The Dutch parliament has asked their government to invoke the visa suspension mechanism for the Republic of Albania. The parliament in the Hague cites a worrying increase in crimes committed by the Albanian mafia as a reason for the move.
Regulation (EU) 2018/1806 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 November 2018 allows member states to file for a temporary suspension of visa-free travel for residents of non-EU countries. The regulation allows for this exemption in emergency situations or those of "increased risk". The text was adopted with the migrant crisis in mind, which had put countries such as Greece under pressure affected many of the non-EU member states in the Balkans. Multiple paragraphs in the regulation specifically address refugees and requires that an "increase" (in emergency or risk) needs to be 50% (without specifying what those 50% exactly mean).
In the context of the adoption of this measure, this 50% increase is most likely related to an uptick in migratory flow. However, if The Hague decides to follow through with filing a visa suspension, it wouldn't do so on the ground of refugees, but rather from a perspective of increased incidences of crime. The question is whether or not the Commission in Brussels would interpret regulation 2018/1806 in a way that the Netherlands would need to prove a 50% increase in Albanian mafia-related crime.
The parliamentary motion was filed last week by four Dutch parties, three ruling and one in opposition, and cited a significant increase in criminal activity by Albanian mafia groups in the Netherlands. MPs Madeleine van Toorenburg (Christian Democrats), Jeroen van Wijngaarden (Liberal Conservatives), Jasper van Dijk (Socialist Party), and Nico Drost (Christian Union) argue that the visa liberalization for Albania was contingent on several conditions, including the fight against international crime, and that the current increase means that Tirana has not respected its side of the agreement.
The Dutch government responded to the request of parliament, stating that the positive position of Berlaymont towards the visa-free regime of Albania leaves no room for negotiation in Brussels on this topic.
Europol is currently leading a joint action in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands in an effort to stop the Albanian mafia from expanding their operations. To this day, the operation has resulted in searches of 39 premises, the dismantlement of 15 indoor cannabis plantations and seizure of 8,255 cannabis plants, around 100,000 euros in cash and gold, four luxury vehicles, and 63 electronic devices. MPs in the Dutch parliament were quoting police officials who said that they had never seen such a violent group.
It's more than just a fun fact that you can bring up at the family dinner table or during an after-work party: cannabis is not legal in the Netherlands. Cannabis is an illegal narcotic under Dutch law, though consumption has been decriminalised and the sale of which is tolerated by law enforcement. This has led to an arbitrary system in which Dutch police can decide at any time to enforce the law at will in coffee shops around the country, giving the industry no legal certainty. Adding to that, growing cannabis remains illegal (as is import, meaning that consumers are free to consume a product they bought from shops that are legal sometimes, and that really only be acquired if it magically falls out of the sky. What a wonder of legislative creation.
So who is the Albanian mafia selling to?
They are probably involved in the procurement chain of the semi-legal coffee shops, as well as a vast network of dealers that sell below coffee shop prices, or in towns in which non-residents are not allowed to purchase cannabis. (N.B. Under Dutch law, cannabis cannot be legally purchased by non-residents of the Netherlands, meaning tourists cannot legally buy weed. A small number of cities, including Amsterdam, introduced municipal regulations which exempt it from that law. In smaller towns like Maastricht however, the law is in effect and enforced by the coffee shops themselves.)
The Albanian mafia is involved in the drug trade because it is a profitable business. As Milton Friedman said:
"If you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That's literally true."
And that is what the Dutch parliament should be focused on: instead of restricting the rights of Albanian citizens to travel, the Netherlands can solve its organised crime problem by legalising the entire supply-chain of cannabis, from production to consumption. This would give large cannabis producers legal certainty, which would integrate and professionalise the market.
The Netherland isn't the victim of Albanians, but of its own war on drugs.