Wednesday, 1 February 2012

"Towards a stronger European response to drugs" - third and last post.

The original EU text can be found at

In the previous two posts I have tried to demonstrate that this policy announcement by the EU Commission has more to do with political testosterone than with a sensible assessment of the past. This is certainly true for the tired old penal and prohibitionist ideas that dominate this paper. The merit of Commissioner Reding's predecessors responsible for drug policy was that they at least understood the need to submit law enforcement to some form of assessment. At the moment, we don't know how successful the world's police forces and judiciaries are in fighting drug crime. If this is what "success" looks like, heaven preserve us from failure. The development by the Commission of "key indicators" to measure drugs markets and drug supply reduction (para 2) is a welcome initiative; it was however started before Mrs Reding was appointed and has consistently met with a very unenthusiastic response from law enforcement and judiciary circles in the EU, so we are still years away from an assessment as to whether our money is being wasted or not by running after drug criminals who are usually a few steps ahead of the law and doing very well. And if one day we have these key indicators worked out and adopted across the EU, imagine the task of getting precise data on national law enforcement performance out of the 27 Home Affairs ministries across the EU.

Although we should welcome anything in this Communication that at least tries to hold up the balanced approach that used to be the Commission's hallmark on drug policy, no specific policy measures are announced beyond supporting measures to reduce health and social harms. The demand reduction part of the Communication (para 6) reflects ongoing health initiatives on HIV/AIDS and various existing funding programmes. It fails to mention that the Commission's current Drug Prevention and Information (funding)  Programme is destined to become a pure "justice" programme in 2013 and will loose its demand reduction and wider policy aspects. Mrs Reding is on record as saying that health aspects are not a Commission competence under the EU Treaty and that she leaves that up to Member States. So much for the balanced approach.

The initiative on "drugged driving" has been in the making for some years. It is a promising initiative.... in the field of road safety, not drug policy.

Para 8 - on International Cooperation - is again the usual line-up of supply reduction-related measures. There is a passage on the "comprehensive" nature of external EU policy, and on the (major) effort by the Commission in terms of providing alternative livelihoods in production and transit countries. This is of course the work of the Commission's EU External Action Service now and the Commission's Directorate General for Development. The former is in disarray and has just had a written warning from 14 EU Foreign Ministers to pull its socks up; the latter has no mandate on drugs policy but will implement policy directives on this from Brussels.


Evaluations made at the request of the Commission in recent years (particularly the so called Reuter/Trautmann report:, a joint publication by Rand and the Trimbos Institute) clearly suggest that the punitive, law enforcement driven approach of the world's current multilateral control system has not led to a reduction in use or trafficking, and that demand rarely responds to arrests and punishment. What we do know is that harm reduction and treatment strategies reduce crime and other social problems and reduce public health problems too.

This Commission announcement seems to ignore the lessons of the past 15 years, lessons which are not crackpot ideas from extreme pro-drugs groups, but evidence-based conclusions from its own services, from most Member States, and from serious bodies financed by the European Commission itself, such as the EU's  drugs monitoring agency, the EMCDDA.

It also comes at a rather odd moment: i.e. before the Commission's own services have completed their evaluation of the EU Drugs Srategy 2004-2012, and before the Commission's Civil Society Forum on Drugs has had the time to table its recommendations for the next Drugs Strategy.

Europe has had a bad year on the world stage. It's credibility is at a low ebb while that same world is loosing the battle against illicit drugs because the system the Western countries put into place 50 years ago in the form of UN Conventions and institutions have failed. Today, they are little more than a dysfunctional, scandal-ridden irrelevance, but capable of supporting extreme levels of violence against populations in the weaker countries. Presidents from a number of Latin American states, including Mexico and Colombia, have recently signed the Tuxtla Declaration, calling on  drug consuming countries to explore "all possible options, including market alternatives", i.e. forms of legalisation or regulation. The recently retired Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers and EU High Representative for the EU's external and security policy, Xavier Solana, is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which is calling for the same thing. The global drugs problem has reached a stage where serious and difficult policy changes are being debated. Not, it would seem, in the European Commission.

The Commission's policy statement is an embarrassment to intelligent European policy makers and people working in this field. It is also a comfort to the enemy, i.e. the criminals who makes a profit out of the huge illegal market the system provides them with. It is however also a comfort to those individuals, organisations, and countries - from dodgy bible-thumping preachers to the Kingdom of Sweden - who want to stick with the current  prohibitionist system if it kills them. The problem is, it just might, but do we want to go down with them?

Good luck

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