European Scrutiny Committee Contents

18 EU Drugs Strategy 2013-20







Draft EU Drugs Strategy (2013-2020)

Draft EU Drugs Strategy (2013-2020)

Legal base
Deposited in Parliament(a)  21 November 2012

(b)  26 November 2012

DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 26 November 2012
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussion in Council6-7 December 2012
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared

Background and previous scrutiny

18.1 Article 168 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides that the EU is to complement action taken by Member States to reduce drug-related damage to human health and to encourage cooperation on such matters as the exchange of information and preventive measures. It also requires Member States, assisted by the Commission, to coordinate their policies and programmes and to foster cooperation with third countries and international organisations with an interest in public health.

18.2 Article 83 TFEU identifies illicit drug trafficking as an area of particularly serious cross-border crime for which the EU may establish minimum rules defining the elements of a criminal offence and accompanying sanctions.

18.3 The current EU Drugs Strategy, which has been implemented by two successive Action Plans, will expire at the end of 2012. Its principal focus is measures to reduce the demand for, and supply of, drugs, but it also highlights the need for greater coordination at international level, a stronger evidence base for drugs policy and more effective evaluation of policy outcomes. In June 2012, the Justice and Home Affairs Council agreed Conclusions underlining the need for a new EU Drugs Strategy for 2013-20 which should focus on five thematic areas: coordination; drug demand reduction; drug supply reduction; international cooperation; and information and evaluation.

18.4 The Council Conclusions note that drugs policy is mainly an area of Member State competence and that the EU Drugs Strategy should therefore seek to "add value" to national strategies by setting out a limited number of clearly defined strategic objectives which consolidate and build on existing instruments.

The draft EU Drugs Strategy 2013-20

18.5 Two drafts of the EU Drugs Strategy have been deposited for scrutiny. Our comments mainly concern document (b) which is the most recent version.

18.6 The purpose of the EU Drugs Strategy is to establish an overarching political framework and priorities for EU drugs policy for the period 2013-20. It has been developed by the Horizontal Drugs Group — a Council working group responsible for coordinating EU drugs policy — and takes account of the findings of the independent evaluation of the current Drugs Strategy and Action Plans.

18.7 The Strategy is structured around two policy areas: measures to reduce the demand for drugs and measures to reduce the supply of drugs; and three cross-cutting themes: coordination, international cooperation, and research, information, monitoring and evaluation.

18.8 The Strategy will be supplemented by two consecutive four-year EU Drugs Action Plans, beginning in 2013 and 2017, which will establish a timetable for implementing a set of targeted actions and include performance indicators and assessment tools to measure progress. The Strategy states that these actions must have "a clear EU relevance and added value" and be "evidence-based, scientifically sound and cost-effective, and aim for realistic and measurable results that can be evaluated."[81] An external assessment of the Strategy will be undertaken before the second Action Plan is prepared, drawing on information provided by Member States, the European External Action Service, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Europol and civil society, and the Commission will produce biannual reports on progress made in implementing the Strategy and Action Plans.

Demand reduction measures

18.9 The objective of demand reduction measures is to:

"contribute to the measurable reduction of the use of illicit drugs, to delay the age of onset, to prevent and reduce problem drug use, drug dependence and drug-related health and social risks and harms through an integrated, multidisciplinary and evidence-based approach, and by promoting and safeguarding coherence between health, social and justice policies."[82]

18.10 The Strategy identifies ten priorities to reduce demand which include:

  • improving the availability and accessibility of a range of drug demand reduction measures within the community and in prison settings;
  • improving the availability and effectiveness of prevention programmes;
  • responding to new challenges involving the combined use of licit and illicit substances, new psychoactive substances, and the misuse of prescription drugs;
  • investing in research to reduce the number of drug-related deaths and infectious blood-borne diseases;
  • expanding access to drug treatment programmes;
  • developing integrated models of care encompassing health and social needs;
  • developing differentiated drug demand reduction measures which take account of the needs of marginalised and vulnerable groups;
  • improving coordination to prevent local and regional drug use epidemics; and
  • ensuring that drug demand reduction measures are appropriately resourced at local, national and EU level.

Supply reduction measures

18.11 The objective of supply reduction measures is to:

"contribute to a measurable reduction of the availability of illicit drugs, through the disruption of illicit drug trafficking, the dismantling of organised crime groups that are involved in drug production and trafficking, efficient use of the criminal justice system, effective intelligence-led law enforcement and increased intelligence sharing. At EU level, emphasis will be placed on large-scale, cross-border and organised drug-related crime."

18.12 The Strategy identifies eleven priorities to reduce the supply of illicit drugs, which include:

  • strengthening cooperation and coordination between law enforcement agencies, with a particular focus on intelligence-led law enforcement targeting large-scale drug production and trafficking;
  • making better use of existing law enforcement mechanisms, such as Joint Investigation Teams, Europol, Eurojust, and drugs liaison officers in third countries or, if more appropriate, establishing regional collaboration networks to tackle emerging threats;
  • ensuring that EU drug-related judicial and law enforcement cooperation is capable of producing quick and accurate responses;
  • reducing intra-EU and cross-border production, smuggling, trafficking, distribution and sale of illicit drugs, as well as the diversion of drug precursors into illicit drug production;
  • responding to new challenges, such as the use of new technologies to supply drugs;
  • strengthening the EU's legislative framework, where necessary, to tackle new trends, confiscate the proceeds of drug-related crime, and respond more effectively to drug trafficking;
  • strengthening policy evaluation and analysis to improve understanding of drug markets, drug-related crimes and the effectiveness of drug-related law enforcement measures; and
  • encouraging, where appropriate, the use, monitoring and effective implementation of alternatives to coercive sanctions, such as drug treatment programmes.


18.13 The Strategy calls for coordination amongst and between Member States, EU institutions and other relevant bodies, and civil society to achieve,

"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."

18.14 Six priorities are identified, covering:

  • more effective working practices and coherence at EU level to ensure continuity of actions across different Presidencies;
  • a stronger coordinating role for the Horizontal Drugs Group;
  • the implementation of best practice to encourage multi-disciplinary cooperation at EU and national levels;
  • periodic monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of coordination and policy developments and interventions;
  • the active involvement of civil society in developing and implementing drug polices; and
  • the role of the EU in international form, such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and in facilitating a coherent discourse with third countries on drugs policy.

International cooperation

18.15 The Strategy describes international cooperation as "a key area where the EU adds value" and says that its objective should be to,

"further strengthen dialogue and cooperation between the EU and third countries and international organisations on drug issues in a comprehensive and balanced manner."[83]

18.16 The Strategy proposes that the EU and Member States should,

"guarantee the integration of the EU Drugs Strategy and its objectives within the EU's overall foreign policy framework as part of a comprehensive approach that makes full use of the variety of policies and diplomatic, political and financial instruments at the EU's disposal in a coherent and coordinated manner."[84]

18.17 Priorities include:

  • increasing EU engagement with international organisations, such as the United Nations, G8 and Council of Europe, and with third countries;
  • improving coherence between the internal and external aspects of EU drugs policies;
  • ensuring that international cooperation on drugs is an integral part of the EU's political relations and framework agreement with third countries and takes account of different factors affecting drugs policy in priority third countries and regions, including development, security and stability; and
  • using a variety of information tools, including EU and Member State Delegations in third countries, the EEAS, EMCDDA, Europol, Eurojust and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, to monitor developments and ensure that the EU's response is evidence-based;
  • building capacity to implement drug demand and supply reduction measures in candidate or potential candidate countries, and in countries included in the EU's neighbourhood policy;
  • ensuring a sustainable level of policy dialogue and information sharing at regional and bilateral level;
  • ensuring an appropriate level of funding and expertise for drug demand and drug supply reduction measures in third countries;
  • establishing criteria for the provision of financial and technical support in source countries which take into account the impact on local development, human rights and security; and
  • ensuring that the protection of human rights is an integral part of political dialogue and the implementation of programmes or projects in the field of drugs.

Information, research, monitoring and evaluation

18.18 The objective of this cross-cutting theme is to,

"contribute to a better understanding of all aspects of the drugs phenomenon and of the impact of measures in order to provide sound and comprehensive evidence for policies and actions [....] and to contribute to a better dissemination of monitoring, research and evaluation results at EU and national level ensuring the strengthening of synergies, a balanced allocation of financial resources and avoiding duplication of efforts."

18.19 The Strategy identifies nine priorities, which include:

  • continuing investment in information exchange, data collection and monitoring, as well as evaluation of the effectiveness of policy responses at national and EU level, with the EMCDDA and Europol playing a central role;
  • developing policy-relevant and scientifically-sound indicators to improve analysis and informed decision making;
  • improving the capacity of Member States and EU institutions and bodies to respond rapidly and effectively to new psychoactive substances, changes in drug consumption or epidemic outbreaks;
  • supporting research into new psychoactive substances and developing forensic and toxicological capacity;
  • ensuring adequate resources for drug-related research and development projects at EU and national level, as well appropriate professional training for those involved in drug-related work; and
  • promoting scientific evaluation of polices and interventions at national, EU and international level.

The Government's view

18.20 The Minister for Crime Prevention (Jeremy Browne) welcomes the EU Drugs Strategy for 2013-20 and says that it will:

  • "Add value to national drug strategies at an international level, reiterating that drug policy is mainly the competence of EU Member States.
  • "Continue to take an integrated, multidisciplinary and balanced approach to tackling drugs, including by ensuring that efforts to reduce supply and demand are well balanced.
  • "Ensure a broad approach to reducing demand for drugs.
  • "Address new challenges, including the rapid spread of New Psychoactive Substances.
  • "Take a comprehensive approach to cooperating with strategic partners.
  • "Encourage cooperation between law enforcement and other counter narcotics capacities internationally."[85]

18.21 The Minister notes that officials have been engaged in negotiations on the content of the Drugs Strategy for several months, and adds:

"We wanted to retain the existing recognition of drug policy as a national competence whilst enabling EU investment and coordination where it can genuinely add value - for example in developing capabilities in third countries that directly impact on the availability of drugs in the UK and encouraging further research and information sharing to enable a rapid national response to emerging threats such as new psychoactive substances. We also wanted to ensure that EU funding for counter narcotics and EU coordination in external third countries is effectively targeted and aligned with overall EU drugs strategy priorities. We have also negotiated for the strategy to include references to recovery as a key ambition under the reducing demand strand. The final version of the text now adequately reflects these UK objectives and priorities."[86]

18.22 The Minister expects the Strategy to be agreed at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 6-7 December.


18.23 We regret the lack of time available to consider the proposed EU Drugs Strategy for 2013-20 more fully. However, we welcome its pragmatic, results-oriented approach, as well as the continuity in the policy and thematic areas included in the new Strategy, which build on lessons learned from implementing the current Drugs Strategy and Action Plans. We particularly welcome the emphasis placed on data collection, research, information exchange, monitoring and evaluation in order to secure a solid evidence base for developing drugs policy and effective interventions as new challenges continue to emerge.

18.24 We note that the Strategy will be implemented by two consecutive Action Plans, the first to take effect in 2013, which will provide more detailed information on the specific actions to be undertaken by the EU and Member States. We are therefore content to clear the Strategy from scrutiny, but ask the Minister to ensure that we have sufficient opportunity to examine the content of the first Action Plan, not least so that we can consider whether it respects the limitations placed on EU action in the drugs field by the EU Treaties and the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

81   See p.6 of document (b). Back

82   See p.8 of document (b). Back

83   See p.14 of document (b). Back

84   See p.14 of document (b). Back

85   See para 19 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum. Back

86   See para 20 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum. Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 13 December 2012