Thursday, 5 January 2012

“Towards a stronger European approach to drugs Part II” – More on the EU Commission’s Communication on drug policy.

As we saw in the last post, this Communication ( ) quickly homes in on supply reduction and control issues. In fact, they make up the bulk of the text in a way that I had hoped we would not see in Europe again, not after more than a decade of groping our way towards an evidence-based understanding of the futility of non-smart law-enforcement approaches, and the growing – if politically incorrect – doubt about the effectiveness of a punitive control system in the first place. 

Parts two to five: drug trafficking, drug (chemical) precursors, confiscation and recovery of criminal assets, and new psychoactive substances.

The measures proposed by the Commission under these four headings all suffer from the same flaw: they admit that the illicit drugs trade has been too clever and adaptable for EU justice and law enforcement agencies to have any real effect on the flow of drugs into Europe. Some singularly ineffectual “pacts” against drug trafficking – little known beyond surreal debates in Brussels – are quoted. The fact that existing EU rules on the definition of sanctions have been largely ignored by the member states is correctly identified. Yet no conclusions are drawn from any of this other than that tougher rules in the same vein are needed.

There is no sign that the poor record of control and interdiction of drug trafficking into the EU (or into any other region for that matter) has been subjected to any objective analysis, as was called for by the Commission’s own mid-term evaluation of the current EU Drug Strategy in 2008. The good news is that the Commission, with Europol and the EMCDDA, will provide key indicators for the monitoring of drug markets, drug-related crime, and drug supply reduction. We also know that a Commission evaluation of EU drug markets, carried out by Rand/Trimbos/King’s College is still in the making. The bad news remains that it would surely have been more logical to have waited for the results of these initiatives and to have analysed first the actual performance of European law enforcement and justice systems in the drugs field before rushing into this macho legislative programme.

What we see here, then, is conviction politics of the worst order. I strongly object to naming names in these discussions, but Mrs. Reding, the member of the EU Commission responsible for (civil and criminal) justice, is not a civil servant but fills a political appointment and – like all Commission members – has her own web site. Let me quote then what she said before the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, last November: “I am more an action person than a strategy person. If necessary, I can also propose a strategy, but that will not prevent me from taking action, because actions are what is needed”.  Are we to understand that she will not be hampered by analysis but will run up a strategy for us if we really insist?
At one point she gets surprisingly close to evidence-based policy, when she refers to the Rand/Trimbos report on global drug markets, saying that it identified “…a lack of evidence that controls can reduce total global production. The same applies to trafficking”. She doesn’t follow this up however, nor does it seem at all incompatible to her with the course the Commission, under her leadership, is now following.
When asked what she thinks about the report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy or the debate on reviewing the conventions she literally refuses to answer the question and says so. (The transcript can be found on )

The stricter control of trade in chemical precursors (also) used for making drugs, and the proposals for more effective criminal asset recovery should be given a chance to show what they’re worth. Crime has to be fought and the encroachment of the black economy on the "white" economy is a serious issue. In the next post we will look at the remaining parts of this Communication (demand reduction, drugged driving, and international cooperation), and we will try to draw some conclusions as to where all this leaves the European debate on drug policy.

Good luck