The EESC at its December plenary welcomed the Commission's proposal for a directive on asset recovery and confiscation as an important step towards combatting money laundering and terrorist financing in the EU. Despite a general improvement in some of the Member States, the percentage of criminal assets that are frozen or confiscated remains extremely low across the EU.

The new directive improves cross-border cooperation between all authorities involved in asset recovery, encourages EU countries to develop national strategies and requires them to set up at least one Asset Recovery Office, a specialised body for tracing and identifying proceeds of crime and other crime-related property, the EESC said in its opinion on asset recovery and confiscation, adopted at the plenary session in December.

"We think the Commission's proposal is very good, as it responds to the need to broaden the scope of the confiscation mechanisms. It also establishes cross-border cooperation mechanisms to increase the rate of asset recovery. At the moment, the rates are very low, with only 2% of criminal assets frozen and only 1% confiscated," said the rapporteur for the opinion Ionuţ Sibian.

The new directive also adds a significant list of crimes to those contained in the Confiscation directive from 2014, including organ trafficking, kidnapping, environmental crimes and trafficking in stolen vehicles, to name but a few.

However, the EESC noted that the directive falls short of explicitly including migrant smuggling and illicit tobacco trade within its scope, despite the significant annual revenues of these criminal markets, worth an estimated EUR 289.4 million and EUR 8 309.3 million respectively, and urged the Commission to add them to the list.

The EESC also asked the Commission to be more ambitious regarding the social reuse of confiscated assets and to set a minimum percentage for social reuse for Member States.

"It is very important that affected communities get restorative damages directly and benefit from the returns from these damages. It is one area in which we expected developments, but there is a stagnation. Civil society has to be involved in managing and disposing of confiscated assets," Mr Sibian said.

Another EESC request was for the Commission to be more precise in setting out victims' rights to compensation. When ranking creditors, victims should be given priority, the Committee concluded. (ll)