Side Event: European Union Drugs Strategy 2021-2025

Organized by Portugal and the European Union with the support of Germany, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and EUROPOL 

The event starts with a video presentation of the new EU Drugs Strategy, which can be accessed on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW7TxVKAF6s

The text to the new EU Drugs Strategy 2021-2025 can be found here.

Markus Riehl (Germany).  ‘The new Strategy was adopted by the Council of the European Union in December 2020, under the presidency of Germany. This strategy lays down the drug priorities of the EU and its Member States in the next five years. It starts with a reaffirmation of our commitment to evidence-based, comprehensive and balanced approach to drugs, preserving the central space of human rights.

The EU Drugs Strategy is divided in three policy areas. The first policy area is drug supply reduction. It envisaged interventions in terms of law enforcement, judicial cooperation, and intelligence. In comparison with the prior strategy, this area has evolved greatly, responding to changes in drug markets in the EU, which include trends such as more violence, increasing role of the Internet, etc.

The second policy real is drug demand reduction, which includes several mutually reinforcing interventions, including prevention, treatment, recovery etc. Interventions on this area need to be based on scientific evidence, and developed in cooperation with health actors.

A third and very important area is the new chapter on ‘addressing drug-related harm’. All 27 Member States are very proud that this has been done. It is highly relevant to the EU.

The strategy also identifies three cross-cutting themes. The first one is dedicated to international cooperation, and its objective is to enhance the role of the EU as a broker for people-centred and human rights-orientated drug policies, with our partners from civil society. The second theme is research, innovation, and foresight, which will allow a more agile response to new trends. The third cross-cutting theme is coordination, including via the key intervention of the EMCDDA and EUROPOL. This should also include partners from civil society.’

Peter Mihok (European Commission). ‘For more than 30 years, Europe and the rest of the world have experienced significant reforms in drug policies, to reduce supply and demand. But we are now facing new challenges. We continue to face older issues that persist.

The current EU Drug Strategy is the result of the comprehensive evaluation of the prior strategy. Monitoring of effective interventions is essential to policy-making. The evaluation itself revealed worrying and mixed results. It revealed issues like increased criminality and poly-drug use, new patterns of drug consumption and ageing populations, etc. We need to step up our efforts.

That is why the current EU Drugs Strategy is the adapted response to the current drug situation. The implementation of the strategy will also mean that we need to put more emphasis on alternatives to incarceration for minor offenders. And the EU continues to promote the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.’

At the same time, we need to provide law enforcement with the tools they need to deal with organised crime. Given the transnational nature of organised crime, these actions need to be taken at a national, regional, and global actions.

The EU will continue to be a leading voice in global drug policy debates, advocating for science-based and monitored drug policies’.

Alexis Goosdeel (EMCDDA). ‘I would like to share a few reflections on how we can deal with the complexity of drug markets. In a few key words, I would like to reflect on the difference between the current situation and 25 years ago, when the EMCDDA started its operations. Chief amongst them is that nowadays drugs can be everything – they can be of vegetal or synthetic nature, they can be of legal or illegal. The border of what is used/misused/abused has been blurred.

Today drugs are everywhere. What we see in Europe is hyper-availability, and hyper-production. The EU is a producer of drugs, from MDMA to amphetamine and methamphetamine, to precursors. Increasingly the EU is a trans-shipment area. Which means that drugs that arrive to Europe do not necessarily have Europe as end destination.

Today drugs concern everybody. There are no boundaries anymore between user groups. We have moved to polydrug use, which means that the difference between medicine and drug is blurred. The perception of risks is also being reduced. When we speak about addiction, the mental framework is that of the old-school ‘junkie’. Tomorrow drugs can be the new syndemic. A syndemic is a combination of various epidemics.  This one could be fuelled by the combination of increasingly pure, available, cheap substances, increasing economic depression, increasing mental health issues connected to drugs, and increasing criminal activities & violence and corruption.

We have seen from COVID19 that there is a possibility for a different and more comprehensive response to drug use, and that we can create partnership with communities and people who use drugs.

The EU Drugs Strategy is the right tool, as it is based on science, on the evaluation of the past strategy, and it goes beyond the divide between supply and demand reduction. The motto we need to assume now is ‘Do the right thing’.

Georgios Raskos (EUROPOL). ‘I will share EUROPOL’s view regarding high-risk organised crime. Serious and organised crime remain a key threat to the security of the Union. Drug trafficking is the cornerstone of funding for criminal groups. 40% of criminal groups in the EU are involved in drug trafficking. The pandemic did not have an impact on organised crime group.

The EU drug market is the biggest criminal market, and is populated by many sophisticated markets. There are distinct characteristics that cut across different substance markets: violence, corruption, etc. Competition between drug suppliers, particularly those operations on cocaine and cannabis trade has intensified, leading to violence.  Some groups do not hesitate to target law enforcement and officials.

While under-reported, corruption is frequent. Cannabis market remains by far the largest drug market in the EU. Heroin market has remained stable in the last years. In order to address these issues, EUROPOL uses a ‘high value target’ method, based on decisions made through internal decision-making procedures. We also develop and enhance digital investigations to gain access to communications. We are confident that the strategy will enhance sharing of real time actionable intelligence.‘

Iga Kender-Jeriorska (CSFD). ‘Contrary to my colleagues speaking before, I’m not speaking on behalf of public authorities, but as civil society.  And while the focus of my presentation will be the involvement of civil society in the EU Drugs Strategy, I will also mention the obstacles that civil society have faced in the implementation of the strategy.

Research on civil society involvement in drug policy shows that the participation of civil society is at its maximum in the implementation of harm reduction services. In that area, NGO participation was perceived as ‘high’ in as many as 15 countries in the EU. However, in recent years in certain central and eastern European countries we are seeing an illiberal turn, which results in changes in drug policy. In some cases, the turn to illiberal attitudes has resulted in the neglecting of drug policies in general, but in some other cases there is a clear clash between illiberal values of authorities, and the fundamentally liberal values underpinning harm reduction.

As Alexis mentioned, we can learn from the COVID19 pandemic. The functioning of many services has been disrupted due to COVID19. In many countries, authorities did not consider drug-related services as essential services, and their operation was greatly challenged during the pandemic.

The question thus is what can be the role of the EU Drugs Strategy. Importantly, the strategy also provides the framework for monitoring its own implementation, which is critical in service delivery. The Strategy can also be used as an advocacy tool for NGOs working with their national-level authorities. But for NGOs the most important issue is that it provides a framework for involving civil society in policymaking, at EU and hopefully at national level’.

Joao Goulao (Portugal). ‘The input of civil society has been critical in the response to the pandemic’.

Peter Mihok (European Commission). In response to a question. ‘The EU Drugs Strategy does not mention cannabis as such, as we don’t single out any other substance in particular. We want to have a forward-looking document that can help us address  future developments.

Alexis Goosdeel (EMCDDA). In response to a question. ‘In the last years we have been working closely together with civil society, not only involving in service delivery and practitioners, but also with communities of people who use drugs. They have been crucial in many of our publications, as well as in our response to the pandemic. Coordination and cooperation is not only between European institutions and states, but also with all actors, including civil society.

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