MEPs visit to Europol: what’s the European law enforcement status for animals

17 Jan 2023
Last week the Animal Welfare Intergroup’s Working Group on Companion Animals (CAWG) organised a visit to the Europol headquarters in The Hague to learn more about their work, specifically on illegal pets trade, wildlife trafficking and illegal horse meat trade.

Visit to Europol

Petras Austrevicius MEP (Renew, LT) and Manuela Ripa MEP (Greens/EFA, DE), respectively Chair and Vice-Chair of CAWG, accompanied by experts from Eurogroup for Animals, FOUR PAWS and the EU Dog & Cat Alliance, attended the meeting with several Europol representatives. 

Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, Deputy Executive Director for Operation opened the floor explaining the general functioning of the EU enforcement agency which supports and coordinates investigations of Member States agencies on organised crime, terrorism, cybercrime and environmental crime.  

Environmental crime is receiving more and more attention and has become a priority since 2017, the year Europol received a mandate to operate on it, which was amended in 2022 with the introduction of wildlife crime, animal mistreatment and welfare, biological crime (the intentional spread of zoonoses) and waste and pollution crimes.  

When it comes to Environmental crime there are severe differences between Member States (MSs), as it’s not dealt with at the same level: some MSs have developed specialised units while others can rely only on unspecialised policing units. 

The upcoming revision of the EU Directive on environmental crime, that should be formally adopted by the end of 2023, could help on this front by providing an harmonised legal framework for environmental crimes, and by instituting environmental crime units in all 27 MSs. 

Alfredo Nunzi, Head of Department Institutional and Legal Affairs, elaborated on the several collaborations e.g. with other areas like the Middle East, Western Balkans and South America, but also with private parties like financial actors and online providers which are a key player given the huge amount of data processing Europol is taking care of. 

Jose Antonio Alfaro Moreno, Team Leader, Analytical Project ENVICRIME, after explaining that the majority of crime actors are legal businesses and that the motive is always economic, leading to  document fraud, corruption, and money laundering, presented recent cases they worked on.   

The EU is hub for global wildlife trafficking being at the same time origin, transit and destination point, particularly for endemic unprotected species (non CITES) like song birds. In Italy Europol uncovered a criminal network which poached finches, killing the females and selling them for human consumption, without any sanitary check, and trading the males, which are the singers. They traded 80,000 specimens/year, worth 2-4 million euro.  

“As we all live in the common house of Europe, many activities could be better coordinated, including animal welfare. This visit aimed at understanding better what Europol is doing to protect animals. We appreciate their efforts to bring common, coordinated actions amongst Member States and partner countries in order to bring more guarantees that pets and wildlife will be better protected by our common approach. Member States should use best practices, like having dedicated policing units, to fight environmental crimes, including the ones against animals.”, commented Petras Austrevicius MEP (Renew, LT), Chair of the Animal Welfare Intergroup’s Working Group on Companion Animals (CAWG). 

“It was enlightening to speak with Europol Officials about their activities on illegal pet trade and wildlife trafficking to understand their work and their needs. There is still a lot to be done and we, as European Parliament, should support their work and enable to stop this horrendous abuse of animals”, concluded Manuela Ripa MEP (Greens/EFA, DE), Vice-Chair of the Animal Welfare Intergroup’s Working Group on Companion Animals (CAWG). 

“Environmental crime has become a key threat to global security and a profitable criminal activity. Most environmental crime schemes have been found to include an organised crime component and International law enforcement cooperation is of utmost importance in tackling this crime area. Europol is well positioned to coordinate efforts and gather operational information in order to prevent further damage by organised crime groups to the natural environment and animal welfare.”, concluded Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, Europol’s Deputy Executive Director for Operations. 




2022 Europol report Environmental crime in the age of climate change 

Eurogroup for Animals runs the Secretariat of the Animal Welfare Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals. 


Press contacts

Agnese Marcon, Communications Manager, Eurogroup for Animals

+32 (0) 456 078 038 

Eurogroup for Animals represents over eighty animal protection organisations across the EU, UK, Switzerland, Serbia, Norway, and Australia. Since its foundation in 1980, the organisation has succeeded in encouraging the EU to adopt higher legal standards for animal protection. Eurogroup for Animals reflects public opinion through its members and has both the scientific and technical expertise to provide authoritative advice on issues relating to animal protection. Eurogroup for Animals is a founding member of the World Federation for Animals which unites the animal protection movement at the global level.