Profits of organised crime groups are estimated at €110bn per year in the EU. However, as reported by Europol, only about 1pc of these profits are confiscated.
So we are leaving 99pc of the profits at the disposal of crime bosses in Europe. This means criminal organisations have the wealth to infiltrate the legal economy.
This week, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on anti-money laundering which calls for the Commission to do more to facilitate more effective cross-border recovery of criminal assets.
The uncomfortable truth is that the EU's freedoms are being exploited by criminals.
With deeper economic integration and the continued development of the EU single market, there is always the risk that criminal gangs can evade law enforcement when they move their operations across different countries in the EU.
From member state to member state, different rules apply when it comes to law enforcement, thus leaving gaps and loopholes that can be exploited by criminals.
Take Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), for example, which is widely heralded as a best-practice model when it comes to combating organised crime. CAB has the ability to confiscate assets without a conviction but in several other member states, criminal assets can only be confiscated after a conviction.
This means some jurisdictions may not be able to assist with the enforcement of CAB operations when it comes to seizing and freezing of assets.
CAB's annual report for 2018 revealed that €8.39m worth of assets were frozen by the High Court in 2018 and in excess of €5.6m was returned to the Exchequer. This shows the CAB system of quick and efficient criminal asset seizures is working.
Gardaí have recently made an increased push to crack down on Irish criminal operations and this must be commended. But we know these criminal operations are often spread across Europe, so Irish authorities need to be able to work effectively with their counterparts in other countries.
EU institutions and all member states have a responsibility to act here. We cannot entertain the idea that criminals can be able to profiteer off the back of single-market freedoms. Member states need to intensify cooperation in this area to work together to stamp out organised crime and bring criminals to justice.
I believe that if we were able to put in place an EU-wide CAB system, criminal operations would be severely restricted in hiding their assets. If we had a single set of EU rules for criminal asset recovery based on the CAB approach, this would put a massive dent in organised crime in Europe.
Some action has been taken at EU level in recent years, but this has been minimum harmonisation and doesn't provide for a single consistent system of criminal asset confiscation.
At a time of crisis in Europe, criminals have been able to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic by ramping up their online activities.
Europol has reported a major surge in highly coordinated cybercrime throughout the lockdown period. Even in the midst of a major public health crisis, criminals will find new ways of targeting vulnerabilities in our system. The most effective way of stopping this is by going after their proceeds.
When it comes to anti-money laundering enforcement, the EU and its member states have not covered themselves in glory in recent years. A wave of controversies has left policymakers and regulators struggling to get a grip with the flows of dirty money in Europe.
In 2017-2018 it was revealed that €200bn in suspicious transactions were channelled through Danske Bank's Estonian branch - possibly the largest money-laundering scandal ever in Europe.
ING bank was fined €775m for lax crime prevention in 2018 while earlier this year Deutsche Bank was fined $425m for its part in a $10bn Russian money-laundering scheme.
In response to these incidents, the European Commission unveiled a package of measures in early May that proposed sweeping changes to the current anti-money laundering regulatory framework. The measures represent potentially the greatest overhaul of EU anti-money-laundering rules since they first came about in 1990.
The most striking feature of the package is the proposal for a single EU watchdog to enforce anti-money-laundering rules. Supervision is currently done at a member state level and practices often vary from country to country. The commission also plans to develop a single rulebook for anti-money-laundering regulation across the EU.
If the EU is preparing for such sweeping reforms in response to money laundering, why can't the EU take a similar approach to going after criminal assets?
Europe cannot afford to be seen as a gateway for dirty money to be channelled to criminals. Europe cannot make it easy for criminals to make massive profits and shift them around jurisdictions.
Ireland must use the example of CAB to lead the way in this area. It is clearly in our interests.
Frances Fitzgerald is an MEP for Dublin and former justice minister and Tánaiste