Press statement by Commissioner Johansson on initiatives to fight child sexual abuse, drugs and firearms

©European Union, 2021, Source: EC - Audiovisual Service©European Union, 2021, Source: EC - Audiovisual Service

“Check against delivery”

Today as part of the European Commission’s Security Union Strategy I am presenting 3 specific proposals:

an EU Strategy for a more effective fight against child abuse

an EU Action Plan on firearms trafficking

an EU Drugs Agenda and Action Plan.

And there is an urgent need for European response.

On child sexual abuse online, in the last five years, we have seen Europe become the epicentre of hosted material.

On drugs, Europe is moving from a consumer region to also being a producer region, resulting in increased influence and reach for organised crime groups. We are exporting drugs from Europe today.

On firearms, we have good legislation but it has not been implemented fully in EU member states, and there is a lot more to do on this.

Let me start with my new strategy on fighting child sexual abuse.

We have a fundamental obligation to protect children both in real life and online.

Child sexual abuse material online is increasing dramatically, exponentially.

We have seen in the last 9 years, worldwide, a rise from 1 million detected material in 2010 to17 million in 2019.

In the European Union last year there were more than 725,000 reports. And a lot is also not being reported and detected.

And the situation has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, with a lot of children alone at home, and also because of increased activity from paedophiles.

Online abusers are becoming more sophisticated, in sharing, in hiding and worst, in creating new material.

The growth in this disgusting material is based on a disgusting incentive: to gain access perpetrators must provide new material.

To look at children being raped, paedophiles rape, or film the rape, of more children.

Last year, 100,000 new videos were referred to law enforcement authorities in the EU, in addition to a lot of pictures

And over the last 5 years, material has shifted to being hosted within Europe, with two thirds now hosted in the EU, significantly in the Netherlands.

On this I am particularly grateful to Dutch Minister Grapperhaus for how he has made fighting this problem a top priority.

We need to have sharper tools.

Essentially we need better capacity to detect, to report, to remove and to refer.

We are announcing today that next year, the Commission will propose new legislation to make it mandatory for relevant internet and social media messaging companies to detect, report and remove materials, and refer them to appropriate authorities.

Detection of abuse is an essential part of the process. This can lead to victims being saved. And that is not just in terms of the damage, indeed trauma, of images circulating, but sometimes in real-time, saving them from a situation of ongoing abuse.

For example the rescue of a 9 year-old girl in Romania, who had been abused by her father for more than a year, and who could be saved thanks to this work with Europol and national police forces

That is why the online companies have such a responsibility.

Their detection and reporting starts investigations which lead to the rescue of children and to prosecutions of offenders.

Recent examples in a German case revealing potentially 30,000 suspects and another recent massive investigation in Italy show the value of strong reporting mechanism and quick cooperation.

Both these examples show the effectiveness of detection and subsequent reports to the US-based National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). They gather the material and then report it to Europol.

It is time Europe has its own centre to prevent and counter child sexual abuse, to ensure a coordinated and fast response and support Member States.

In addition to this detect, report, remove, refer process, this new Centre would be a hub for connecting, developing and disseminating research and expertise in prevention. Because preventing these abuses and rapes from happening in the first place is the most important. To facilitate the exchange of best prevention practices across the EU we will create a prevention network.

And it would also play a role in ensuring assistance to victims. Child sexual abuse is a crime that has life-long consequences. Seeing the material live on the Internet a long time after the actual abuse can lead to life-long traumas.

Too often the abuse of a child is by someone in a position of trust, a family member. And part of the abuse is threatening the child with what would happen if they told someone.

We need to create good practice so that children feel safe enough to report abuse to a responsible adult.

I am also presenting the EU Drugs Agenda and Action Plan for 2021-2025.

The illicit drug market remains the largest criminal market in the EU. It is the biggest source of revenue for organised crime.

Criminals use this money to finance corruption, murder and a lot of other crimes.

An illustration of the scale of the problem is Europol’s estimate that there are over 5000 organised crime groups operating in Europe today.

Last year, we were able to seize 100 tonnes of cocaine.

Synthetic drug production is now being manufactured in Europe on an industrial scale.

The Action Plan we are presenting has 53 concrete actions to tackle illicit drugs.

Finally, I am also presenting today the 2020-2025 EU Action plan on firearms trafficking.

We have been working successfully with the Western Balkans to fight firearms trafficking and we will continue doing that.

But estimates are up to 35 million illicit weapons owned by civilians in the EU which is more than the number of firearms legally held by civilians in the EU.

Today’s proposals are very timely given that organised criminal groups and child sexual abuse have grown during the pandemic.

For more information

Questions and Answers: Delivering on a Security Union

Press release: EU Security Union Strategy: connecting the dots in a new security ecosystem

Communication on the EU Security Union Strategy

On the fight against child sexual abuse:

On the fight against illicit drugs:

On countering firearms trafficking: