Tackling illegal drug use in Europe, the role of the EU
by Lord Hannay
It is time to have a proper debate about how the European Union can help member states deliver on effective anti-drugs policies – writes British peer
Last week - the House of Lords' European Union Select Committee, in the United Kingdom, published a report on the future European Union strategy on illegal drugs. A European-wide strategy has been in operation in this area since 2000, and the current one is due to be evaluated and its successor drafted during 2012. The report, therefore, represents a timely reflection on the outcome of the preceding strategies and makes important recommendations about the scope of the future strategy.
The formulation of drug policy at the European level remains a controversial area: member states retain control of national drug policy and are divided in their approach towards drug use and drug users. But a guiding role has been apportioned to the European institutions. Evidence about the nature of drug use and the approaches to drug control at the European level is collected and disseminated by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction – or EMCDDA - and is used to inform the drug strategy, which provides the member states with a framework within which to situate their national policies.
The findings of the House of Lords' inquiry into the future of the strategy are broadly positive. While the continued need for the member states to retain control of their national policies is acknowledged, the importance and quality of the work done by the EMCDDA is recognised and the usefulness of a future strategy in this area in bringing added value to the policies operated by member states is emphasised.
After taking evidence from more than 20 different individuals and organisations including academics, European and British policy officials and drug-related lobbying groups, however, the report offers several significant recommendations for a change in direction. In general, the previous over-arching aims of demand reduction and supply reduction are thought to have been too broad brush to be useful as a guide to EU policy formulation. Instead, we recommend a better-focused strategy that seeks to provide a useful sense of direction to national policies - while respecting the present division of competences.
Specifically - in the area of reduction of the supply of illicit drugs – our report recommends that the EU focus on strengthening provisions surrounding money laundering and the seizure of the proceeds of crime, while contributing to the fight against drug trafficking by extending the reach of Europol and other agencies; and by devoting more resources to drug-related research projects. In particular, a future strategy must acknowledge and seek to further illuminate the problems that can be caused by supply-side policies simply displacing the drug problem to countries and regions not previously affected - where they can cause significant damage to civil society - and the need to ensure that human rights are respected. The efficacy or otherwise of supply-side policies should be subjected to the same scrutiny afforded to efforts to reduce the demand for illicit drugs and deal with their users.
In terms of the reduction of demand for illegal drugs, we urge a future European Drug Strategy to use the EU's public health obligations to encourage more explicitly the inclusion of harm reduction measures in the national policies of the member states - and to recognise that health policy is as important as law enforcement policy in this field. And that education also has a significant role to play. Recent policy developments in Portugal, where the possession of all drugs for personal use has been decriminalised and where the overall national drug strategy has been reformulated around the principle of the reduction of the harm caused by illegal drugs, were singled out for praise.
Perhaps the most important conclusion to emerge, however, is the urgent need for a full and frank debate in this divisive area in an attempt to narrow the gap between theory and practice and, therefore, to achieve a better consensus about the best way of proceeding. In the view of the committee, the formulation and adoption of a new European Drugs Strategy offers a golden opportunity for this debate to take place.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick is chairman of the House of Lords Home Affairs Sub-Committee, in the United Kingdom
'Folly and farce' of western world's drugs policy
Prohibition of drugs has not only failed to reduce usage but has stimulated it – and the only way to undermine the criminals, and dent their profits, is to adopt licensing and legalisation, writes Chris Davies MEP
The best thing would be if they just legalised drugs across the EU. If people want to take drugs, they will. You can either respect their rights over their own bodies and legalise, and tax the trade or hand the whole lot over to organised crime - 1920s American prohibition style.
David - Aberdeen, Scotland