By Neelam Rahim
Europe is increasingly becoming a hub for production and transhipment of cocaine to other regions of the world, in addition to being a major consumption market, EU agencies said on Friday, warning also about the expanding methamphetamine industry.
After cannabis, cocaine is the most consumed drug in Europe, with millions of users and sales of around 10.5 billion euros ($11.1 billion) in 2020, according to a joint EU report by law enforcement agency Europol and drugs agency EMCDDA.
In its annual report published on Tuesday, the EU drugs agency said that new evidence was emerging of rising drug production in Europe, confirming its earlier warning about the continent turning into a global hub for narcotics and no longer just a consumption market.
“Synthetic drug production continues to increase in Europe,” the report warned, noting that illegal laboratories in Europe churn out huge amounts of amphetamine, methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs for local consumption and export outside Europe.
Drugs and the chemicals needed to produce them are still primarily imported into Europe from other parts of the world, including South America and Asia. Still, European criminal organisations are tightening their ties with cartels outside the continent in a bid to cut costs for drugs production and trafficking, said the report, which is based on information from European law enforcement agencies.
“More production is also now taking place inside Europe, indicating changes in the region’s role in the international cocaine trade,” the report said.
The report also said that the European market for methamphetamine is also growing but remains much smaller than that for cocaine, noting it was difficult to estimate its precise size.
According to data collected by the EU agencies, Belgium appears to be at the centre of the industry in Europe. The EU seized the most cocaine in 2020, the last year for which data is available, for a total volume of 70 tonnes, mainly at the port of Antwerp, against 49 tonnes in the Netherlands, Europe’s second-biggest nation for seizures.
Belgium is also a leading country in processing cocoa paste, alongside the Netherlands and Spain, according to the report, which cites as evidence seizures of large quantities of chemical precursors for cocaine production and information about processing facilities.