EU policy in the drugs field has been developed in the 1990's, and is today firmly on the European agenda. There is no simple answer to drugs, but definitely the most effective answer is a European answer on a European scale, one that applies the principles of safeguarding health of people and ensuring security and respect of law in the European space.
The work undertaken by the European Commission within the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2005-2008 is oriented towards four main goals:
-- to develop sensible and effective European responses to reduce both demand and supply. This balance between public health and law enforcement reflects the balance between peoples' rights and public safety. Whatever we do, it should be based on an objective analysis of the situation, on the increasingly reliable data that are coming through from the member States and from the EMCDDA and
-- to connect with citizens in order to reach the millions of Europeans - mostly young people - for whom taking drugs has become a normal recreational activity, to improve our understanding of this phenomenon, and to convince drug users across the EU that they are harming themselves and others, not only in our own societies, but also in more distant countries;
-- to take due account of the frequent close links between lack of economic and social opportunities and marginalisation on one side and drugs use on the other;
-- to help countries outside the EU where drugs are cultivated to strengthen their chance to develop their economies away from drug dependence.
The scale of the problem
Drug consumption and mortality are at unprecedented levels and show little sign of coming down: it is estimated that in any given month 1.5 million Europeans take cocaine and 12 million take cannabis, of whom 3 million take it on a more or less daily basis. 20 % of treatment requests are now related to cannabis, placing it second only to heroin. Ecstasy, produced in Europe, is now the second most common drug after cannabis. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) , in some Member States up to 8 % of young people take it on a regular basis. Polydrug use - the systematic and intensive mixing of drugs, often with alcohol and medicines - is a growing problem and difficult to treat.
HIV infection continues to have a major public health impact. In Western and Central Europe more than 26 000 people were infected with HIV in 2005. In this region heterosexual intercourse has become the main mode of transmission, and harm reduction programmes have helped to reduce the spread of HIV among injecting drug users. The main challenge is to sustain this positive development and to prevent HIV transmission from infected injecting drug users to their sexual partners.
In order to save lives it is important to make sure that people do not to use drugs but it is equally important to work with injecting drug users and implement comprehensive harm reduction services as an essential component of a comprehensive HIV/AIDS programme.
On the supply side drugs are becoming cheaper, purer (particularly cocaine), stronger (cannabis), and more easily available. Judging by the quantities seized, the flow of cocaine and heroin to Europe is rising. The industry that is behind all this, producing and moving illicit drugs around the world, is in excellent health; it is truly global, uses the latest technology, and knows no national boundaries - unlike much of the political and law enforcement response, which - in spite of real progress made - has yet to match the international scale and efficiency of organised crime in this field.
The EU's response: a balance between reducing demand and supply
The added value of working at EU level is reflected in the current EU Drugs Strategy and the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2005-2008, which sets out specific goals to strengthen cooperation and coordination between Member States in areas such as prevention, harm reduction, treatment, law enforcement, and international cooperation.
Legislation proposed by the Commission to impose minimum penalties on cross-border traffickers was adopted by the Council in 2004. In 2005 it adopted the Commission's proposal for a Decision to improve the information exchange and control of new substances -which will provide a more effective means of dealing with emerging trends and new patterns of drug use, bringing together in one legal framework all the actors concerned: the Member States, European Institutions, specialized agencies, and Europol.
While much remains to be done to establish a solid EU network of law enforcement cooperation with specialised bodies like Europol and Eurojust at its centre, the Commission for its part provides funding under the AGIS programme to support such efforts. Close to 3 million Euros was spent last year on promoting EU cross border law enforcement cooperation between the Member States to fight drug trafficking, such as the use of joint investigation teams or cooperation on fighting cocaine smuggling through airports. The Commission is planning to spend at least 21 million Euros from 2007 on implementing the prevention and information part of the EU Action Plan on Drugs alone. In addition, 600 million Euros has been set aside for fighting organised crime over the next 7 years - including drug-related crime.
Other Commission efforts in the drugs field include worldwide action against the diversion of chemical drug precursors used in the production of illicit drugs: EU wide rules to monitor trade, increased focus on EU border controls and border protection to combat diversion of synthetic drugs precursors, strong EU involvement and support in international cooperation on the operational side (in particular Project Prism, initiated by the Commission in close cooperation with the USA), and bilateral drug precursor cooperation agreements with major players (e.g. Andean States, USA, Turkey and in the near future China). A major investment is also ongoing for the development of drugs and driving safety and control measures to create an effective and EU-wide response to drug-related road accidents.
Demand reduction issues are currently being addressed through the EU Public Health Programme 2003-2008, which has already spent 4.1 million euros directly on drug-related projects up to 2004. In 2005, projects were financed on evaluating the effectiveness of drug prevention programmes in schools and access to treatment. In 2006, priority is given to projects dealing with harm reduction responses to emerging trends in drug use, including the development of joint prevention programmes focusing on socially disadvantaged groups, best practices in drug treatment, and social reintegration. From 2007 the Commission will continue to support demand reduction projects from the new Public Health Action Programme 2007-2013.
Solidarity with producing countries
The EU fully subscribes to the principle of shared responsibility: demand at home feeds production elsewhere, blurring the distinction between producer and consumer countries.
This is reflected in the external role of the EU, which has become the main provider of civil anti-drugs and alternative development programmes around the world. At last count, the total stock of anti-drugs projects implemented by the Member States and the European Commission amounted to more than 500 million euros. Overall, the EU's assistance has almost doubled in the last 3 years. By 2005, Commission projects in the major cocaine producing countries in Latin America totalled 136 million euros. In Afghanistan, responsible for over 90 % of the world's opium production, the EU provided, in 2005, 250 million euros to the Afghan government's Counter Narcotics Campaign, and last year alone the European Commission committed 15 million to Afghanistan's Counter Narcotics Trust Fund.
The way forward
Based on the political approach defined at EU level, it is important to unite forces. Within the Action Plan on Drugs 2005-2008, great emphasis is put on the dialogue with organisations from civil society.
The Commission is presently consulting (until the end of September) the European organisations with a view to structure such a dialogue and place the specific experience and knowledge of these organisations at the disposal of the policy making process at EU level in a practical and sustainable form.