One of Europe’s largest drug hauls reveals the Netherlands' central role in the global drug market.

German and Belgian authorities have carried out Europe's largest ever drug bust resulting in up to $4.8 billion in cocaine being seized, all heading for the Netherlands.

The record haul, one of the largest in the world, once again highlights how one European country, in particular, has become a central destination for drugs.

The Netherlands is often imagined as an idyllic nation of tulips, canals and windmills, but there is another darker side to the country, which the latest multi-billion dollar drug bust reveals.

Characteristics that make the country an attractive investment proposition have also made the Netherlands a perfect ecosystem for drugs. A strong infrastructure base interlinked with the rest of Europe, access to international air travel, and a logistical shipping hub make the Netherlands ideal for the global drug market.

But perhaps most attractive of all is the country's attitude to drugs.

Professor Pieter Tops and author of the book "Netherlands, Drugslands", has argued that the Netherlands, from the 1960s onwards, developed and enshrined a more relaxed attitude towards drug consumption.

While many drugs are still illegal, the country's drug policy means that drug users are not heavily penalised, and Professors Tops has said that the Netherlands has some of the lowest drug sentencing regimes in Europe, which is obviously attractive to drug traffickers.

The country's police unions have warned that the country has the attributes of a "narco-state," that is to say, a country whose economy has become dependent on the drug trade.

So, just how much drugs make their way to the Netherlands?

Well, as you might expect, it's difficult to measure accurately how big the market is, however, the Dutch police have estimated that the country supplies up to 42 percent of the world's ecstasy, which alone is worth billions of dollars.

But to give an idea of the scale of the challenge, amphetamines like ecstasy are only the fifth most seized drugs in the country, with cannabis, cocaine and heroin leading.

While its narcotics industry does not define the Dutch economy in the same way that it might Colombia, Mexico or even Afghanistan - the illicit drug market is influencing society. 

Drug-related violence of the kind that exists in the US and Mexico has been a rare feature in the Netherlands, perhaps one reason the country has avoided the same scrutiny and global media attention.

When in 2019, a Dutch lawyer was killed point blank outside his doorstep for representing a witness against a drug lord, the event shocked the country.

But the frequency of gang fuelled crimes is on the up in the country. In retaliation for a drug expose, the Amsterdam newspaper offices were attacked with a rocket launcher, a warning to others who wanted to investigate. A hand grenade was thrown into a home which was linked as part of the ongoing gang violence in the country.

Even as the drug trade has thrived in this quiet northern European country, the Netherlands has been largely spared sanctions applied to many other countries.

On the Counter Narcotics Trafficking Sanctions list of the US website, while Afghanistan and several other Latin American countries have sanctions or are being monitored, the Netherlands, a top global supplier of drugs, is nowhere to be seen.

Source: TRT World