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Estonian Contribution to the Enlarged European Union

ISBN 9985-870-19-0

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Cross-Border Crime and Estonia’s Accession to the European Union

1. Introduction

The issues of cross-border crime *2 related to Eastern Europe were already topical before the current enlargement of the European Union. The majority of foreign criminologists and experts claim that crimes between the East and the West have increased considerably, diversified, and become more ‘organised’ over the decades, with radical social change and broadening crime opportunities. *3 What will happen in cross-border crime after the accession of the ten countries, including Estonia and other former Soviet republics, is a question to which various answers have been given.

Cross-border crime related to Estonia and the other Baltic states has mainly been examined in the context of the movement of offenders from these countries to the European Union and the resulting worsening of the crime situation in the old member states. *4 Such stereotypical assessment is rather prevalent both in Western European public opinion and among law enforcement professionals. *5 Here we can perceive the transfer of similar views to new circumstances, or unwillingness to alter earlier attitudes. This is illustrated by an organised crime report for 2002 prepared by Europol, which concludes among other things that Estonian organised crime groups have fully taken over the role of drug traffickers to Finland. *6 Such an attitude is also manifested in the image of the (Russian) mafia, which has been created to emphasise the extreme danger accompanying the offenders from the ‘new’ states.*7 

This is likely to be a subjective assessment of danger, which mainly derives from the superficial knowledge of the situation in these states and the low precision of objective assessment methods. The main point is that such one-sided interpretation of a still developing situation definitely does not constitute sufficient preconditions for creating an adequate overview of the actual cross-border crime and the establishment of better co‑operation between the law enforcement authorities of different countries. For example, pressure exerted on Estonia from the West where criminal activities are concerned need not be smaller than that exerted from here toward the West concerning any type of criminal offence. This is evidenced by the repeated attempts of suspicious persons from Western European countries to participate in the privatisation of Estonia’s major infrastructure objects at the beginning and in the middle of the 1990s. The most important shortcoming involves sticking to the framework of the old stereotypes; failure to see the actual developments in international (cross-border) crime and its dangers; and, as a result, the lack of preparedness to combat them.

From the point of view of Estonia and the other new member states of the European Union, an attempt should be made to, after establishing the necessary foundations, make an original contribution to handling cross-border crime. That refers to participation in defining and interpreting the phenomenon and in various stages of the development of control measures.

The general objective of this survey was to analyse the status of cross-border crime and its possible developments upon Estonia’s accession to the European Union. Further to that, there was examination of changes accompanying the accession in international co‑operation on legal protection, in order to plan the resources of agencies dealing with prevention of criminal offences and to map the national and international co-operation network in the field.

2. Methodology

The study included interviews with the leading officials of Estonian law enforcement authorities. The DELPHI method was applied, which involves questioning a group of top experts in an area. The advantage of the method is that the group as a whole yields a better result than the most competent expert belonging to the group.*8 

During the survey, information on the problem examined was first gathered separately from each expert. The information obtained was summarised, and an overview of the group perception of the problem was prepared. This included highlighting areas on which the experts agreed and those where dissenting opinions were expressed. The dissenting opinions were taken down and sent to the experts as feedback so that they could express their opinions about the causes of the dissenting opinions and argue their case.

The experts were selected from the institutions that the authors knew as addressing issues of cross-border crime control. The expert group comprised the leading officials of the relevant departments of the Police Board, the Security Police Board, the Border Guard Administration, customs, the court system, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Finance. Taking into account the hierarchy of the ministries and agencies, the management of each institution was also notified of the study.

At first, 64 questionnaires were distributed electronically. By questioning the experts individually instead of finding out the official position of the institution, we appealed to the intuition and knowledge of individual experts. It could be presumed that such individual opinions were not included in those questionnaires completed collectively in the agencies. The experts from the Ministry of Finance either did not reply or announced their insufficient competence in issues of cross-border crime, as they did not consider handling crime to fall within their area of competence. It was relatively difficult to select experts from the Security Police (KAPO), the Tax Fraud Investigation Centre of the Tax Board (MUK), and the Border Guard Administration. Finally, some answers could be obtained from the MUK and KAPO; however, the opinions of the experts of the Border Guard Administration were never received. The number of completed questionnaires sent back was 24.

The objective of the questionnaire distributed in the first stage was to collect information on how cross-border crime was defined by the experts working in the field.

The second stage summarised the information collected during the first stage. This was used to prepare three survey instruments. One questionnaire focussed on changes in cross-border crime upon accession to the European Union, another handled co-operation with other countries and the European Union structures, and the third examined the efficiency of various measures in controlling cross-border crime in different agencies. This way, the members of the DELPHI panel received generalised feedback about how the other experts in the field assessed the situation. The final answers were obtained from 19 experts. In the third stage, the information gathered in the second stage was summarised and a consolidated report prepared. The consolidated report was made available to the members of the DELPHI panel in order to receive comments and clarification.

3. Changes in cross-border crime

In order to delimit the phenomena falling into the category of cross-border crime, the experts were first requested to freely list forms of cross-border crime. The outcome was a list of (criminal) types of behaviour and structures, which were divided into eight subgroups. After this, the experts assessed what would happen in the particular fields after Estonia acceded to the European Union.

3.1. Migration of crime

The experts assessed the migration of crime in great detail, and the majority of them predicted an increase in the migration of crime upon Estonia’s accession to the European Union. The experts expected the greatest increase in the hiding of Estonian fugitives in other countries and the commission of crimes by ‘new immigrants’ to Estonia. The immigrants cited include persons from countries that are far afield (such as China and other Asian countries). The opinion was that the number of crimes committed by Estonian residents in other European countries ranked third and commission of crimes in Estonia by residents of European Union countries came fourth.

Figure 1. Assessment of migration of crime (N=19).

An increase in the number of crimes committed by residents of the CIS in Estonia was considered least likely, due to the role of the Estonian/Russian border as a well-protected external frontier of the European Union upon EU accession. Neither was more frequent involvement of Estonian citizens as victims of crimes in the other European Union countries predicted.

3.2. Criminal organisations

In the responses provided by the experts, cross-border crime was often associated with criminal organisations. The experts were most in agreement about the geographical expansion of the area of activity of criminal organisations, which could easily accompany the increase in the free movement of persons. The problems of ‘new immigrants’ were specified as related to criminal organisations that were about to be formed in Estonia; also, it was predicted that such organisations from various countries would merge. According to the experts, the role of Estonia as a transit country would increase in the activities of criminal organisations on the Western axis. An increase in the size of criminal organisations and specialisation in certain types of crimes as well as the creation of armed conflicts related to the redistribution of areas of impact were considered most unlikely.

Figure 2. Assessment of criminal organisations (N=18).

The replies revealed that in Estonia, the prevailing opinion is that organised crime is, above all, a problem of ‘strangers’, with less attention paid to the existence of a type of environment conducive to organised crime. All the areas of activity of criminal organisations that were expected to grow were related to people coming from outside Estonia. One should resist the temptation to define cross-border crime as the turf of (foreign) criminal organisations. World experience also demonstrates that attempts to control organised (cross-border) crime by channelling forces to neutralisation of the leaders of criminal groups have not yielded the expected results, as a rule.*9 

3.3. Illegal migration and trafficking in women

The experts’ forecasts mostly included the illegal inflow of immigrants and labour into the European Union. Estonia was predominantly viewed as a transit country, and illegal migration from the CIS countries occupied first position. This was followed by illegal migration from other countries via Estonia into other Western countries, and an increase in the trafficking of women from Estonia into Western countries was ranked third. Increased trafficking in women from other countries in which they are brought into Estonia and illegal migration from other countries into Estonia were considered the least likely. As reasons why Estonia was not regarded as a very attractive destination for illegal immigrants in the near future, the relatively low standard of living and underdeveloped social benefits system compared to the other member states of the European Union were pointed out.

Figure 3. Assessment of illegal migration and trafficking in women (N=19).

The experts obviously considered the dangers related to trafficking in women in Estonia less significant than could be assumed on the basis of the international attention paid to this matter in recent years. The objective of the campaign aimed against trafficking in women in the Northern countries and the Baltic states was ‘to map the readiness for recognition of trafficking in persons as a social problem and combating it, as well as notification of strategically important social groups of the reasons for the phenomenon and other accompanying problems’. *10 The report on the campaign notes, among other things, that general informedness concerning the nature of the trafficking in persons in Estonia is rather low and the understanding of the negative effect of trafficking in persons and prostitution on society is insufficient or nonexistent. Yet it could be inferred that state officials were not considerably better informed than ordinary citizens, they could not perceive their roles in combating the problem, and there was no national action plan for combating trafficking in persons.*11 

3.4. Drug related crimes

The experts clearly distinguished among consumption, transit, and production of drugs. The largest growth was predicted in the transit of drugs from the CIS countries through Estonia to other Western countries and in trade in drugs. The experts also unanimously predicted the development of an international network of drug traders in Estonia and a growth in drug consumption. The production of drugs by Estonian people in other countries and their transit through Estonia to the CIS countries were predicted to increase to a lesser extent.

Figure 4. Assessment of drug related crimes (N=19).

The assessment of production of drugs in Estonia yielded controversial results. Most of the experts thought that production would significantly increase or remain the same. Two experts, however, were convinced that such activities would decrease in the future. The lack of consensus among the experts may boil down to the varying degree of informedness about the problem and the fact that the directions of drug transit and the production and consumption of drugs vary by substance.

3.5. Economic crimes and counterfeiting

Two types of economic crimes were highlighted in the responses of the experts, these being misappropriation of money from European Union funds and money laundering. The former was expected to increase significantly. According to the Director General of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), Estonia will experience a considerable increase in the risk of fraud upon accession to the European Union, as attempts could be made to import goods from Russia via Estonia into the European Union, using counterfeit declarations. Estonian agricultural producers will receive subsidies, which could be used by swindlers hoping that administrative agencies cannot penetrate such schemes. *12 According to the data available to the Ministry of Finance, money has not been misappropriated from European Union funds in Estonia yet. Regardless, the Agricultural Registers and Information Board has rejected 20 project applications and submitted them for investigation to the Security Police. After the EU Structural Funds are opened to Estonia later in 2004, the amount of attempted misuse is expected to increase.*13 

Figure 5. Assessment of economic crimes and counterfeiting (N=19).

The assessments according to which money laundering in Estonia is, above all, affected by local relations with the former Soviet Union republics are in line with the fact that all the cases of international money laundering that have reached the stage of investigative activities have been related to Russia or other states created upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union. *14 Although the local situation is seen as positive on an international scale with respect to money laundering, some areas remain insufficiently regulated. The progress report completed in July 2003 states that Estonia’s situation concerning money laundering generally meets the criteria established in the relevant chapter of the European Union negotiations. At the same time, attention was paid to the need for supplementing legislation on supervision of gambling. *15 Estonia does not have an official system for ensuring that financial institutions comply with the notification obligation, and the Financial Intelligence Unit lacks the authorisation to request additional information from banks.*16 

The experts predicted an increase in the spread and, to a lesser extent, production of counterfeit money. After Estonia’s accession to the European Union, counterfeiting of passports and other documents may become more frequent in Estonia, as residents of the CIS will make more intensive use of these counterfeit documents in order to reach Western European countries through Estonia.

3.6. Smuggling

One type of criminal offence that is expected to undergo a significant increase is smuggling, which concerns the avoidance of excise duties on tobacco, alcohol, and fuel and illicit traffic arising from different rates of excise rates. The area that is expected to develop the least intensely is smuggling of arms. At the moment, trafficking in arms is insignificant in Estonia, which is also indicated by the information of the Customs Board. For example, in 2002, customs officials seized two firearms and 21 cut‑and‑thrust weapons. The experts predicted a slight growth in fuel smuggling. The period 1999–2001 saw a considerable increase in illicit fuel trade, while the volume of fuel seized by customs officials in 2002 decreased again.

According to the Europol report for 2000, commodity smuggling has grown exponentially throughout the European Union since the abolition of intra-Community borders in 1993.*17  The Estonian experts expect an intensification of alcohol and tobacco smuggling after accession to the European Union.

Figure 6. Assessment of smuggling (N=19).

According to the Estonian Institute of Economic Research, 37% of smokers in Estonia buy illegal tobacco products and the proportion of illegal tobacco products in domestic consumption amounted to approximately 26–27% in 2002. *18 The excise rates for cigarettes and smoking tobacco will be harmonised with the European Union requirements by 31 December 2009, on cigars and cigarillos from the time of accession. The excise rates for cigarettes are being gradually increased in 2001–2009. The Ministry of Finance has prepared a schedule for harmonising excise duties, while the excise rates presented in the schedule may be subject to change depending on consumer demand in the cigarettes market. *19 According to the information of the Customs Board, smuggling of tobacco products has increased over the last few years.

The above survey conducted by the Estonian Institute of Economic Research indicated that illegal cigarettes occupied a stable market share in Estonia. Proceeding from that, one may claim that at least some illicit tobacco remains in Estonia. According to the information of the Finnish researchers Junninen and Aromaa, cigarettes are smuggled from Estonia into Finland. Larger amounts of illicit tobacco are transported from Estonia via Finland to Sweden. The scope of smuggling and the professionalism of these activities have increased in the past few years.*20 

Van Duyne notes that within the borders of the European Union, cigarettes are transported in transit from countries applying a lower rate of excise duty to countries where higher taxes are imposed on tobacco products. *21 The excise rates for tobacco will remain relatively low here after Estonia’s accession to the European Union. Therefore, attention must be paid to the established network of tobacco smugglers, including the possible corruptive relations with officials. All this allows for predicting a growth in illicit trade in tobacco products upon Estonia’s accession to the European Union.

The market share of illegal alcohol is currently estimated to amount to 25–30%, and the state loses about 200 million kroons in uncollected taxes each year. *22 Smuggling of alcohol, however, has been decreasing.


3.7. Corruption

Corruption is a very intricate phenomenon, where not only legal regulation, which is often emphasised in the context of anti-corruption activities, but also social phenomena such as people’s perception of corruption, conventions, patterns of behaviour, and level of trust in state officials have their role. The experts’ assessments of corruption in relation to cross-border crime were contradictory. The opinions included those of people expecting an increase in corruption, while a number of opinions represented the view that the situation would remain unchanged or improve. It was interesting to learn that there were no major variations in predictions concerning the level of corruption in the customs, border guard, and police forces.

Figure 7. Assessment of corruption (N=18).

As background information, we would like to note that according to various data (police statistics, corruption perception index, public-opinion polls, GRECO(Group of States Against Corruption) report*23 ), the level of corruption in Estonia is one of the lowest in the acceding countries. According to the public-opinion polls, the level of corruption is the highest among politicians and police officers. However, the Estonian authorities find that the largest number of corruption-related problems occur in local government, the Customs Board, and the Border Guard Administration. *24 The European Commission has paid attention to the need for combating corruption in the police and customs offices. *25 The GRECO report also expresses concerns about the vulnerability of customs officers to corruption and organised crime.*26 

After Estonia’s accession to the European Union, certain causes of corruption will disappear (e.g., privatisation has been completed, the local bureaucracy is becoming more transparent and easily controllable as a result of training and the EU requirements the public service standards may change). At the same time, new opportunities for corruption will spring up. The state bureaucracy will be complemented by the European Union bureaucracy with its transport flows and free movement of persons, and with increasing European Union subsidies the opportunities for corruption will expand. It is important that, as a result of target-oriented ‘enlightenment’ in the area of corruption, people will be more sensitive to it. This may be reflected in a less favourable assessment of Estonia’s situation later on (e.g., the corruption perception index may decline).

3.8. Other crimes

In addition to the above crimes, the experts also pointed out specific crimes in their answers. Crimes related to the use of information technology were expected to increase most. Here it may be presumed that the predicted increase in crimes in the field of virtual space with no boundaries was related to the general development of technology rather than the enlargement of the European Union.

For a long time, car thefts have been the speciality of several criminal groups active in Estonia. In 2001, the courts for the first time applied the legal tests for organised criminal activity to cases involving the transport of stolen cars from Europe into Estonia according to rubrics for addressing organised criminal organisations. With the lack of border control between European Union countries, it will be technically easier to transport stolen cars into Estonia.

Figure 8. Forecast of changes in crime related to car thefts, terrorism,
and use of information technology (N=19).

According to some experts, the threat of terrorism could increase in Estonia after accession to the European Union; according to others, the level of danger will not change. Terrorism as a relatively minor type of cross-border crime was associated with lack of earlier experience of terrorism and Estonia’s relative distance and isolation from the major areas of terrorist activity.

4. Conclusions

It can be concluded in general that, according to the majority of experts, Estonia’s accession to the European Union will not be accompanied by abrupt changes in cross-border crime. Accession has been a continuous process, which occurred by way of smaller changes over many years, and Estonia’s official accession to the European Union was largely considered a formal step. Estonia’s expected accession to the Schengen border agreement in 2007 was considered most important, and this will entail major changes. Abolition of control on internal frontiers facilitates the migration of ordinary crime within the European Union, so we have to be prepared for the migration of crime from Estonia elsewhere and into Estonia from the other member states. The opportunities for organised criminal groups to act will expand.

Estonia was seen as an important transit country for cross-border crime between Russia and the European Union. Just as the Western European countries perceive threat in the ‘strangers’ coming above all from Eastern Europe, the attitude of the Estonian experts implies fear of influences from other countries (such as Russia and the Asian countries). The fact that the Estonian/Russian border is becoming the external border of the European Union is causing a growing threat of illegal migration and illicit traffic through Estonia, which imposes great demands on the work efficiency of the boarder guard and customs. The element most clearly conducive to Estonia’s development into a transit state for cross-border crime would be an increasing corruptive pressure on the employees of the local legal protection authorities.

When handling cross-border crime, the experts primarily proceeded from the paradigm that most attention would be focused on the organised crime community. It was predicted that the ‘new immigrants’ might form criminal communities and that such organisations from several countries might merge. According to the foreign experts, cross-border crime should be regarded as involving semi-professional groups whose activity is not centrally co-ordinated and whose action is based on market developments.

Misappropriation of money from EU-related funds will be the most acute type of economic crime, according to both the local and foreign experts. Economic crimes are often based on complicated financial schemes the resolution of which requires more voluminous analytical research and a higher level of it. The specialists at the Ministry of Finance will play an increasingly important role in solving such crimes, which are not felt to be addressed adequately enough at present.

In handling cross-border crime, more emphasis should be placed on an illegal activities paradigm, which would allow for more adequate assessment of the types of such crimes, and for more efficient prediction and control in particular. The formerly dominant Mafia paradigm is too centred on the structural aspects of criminal organisations and the elimination of certain persons. In the case of economic crime, we must focus our attention on crime prevention strategies related to situations; however, the application of control must be as broad as possible (i.e., not rely solely and above all on police measures). To that end, it is necessary to increase the transparency of business activities and decrease the possibilities of committing economic criminal offences. The relevant legal protection authorities must be continually ready to identify and combat the activities of terrorist associations or networks in Estonia.

The main recommendation for control and prevention of cross-border crime is to develop crime analysis, focusing on the methods and mechanisms of commission of such crimes. Continual analysis of earlier crimes would allow for the better use of experience and prediction of the possibilities of committing new crimes through either legislative amendments or creation of favourable conditions for committing crimes.

The other important part of controlling cross-border crime is to ensure movement of information between the legal protection structures concerned in the relevant countries of the European Union, as well as within Estonia. The Estonian legal protection authorities should be more active in two areas that are not directly related to crime control. Firstly, they should work harder to shape information aimed at an international audience, on the basis of which an image is created concerning the level and danger of local crime. Secondly, there should be a focus on activities aimed at increasing the security of the public, which is related to the role of legal protection structures as the servers and helpers of residents and not to their role as punishers and supervisors.