Following an invitation by the European Commission, 170 experts met today in Brussels to discuss how the EU can better fight wildlife trafficking.
The conference marked the end of a public consultation which was launched on 7 February with a Communication by the Commission (COM (2014) 64 final). The background of the Commission's initiative is the surge in wildlife trafficking globally over the last years which has reached a level that threatens the survival of some endangered species and undermines good governance and sustainable development. Organised crime is significantly involved in this lucrative business, also within the EU.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik who opened the conference said: "The damages caused by wildlife trafficking are enormous, and the efforts we undertake to combat it effectively will have to match the gravity of the situation." He also conveyed a message from the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström:"Wildlife trafficking can be a very profitable business where risks of detection and sanctions are lower than for example drug trafficking. We need to strengthen our fight against this environmental crime."
Discussions focused on how to strengthen enforcement within the EU, how to better fight organised wildlife crime and how to ensure a more strategic diplomatic and development support role for the EU against wildlife crime.
Participants of the conference, which will continue tomorrow with dedicated workshops, came from 26 Member States, and from source and market countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Key international organisations such as Europol, Eurojust, Interpol, different part of the UN system and the World Bank were also represented. Civil society was actively participating through more than twenty different organisations. The European Parliament reiterated its call for an EU Action Plan against wildlife trafficking.
It was the first time representatives from all parts of government concerned (foreign affairs, development, environment, home affairs and justice) came together with practitioners from the entire enforcement chain, reflecting the need to develop a more comprehensive approach to what has become a major and complex organized crime problem and a threat to sustainable development.
Experts highlighted a number of problems for enforcement at EU level such as lack of resources, insufficient cooperation between agencies, in some Member States non-deterrent sanction levels and the lack of reliable data to analyse the scope of the problem. It was also discussed how cooperation between Member States in cross-border cases could be further strengthened. Regarding organized crime, the need to also follow the trail of the illegal revenues generated through wildlife trafficking was highlighted.
For better supporting global efforts against wildlife trafficking, experts stressed the need for improved enforcement of existing international rules and the importance of high level diplomatic actions towards countries affected by wildlife trafficking. They also discussed how to maximise international cooperation to investigate and sanction transnational organised networks and how to best integrate wildlife crime among the donor's priorities for development cooperation assistance.
The Commission will analyse carefully all the recommendations provided by the experts in the consultation and at the conference today and will on this basis review existing policies and measures.