in Latin American. Brussels pointed to the example of the 2020 seizure in Slovakia of 1.5 tons of methamphetamine originating in Mexico, and another haul of 1.6 tons intercepted by Spain in 2019, to illustrate the scale of the problem.

According to the guidelines established by Brussels, the data that Europol could exchange with the Mexican security forces include ethnic or racial origin, political affiliations, religious or philosophical convictions, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data and other information relating to a person’s health, sex life and sexual orientation. The limit imposed by the E.C., for the time being, is that any exchange is based on an investigation linked to a criminal offense and that “adequate safeguards with respect to the protection of privacy and fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals” are provided for.

Brussels underlines the “urgent need to further develop Europol’s serious and organized crime intelligence and to enhance information exchange and investigative actions,” with other countries, in addition to improving the exchange of data and cooperative investigations with “countries and regions constituting major hubs for high-risk organized crime affecting E.U. Member States.”

The most recent United Nations statistics point to a sudden increase in drug trafficking from Latin America to Europe. This is echoed by the Brussels document, which notes that “unprecedented quantities of illicit drugs are trafficked to the E.U. from Latin America.” The World Cocaine Report 2023 issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime notes that drug trafficking routes to Europe have evolved and shipments originating in Southern Cone countries and Central America have increased.

“Cocaine from landlocked Bolivia and Peru is increasingly transported via the so-called Southern Cone route through Paraguay and the Paraná-Paraguay waterway. Criminal groups, often from Brazil, use planes to cross the border and then boats along the river to the Atlantic,” the U.N. report states. Main entry points for drug shipments into Europe have also changed, the report continues, with “Belgium and the Netherlands now eclipsing the Iberian Peninsula as the main hub.” As such, Mexican trafficking networks are considered “a threat to Europe” because of their ability to “acquire large quantities of cocaine directly from Latin American producers” and transport it to Europe.

With the quantities of trafficked drugs on the rise and the constant evolution of entry routes, Brussels’ proposal for a more widespread exchange of information is designed to facilitate the work of the anti-narcotics authorities. “Mexican cartels are multinational poly-criminal organizations and have intensified their criminal activities in the E.U., developing a tailor-made criminal business by using numerous legal business structures to support other crimes, such as drug trafficking,” the E.C. recommendation states. The document also notes that a joint Europol-DEA analysis carried out in 2022 showed “cartels and E.U.-based criminal networks have been working together to traffic both methamphetamine and cocaine from Latin America to the E.U. This new form of criminal collaboration also extends to the production of such illegal substances in the territory of some E.U. Member States.”

The agreements being proposed by Brussels could extend to areas beyond drug trafficking to include crimes committed on digital platforms and environmental crimes. Europol on Tuesday stressed the importance of these agreements in helping E.U. countries to prosecute organized crime. The European Council has already authorized negotiations with other countries including Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and New Zealand. The first such agreement was recently signed with the latter.

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