The European Union Drugs Strategy 2013-2020

IDPC Advocacy Note
July 2013

The European Union (EU) has had some form of formal drug strategy since the early 1990s. These successive strategies have attempted to articulate a common Europe-wide position, and set out the role for the European Commission (EC) and other agencies in supporting the activities of EU member states given that the main decisions on policy, strategy and resource allocations are made at the national level.

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Reviewing successive versions of the EU Drug Strategy, a clear trend of increasing scope, sophistication and clarity can be observed. Over the last 20 years, European governments and institutions have led the way globally in collecting information about the drug problem and government responses;1 in implementing and learning from the experience of a wide range of supply reduction, demand reduction, and harm reduction activities; and in developing a consensus around a balanced approach to strategy that avoids the more extreme forms of repressive law enforcement, and encourages significant investment in harm reduction and treatment services for people who use drugs.

In this advocacy note, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) analyses the extent to which the Strategy, and its initial Action Plan, are effective in articulating activities and plans that are appropriate to this challenge, and that reflect the best evidence and experience in this sector. We also comment on the extent to which the process of development of these documents has lived up to the Strategy objective to: ‘Promote and encourage the active and meaningful participation and involvement of civil society… in the development and implementation of drug policies, at national, EU and international level.’

Conclusions and recommendations

European member states and the EU have pursued many timely and effective drug policy reforms over the years, and the new EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan contain a broadly balanced and evidence-based set of commitments from member states and EU institutions. This advocacy note, however, has pointed out some specific areas where the documents are deficient. There is also a wider concern – as the limitations of traditional drug control policies and strategies become more apparent, and the debate on alternative strategies is accelerating in many other parts of the world, the region with probably the most diverse experience and evidence is not playing a sufficient role in this debate.

The EU Drugs Strategy is an example of a competent piece of work, but conducted within the tight framework of existing policy, and with very little scrutiny or involvement of political leaders or the general public. This is a time for European leadership and creativity in drug policy – in the search for a reformed set of strategies and programmes that are fit for purpose in rising to the challenges posed by 21st drug markets and patterns of use.

IDPC therefore makes the following recommendations for the coming year, to strengthen the contribution of the EU to humane and effective drug policy development:

• That the HDG holds a debate on how best to categorise activities that do not seek to reduce demand for or supply of drugs, but that focus on reducing one or more harmful consequences of drug use and markets.

• That the Lithuanian Presidency organises a full meeting between civil society representatives and the HDG members (or national drug co-ordinators) in the second half of 2013.

• That a key agenda item for this meeting should be the implications of the human rights commitments in the Lisbon Treaty for EU drugs strategies and activities.

• That the Greek Presidency establishes a clear and transparent process to incorporate the views of the CSF (UNGASS Working Group) in to the process for developing EU positions for the 2014 UN Mid-term review of the 2009 Political Declaration and Action Plan.

• That the HDG holds a joint meeting with the Public Health Directorate (SANCO) and the EEAS on the subject of new and emerging public health threats relating to injecting drug use, which results in concrete actions to address these concerns, including through a revised SANCO Communication on HIV.

• That urgent action is taken to review the supply reduction indicators used in the Action Plan, and to come up with a process for articulating and reporting on indicators that truly address the relevant EU strategy objectives.

• That the EEAS develop clear guidance for its delegations on drug policy matters, encouraging them to engage proactively with drug policy debates in their countries and regions.

• That the EMCDDA produces regular (perhaps once in each presidency period) updates for the HDG (that are also published) on the emergence and extent of use of new psychoactive substances.