Among all the EU member states, France records the highest volumes of illegal cigarettes smuggled into its territory. Around 30 percent of the smuggled cigarettes are originally from Algeria, a recent study by the Royal United Services Institute shows. According to the study, the flows from Algeria to France have increased by 300 percent between 2012 and 2016. Thus, it is a legitimate concern for Brussels to worry about billions lost from both French and European budgets.
Although smuggling is a problem requiring more countries to cooperate, the French government has unfortunately always rejected the EU´s help without guaranteeing they would focus on addressing this issue. The fight against illegal trade is, of course, a matter for the French authorities. However, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) could be very helpful because it has experience with complicated cross-border cases.
French rejection of the EU´s help and the steady growth of goods flowing from Algeria have direct consequences for neighboring countries, particularly Italy and Spain. They serve as secondary routes for smuggling cigarettes manufactured in Algeria into France. Smuggling also has a much greater impact by supplying the terrorist and criminal networks operating in the Maghreb, where cigarettes are smuggled from.
It has already been well documented that Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, under the leadership of the Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar (also known as “Mr. Marlboro”), uses illegal cigarette smuggling to finance terrorist operations. These groups not only destabilize governments in the region but also directly threaten the safety of millions of Europeans.
President Macron usually pictures himself as a great advocate of European integration, but words are not enough. It is time for France and other EU countries to act together and effectively, which implies closer cooperation between countries, but also greater involvement of OLAF, Europol and Eurojust. In this case, fighting against smuggling means fighting terrorism as well.