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European Commission Representation in Cyprus
News article24 January 2024Representation in Cyprus4 min read

Commission welcomes breakthrough political agreement on stronger rules to fight trafficking in human beings

The Commission welcomes yesterday's political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on stronger rules to fight trafficking in human beings.

Press conference by Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner, and Diane Schmitt, EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, on fighting human trafficking, on a proposal for stronger rules to fight trafficking in human beings

The Commission welcomes yesterday's political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on stronger rules to fight trafficking in human beings. The agreed rules will provide stronger tools for law enforcement and judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute new forms of exploitation, including those that take place online.

Every year over 7000 people become victims of human trafficking in the EU. The actual number is likely to be much higher as many victims remain undetected.  Trafficking in human beings is a heinous crime against the most vulnerable people in our society. This human tragedy is exploited for ruthless profit. The yearly cost of trafficking in human beings in the EU is estimated to be up to 2.7 billion EUR. Forms of exploitation have evolved in recent years, with crime increasingly taking an online dimension and diversifying its means and illicit profits. Updated rules are needed to meet these significant challenges, particularly regarding the high increase of technological developments. This is why the Commission decided to update and revise the EU Anti-trafficking Directive from 2011. The focus is set on both prevention and enforcement of the fight against trafficking in human beings. Today's agreement targets in particular stronger rules on:

  • Exploitation of surrogacy forced marriage and illegal adoption, which will be explicitly covered by the definition of trafficking in human beings. This will require Member States to criminalise such conduct in their national criminal law as forms of exploitation in relation to trafficking in human beings.
  • Trafficking in human beings committed or facilitated through information and communication technologies, including internet and social media. This will become an aggravating circumstance when it relates to sexual exploitation leading to higher penalties.
  • Formal Referral Mechanisms will become mandatory in all Member States. This will improve early identification and referral for assistance and support for victims, which will create the basis for a European Referral Mechanism by the appointment of a single national focal point.
  • Knowingly using services provided by victims of trafficking will become a criminal offence. This is an important measure towards stepping up demand reduction.
  • Mandatory National Action Plans for Member States and improvements in the governance structure with National Anti-Trafficking Coordinators and the possibility of designating independent bodies. Both sets of changes represent a novelty compared to the previous legislation and will bring harmonisation at EU level.
  • Mandatory EU-wide annual data collection on trafficking in human beings based on agreed indicators to be published by Eurostat. In the previous legal framework, this was not mandatory and only done bi-annually.

Next steps 

The Directive must now be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. Once published in the Official Journal, the Directive will enter into force 20 days after publication and Member States will have 2 years to transpose the provisions of the Directive into national law.


Since 2011, the Anti-Trafficking Directive has been the force behind EU efforts in preventing and combatting human trafficking. Nevertheless, developments in the forms and means of traffic of human beings called for updated rules to combat this crime more effectively. This is a cruel practice of which most victims are women and girls, however the share of male victims has also increased, especially for labour exploitation.

In April 2021, the Commission presented the EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2021-2025), focusing on preventing the crime, bringing traffickers to justice and protecting and empowering victims. The evaluation and possible review of the Anti-Trafficking Directive to make it fit for purpose was one of the key actions of the Strategy. The economic consequences of COVID-19 and Russia's unjustified aggression against Ukraine increased the vulnerability of a significant segment of the population in the EU. The Commission therefore presented the proposal in December 2022 to revise the Directive to make it more efficient for the current times.

For More Information

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims

A Common Anti-Trafficking Plan - potential victims among those fleeing the war in Ukraine

Report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings (Fourth Report)

Webpage on the fight against Trafficking in Human Beings

End human trafficking. Break the invisible chain



With today’s political agreement, the EU gets closer to more harmonised rules to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings. Our combined efforts can help protect the victims. With this new legislation, it will be mandatory in all Member States to punish those who knowingly use the services provided by victims of trafficking.

Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs


Publication date
24 January 2024
Representation in Cyprus