European Union
last updated September 1, 2005

The European Union (EU), like the Council of Europe, has addressed the issue of trafficking in women. The work of the EU in the area of trafficking has focused on creating common definitions and criminal penalties and sanctions for trafficking offenses to be implemented by Member States, increasing law-enforcement cooperation among Member States through Europol and Eurojust, funding of anti-trafficking initiatives, and the adoption of Council and Commission decisions and Parliament resolutions.

In 2003, the Commission of the European Communities established the "Experts Group on Trafficking in Human Beings." Commission Decision of March 2003 (2003/209/EC). The Experts Group will issue opinions or reports in order to help the Commission develop concrete proposals to address trafficking. The group may also invite official government representatives, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations to participate in the discussion of a particular topic. The formation of such a group is one of the policy suggestions outlined in the September 2002 Brussels Declaration, a document that came out of the European Conference on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings - a Global Challenge for the 21st Century. The Annex to the Brussels Declaration calls on EU Member States and candidate nations to take specific steps to prevent trafficking in human beings, protect and assist victims, and work for greater police and judicial cooperation.

In July 2002, the EU issued Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA on combating trafficking in human beings. This Decision is legally binding and requires Member States (including those states that will accede to the EU in March 2004) to comply with its terms by August 2004. The Decision establishes a comprehensive EU approach to combating trafficking in human beings by setting out minimum requirements for Member State action. In particular, Member States must punish the following acts, as well as "instigation of, aiding, abetting or attempting to commit" such acts:

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, subsequent reception of a person, including exchange or transfer of control over that person, where:

(a) use is made of coercion, force or threat, including abduction, or
(b) use is made of deceit or fraud, or
(c) there is an abuse of authority or of a position of vulnerability . . . , or
(d) payments or benefits are given or received to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person

for the purpose of exploitation of that person's labour or services, including at least forced or compulsory labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery or servitude, or for the purpose of the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, including in pornography. 

The victim's consent is irrelevant where the victim is a child or where any of the enumerated forms of coercion or force have been used. Under this Decision, punishment for violations must be "effective, proportionate and dissuasive." Imprisonment with a maximum penalty that is not less than eight years is mandated in the following circumstances: the victim's life has been endangered; the victim was a particularly vulnerable victim; serious violence was used or serious harm was caused; or the crime was committed within the framework of a criminal organization. The Decision also introduces the notion of criminal and civil liability for legal persons (i.e. corporations). Penalties to be imposed on legal persons include criminal and non-criminal fines, as well as specific sanctions involving the commercial activity of the entity involved. To ensure that a crime does not go unpunished, there are three criteria on jurisdiction. A Member State will have jurisdiction where: an offence is committed on its territory; the offender is a national of the state; or the offence is committed for the benefit of a legal person established in the territory of the member state. Finally, the Decision contains a number of provisions providing additional protection for child victims of trafficking. (This decision replaces and repeals Council Joint Action 97/154/JHA, insofar as it concerns trafficking in human beings.)

Trafficking in persons is not only a crime to be prosecuted by Member States in accordance with the Council Framework Decision, but it also violates the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which states: "Trafficking in human beings is prohibited." The Charter was proclaimed by EU leaders in December 2000, and will become binding EU law if the Draft Constitutional Treaty is adopted.  The Draft Constitution itself refers explicitly to the issue of trafficking.  Article 167 of Part III sets provisions for defining serious crimes with cross-border dimensions, including the trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women and children.  Article 170 of Part III proposes the creation of a European Public Prosecutor's Office, in order to "combat serious crime having a cross-border dimension."  The Draft Constitution was submitted to the Presidency of the Council of the EU on July 18, 2003, and is currently being reviewed by the Intergovernmental Conference. On April 1, 2004, the leaders of the 25 current and future member states unanimously committed themselves to reaching an agreement on the Constitution by their next summit, Jun 17-18, 2004. The biweekly bulletin of the Constitutional Convention tracks the latest developments on the agreement process.  

The Parliament has issued a number of resolutions on the issue of trafficking in women, including the "resolution on the communication from the Commission to the Council and the Parliament 'For further actions in the fight against trafficking in women'" (COM(1998) 726 - C5-0123/1999 - 1999/2125(COS)) of May 2000. This resolution calls on the EU to develop a clear legal basis for fighting all forms of violence against women, including trafficking, and to "decide on the full communautarisation of a European policy on the fight against trafficking in human beings and on the related issues of migration and asylum, in particular the right of asylum in response to gender related oppression and persecution." The resolution emphasizes the need for Member States to improve criminal legislation, to improve coordination and cooperation at both the national and international level, to appoint national rapporteurs on trafficking and to provide victims with specific services, including legal counseling, housing and employment assistance. 

The EU has also addressed the issue of trafficking from the standpoint of immigration policy and asylum law. With increased cooperation between EU Member States, the need arose to develop a common approach to immigration procedure, border controls and asylum policy. European Member States have been undergoing a process of harmonization of their asylum procedures, generally with the aim of tightening regulations and limiting the number of asylum seekers. Some human rights activists have argued that the harmonization process has had a negative impact on addressing the problem of trafficking since decreased opportunities to immigrate legally lead to an increase in the need for traffickers' services. In April 2004, the Council of Ministers adopted a directive on short-term residence permits issued to adult victims of trafficking or illegal immigration who are third-country nationals. The Council of Ministers annouced the adoption of this directive in a European Union Press Release dated, April 29, 2004.  Upon implementation of the directive, the victims will be granted a 30-day period in which to consider whether they will cooperate with national authorities in the prosecution of traffickers. During this period, the trafficked person will be eligible for aid, in the form of housing, medical and psychological care and other forms of social assistance. The directive also allows for the possibility for member states to issue a short-term (six month) residency period for those victims who cooperate with authorities. The purpose of introducing such a residency permit is only to combat illegal immigration. Therefore the proposal does not explicitly include measures about victim protection, witness protection or combating organized crime. Victim protection and witness protection are addressed as matters of European and national law. 

In addition to its legislation and resolutions, the European Unionalso funds a number of anti-trafficking initiatives.  The European Commission has proposed DAPHNE II to fund individual projects that prevent violence against children, young people and women at a EU-level, for 2004-5.  AGIS, a EU framework program, supports transnational projects initiated by legal practitioners, law enforcement agents and victim assistance service representatives.  In particular, AGIS directs the STOP program, which is designed to combat and prevent human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children through educational and training programs.

The issue of trafficking has also been raised in the context of the European Union accession process. While all EU Member States are affected by the problem of trafficking in women, labor migration patterns flow from Central and Eastern European countries, including EU candidate countries, to Western Europe. At the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting with candidate countries in September 2001, ministers of justice and the interior agreed on twelve measures to combat trafficking. Thus, bringing domestic law and policy on the issue of trafficking in line with international and European standards has become an important criterion for the accession of candidate countries. Further information on the European Union accession process can be accessed through the International Law section of this website.

In regards to Eastern and Central European countries that are not prospective EU member states, the EU has adopted a regional approach in combating trafficking. In particular, it has identified Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine as source and transit countries for trafficking and is working on a regional basis with these countries through the TACIS Program. In the Balkans, fighting trafficking is emphasized as part of the CARDS Program. In 2002, as part of the Transatlantic Agenda, the EU, in cooperation with Russia and the United States, initiated a feasibility study dealing with trafficking in Russia. In addition, the EU has worked with the United States and the International Organization for Migration to fund information campaigns in Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

The European Union website includes a page with an overview of EU strategies and actions.  While the site does not include links to all EU decisions and resolutions on trafficking, it does include information about funding and work at the UN and Council of Europe levels.

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), an umbrella organization of 73 refugee-assistance agencies located in 30 countries, hosts a site on European Union documents related to trafficking and immigrant smuggling.