Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 June 2011
Organised crime is a complex phenomenon. Historically, there has probably always been some form of structured or semi-structured criminal activity at all levels. Just as its shape and features vary, depending on the context in which it develops, so do the methods and the legislative criteria that are employed to combat it, although they have a number of elements in common. What makes European and international policies against organised crime particularly relevant nowadays is the dimension of this phenomenon and its increased ability to affect the economy and the society of one or more states at a time.
The strengthening of EU institutions and the trend towards more integration have brought about growing political pressure to forge common strategies for prevention and repression, as part of the broader canvas of judicial and police cooperation in criminal matters. These strategies, which have been influenced by criminological theories initially elaborated in the US, have been developing in a non-organic fashion, resulting in an incoherent and fragmented cooperation structure. The reasons for this are manifold, from the non-uniform evolution of the EU as a whole to the controversial mechanisms of decision-making within the pre-Lisbon third pillar. One cannot overlook the existence of different legal definitions of ‘criminal organisation’ in the various Member States and the difficulties deriving from this.