In December 2012 the Council of the European Union adopted a new drugs strategy for the next eight years (2013–2020).1 As before, the new strategy identifies priorities in five thematic areas – co-ordination, demand reduction, supply reduction, international co-operation, and research, evaluation and information. It will be implemented by means of two consecutive four-year action plans.
The new strategy reveals new thinking on some aspects of drug policy. While drug policy lies within the competence of individual member states, it may be expected that the new thinking will trickle down to member states’ drug policies.
The word ‘evidence’ did not occur once in the 2005–2012 drugs strategy. It appears 13 times in the new strategy. While the former strategy called for a ‘balanced, integrated approach to the drugs problem’, the new strategy calls for a ‘balanced and integrated and evidence-based approach to the drugs phenomenon’.
Under the supply reduction pillar, priority is to be given to expanding and improving the knowledge base with regard to supply reduction and to developing accurate indicators of progress. Under the demand reduction pillar, while the Council acknowledged that there had been some success in promoting evidence-based approaches,2 the new strategy prioritises the need for greater uniformity across all member states in implementing harm reduction and treatment measures.
Not all drug use is problematic
The term ‘drug problem’, which was used throughout the 2004–2012 drugs strategy, has been replaced by the more neutral term ‘drug phenomenon’, implying that not all drug use is viewed as problematic. MacGregor (2012) comments that the distinction between abstinence and addiction, which implies all drug use is ‘problematic’, is not useful. She suggests that the way forward is ‘to develop more nuanced responses to the range of different substances [including alcohol and tobacco] available, which are used in different ways by different people in different situations and at different times.’3
Human rights is more strongly emphasised in the new strategy. Although referred to in the previous strategy, the new strategy names the specific international human rights agreements that underpin the EU’s drug policy – the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The new EU drugs strategy mentions the concept ‘policy coherence’ in relation to ensuring coherence between drug demand reduction policies and broader health, social and justice policies, and between the internal and external aspects of the EU’s drugs policies and responses towards third countries in the field of drugs. However, it has not extended the concept to include licit substances such as alcohol, tobacco or prescribed or over-the-counter medicines or to include other addictive behaviours such as gambling or Internet usage.
The Council of Europe’s Pompidou Group has gone to this next stage. Its guidance to policy makers on coherent policies for licit and illicit drugs states:4
The fact that often substance abuse and other addictions are interrelated calls for coherence and consistency between policies dealing with licit and illicit drugs as well as those dealing with other forms of addiction and dependency, notably addiction to medicines, gambling or Internet usage. As a result, public health and increasingly ‘well-being’ are becoming the overarching starting point for policy approaches that embrace both licit and illicit substances ...’ (para. 3.5)
While not using the terms ‘policy coherence’, the authors of the independent assessment of the 2005–2012 EU drugs strategy noted the emergence of the concept.5 They observed that drugs supply was increasingly being considered within the broader context of EU policy on organised crime and security, but that this ‘horizontal integration’ had not taken place on the demand side. They further noted that there was a desire among many stakeholders to consider drug use in such a policy framework, including both licit and illicit substances and other addictive behaviours.
According to paragraph 23 of the new EU drugs strategy, coordination has two objectives: ‘to ensure synergies, communication and an effective exchange of information and views in support of the policy objectives, while at the same time encouraging an active political discourse and analysis of developments and challenges in the field of drugs at EU and international levels’. The participation of NGOs, young people, drug users and the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs in the development of drug policies are particular priorities in terms of coordination.
Whereas monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the new EU drugs strategy and action plan formerly rested with the European Commission, these tasks are now the responsibility of the holders of the EU presidency. Thus, Ireland, which has the presidency of the EU from January to June 2013, is responsible for drawing up the first four-year action plan to accompany the new strategy.
1. Council of the European Union (2012, 11 December) EU drugs strategy (2013–2020). 17547/12,JAI 901 CORDROGUE 101 SAN 324 JAIEX 124. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19034. The preliminary deliberations on the shape of the new EU drugs strategy were described in Pike B (2012) EU drugs policy – what next? Drugnet Ireland, (43): 6. Available at www.drugsandalcohol.ie/18456
2. Council of the European Union (25 May 2012) Draft Council conclusions on the new EU drugs strategy. 10231/12, CORDROGUE 37 SAN 121 ENFOPOL 145 RELEX 455. http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/12/st10/st10231.en12.pdf
3. MacGregor S (2012) Do we need an EU drugs strategy? Drugs: education, prevention and policy, 19(6): 429–435.
4. Pompidou Group (2011) Policy paper providing guidance to policy makers for developing coherent policies for licit and illicit drugs. Adopted at the 69th meeting of permanent correspondents, P–PG (2011) 4 final 14. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17318; R Muscat, B Pike and members of the Coherent Policy Expert Group (2012) Reflections on the concept of coherency for a policy on psychoactive substances and beyond. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.
5. Culley DM, Skoupy J, Rubin J, Hoorens S, Disley E and Rabinovich L (2012) Assessment of the implementation of the EU drugs strategy 2005–2012 and its action plans. Technical Report prepared for European Commission Directorate General for Justice. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17312