Will the EU be able to clamp down on sex and drugs in Amsterdam?
By BBC News – Wednesday, January 7, 1998
Copyright: BBC News
Tackling crime is one of the issues that British Prime Minister Tony Blair sees as a priority as the UK begins its six-month presidency of the European Union.
Organised crime has become increasingly international in character. Trafficking in women and drugs are some of the crimes to be dealt with by the new European body for police co-operation, Europol, which is due to become fully operational later this year.
In the last of our special series looking at the issues of crime, the environment and unemployment, BBC correspondent Mike Donkin went on patrol with Dutch police in Amsterdam’s red light district, where sex and drugs are rife:
Organised crime feeds best off sex and drugs, and in Amsterdam there is plenty to satisfy the most voracious of appetites.
Amsterdam is the main conduit for the traffic of women, which the European Union has pledged to stop. The women come from the world over.
It is a trade that is incredibly hard for the authorities to clamp down on. Those who run it are rarely to be found on the streets.
The women themselves, recruited back home for a job in the West, are too fearful to complain when they discover what that job is.
If they do contact police to complain, they are usually deported without an investigation, according to the Dutch group, Foundation against Trafficking in Women. They say the EU must change that.
“The first thing that should be changed in the policies of the European countries is to create the conditions for women to come out, to ask for support, to escape, to press charges,” said Marjam Wijers.
“This means they should be allowed a temporary escape permit, they should have witness protection, and they should have appropriate support.”
Drugs abound, despite recent successes
When it comes to drugs, Dutch police have had more success in recent months. After a series of high-profile raids, two drugs barons currently await trial.
But heroin and cocaine continue to flow unabated through Holland and beyond.
At an Amsterdam drug addiction centre, Harold takes methadone, a heroin substitute, to try to break a 12-year cycle of abuse. All of his previous efforts were thwarted by the drug pushers.
“They’re always trying to sell me drugs. Those people are making very good money out of the drugs.”
And as new more fashionable drugs hit the market, the profits of the drug trade expand. At dance parties in Holland, ecstasy tablets are accepted as a norm.
They are even tested for purity at club venues. Experts have concluded that attempting a total clamp-down on drug trafficking can be counter-productive.
“The tougher the measures you take, the more interesting it becomes for some people to bring it in, because prices get higher and with higher prices you always find people who find it very attractive to bring it in,” said Roal Karssamarks of the Drugs Prevention Centre.
Getting a grip on organised crime in the cities of Europe can seem like wishful thinking. As international borders open up, the criminals can ply their trade more easily and faster.
The British Government believes that there is only one way in which people can fight back – by knowing exactly how the enemy works.
Behind the walls of what was the Gestapo’s headquarters in Rotterdam, Holland, are the offices of Europe’s police force. Europol will this year bring together 300 officers from every EU state, and preventing crime will top their agenda.
But Europol’s chief warns that we should expect no miracles.
“There will not be an end to crime. But I think that we can have a balance, and crime will not take over our society and our economy,” said Jurgen Stenerbeck, Director of Europol.
“There will always be crime in the future, that’s for sure. Police alone, customs authorities alone, cannot do the job. We need a common approach by the whole of society and all our states.”
A people’s Europe cannot be a Europe without victims. But co-operation must be backed by political muscle to keep Europe’s underworld at bay.