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Snapshot 1999-2004
European Union strategy on drugs

Snapshot 1999-2004
by the EMCDDA and EUROPOL 
Final version, May 2005

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Thematic papers
Main lessons from investigation of evaluation in the drug policy field in the European Union 2000-2004

Evaluation is an essential condition for the transparency and legitimacy of public action. In the controversial and complex field of drugs, it is also seen as a key tool for improving policy. This thematic paper provides an overview of the evaluation process adopted by the European Commission in evaluating the EU strategy and action plan on drugs and echoes Member States’ recent activities in the field of drug policy evaluation. The paper makes a series of methodological recommendations for the future. Among others, it recommends that the next EU strategy on drugs is conceived so that:

  • it takes into account the results of the 2000–2004 evaluation exercise;
  • it is clear, precise and integrates achievable objectives and targets that will be transformed into operational objectives in the action plan;
  • the duration of the strategy will be sufficient to cover at least two action plans;
  • a specific budget is allocated to evaluation at EU level;
  • an evaluation structure can be mandated for the implementation of the exercise.

Between 1999 and 2004 nearly all Member States (EU 15) referred to evaluation to some degree in the framework of their national drug strategies and/or action plans.

Thematic paper 1
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Drug strategies and action plans in the European Union 2000-2004

Since the late 1990s, drug strategies and action plans have been increasingly adopted by EU countries as the central instrument for implementing drug policy. This thematic paper looks at the origins and characteristics of this phenomenon as well as recent trends and perspectives for future development.

The need for governments to address the drug problem through the adoption a national drug strategy was first tabled by the United Nations in 1987 and was reaffirmed by the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS). The EU strategy and action plan reiterate this principle, endorsing the idea of a ‘national coordinated balanced drug strategy’. In 2003, a European Commission ‘Communication on coordination on drugs in the European Union’, directly asked Member States to adopt a comprehensive national strategy or action plan on drugs. Almost all EU countries now report to have done so.

Across Member States, the ‘drug strategy’ may take many forms (e.g. drug programme, national strategy, action plan, plans of intervention, policy note). Differences are not only found in designation but also in time-span and goals. However common themes are found (e.g. treatment, harm reduction, supply reduction, coordination, etc.) and key elements (e.g. evaluation, ‘global approach’, prevention) can be traced back to the EU strategy.

This paper defines a drug strategy as a set of general principles, priorities and objectives giving direction to government drug policy, while an action plan sets out the precise targets, resources and timescale for achievement. It proposes that these definitions be clarified during the drafting of the new EU strategy and action plan, that common standards be drawn up to ensure consistency between drug policies of 25 EU countries and that activities and methodologies be promoted to mobilise resources for evaluation. The issue of consistency between an overall EU drug strategy, subsequent EU plans of action, and 25 national strategies and plans could be reflected on in a collegial manner by the EU, its says.

Thematic paper 2
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Coordination of drug policy in the European Union 2000-2004

For the last 20 years, coordination in the field of drugs has been seen as an integral part of drug policy and an indispensable tool for ensuring its effectiveness. This thematic paper looks at the formal characteristics of drug coordination systems in EU countries and at the extent to which the EU strategy and action plan may have influenced their development.

The principle of coordination was first identified in the EU in the mid-1980s and has been underlined in all EU drug plans since the first in 1990. The current action plan calls on countries to set up a coordination system and appoint a national drug coordinator. It also requests the European Commission, with assistance from the EMCDDA, to look into how coordination arrangements could be improved – this resulted in the European Commission ‘Communication on coordination on drugs in the European Union’ in 2003.

Coordination is often seen as a ‘positive aspect of performance’ and is viewed as a necessary element to increase productivity or global efficiency of a service. But the paper says that there is no uniform definition of the term: ‘although there is a consensus on the need for coordination, there is still the question of what it should consist of’.

The EMCDDA reports increased levels of activity in coordination over the last four years and states that the EU strategy and action plan have been an incentive. However, the mere presence of a coordinating structure is insufficient proof of an efficient mechanism, it says. Scientific research is needed into whether coordination renders the response to the drug problem more efficient. In this light, the new EU strategy could look at how to promote research into best practice among drug coordination mechanisms in Europe.
Thematic paper 3
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Public expenditure on drugs in the European Union 2000-2004

A crucial element in evaluating drug policy, and an important indicator of political commitment to the drugs issue, is the estimation of governments’ expenditure to counter the problem. This thematic paper offers an overview of the state of research on public expenditure in the drugs field in the light of the new EU strategy and action plan.

Research into public expenditure on drugs aims to examine how much the government spends to counter the drugs problem in general, what budget is attributed to specific areas and how this is sustained over time. Only a few EU Member States offer data on the cost of drug policy and those who do so report that the lion’s share of the drug budget is dedicated to law enforcement, with prevention, one of the top priorities of drug policy in the EU and globally, receiving only a small portion.  

Research to date has pointed to the lack of comparability between studies, highlighting the need for consensus on conceptual issues, such as how expenditure should be classified and how data should be collected and used for estimation, says the paper. The EU should not only promote further research into public expenditure but also favour a common EU framework for research. High-quality information on drug expenditure, that would allow for sound cost–benefit analyses, is urgently needed in the EU.

Thematic paper 4
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Legislative activity in the period 2000-2004

This thematic paper looks at the extent to which legislative attention was paid in the period 2000–2004 to actions considered by Member States to be of high priority at the outset of the strategy and action plan. Over 250 legal texts were analysed and compared with actions specified in the plan.

A considerable number of legal changes in this period were attributed to the action stipulated in the plan as ‘to develop outreach work and treatment for users’ – and there was a clear acknowledgement of the need for a stable legal basis for substitution treatment, following its general formalisation EU-wide in the 1990s.

A further trend noted was the reduction of prosecution or maximum sentences for drug users, as Member States aim to resolve cases through alternatives such as treatment rather than via the criminal justice system. A number of countries increased criminal punishment for driving following consumption of illegal drugs.

On the whole, little legislation was passed in the period 2000–2004 in the areas of: research and resources to address the drug issue; public information campaigns; and young people, although such subjects may have been covered before this reporting period or by methods other than legislation.
Thematic paper 5
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Drug law and young people 2000-2004

One of the targets of the EU action plan is ‘to reduce significantly over five years the prevalence of drug use, as well as new recruitment to it, particularly among young people under 18 years of age’. In total there are eight references to young people in the plan covering areas such as demand reduction, prevention of drug use and drug-related crime. This thematic paper identifies the legal activity undertaken by the EU Member States between 1999 and 2004 and how it might be attributed to, or have been made in the spirit of, references to young people in the plan.

Overall, a total of 22 laws, passed by 11 Member States during the period in question, were found to address issues named in the plan that related to young people. No less than 10 countries passed legislation providing alternatives to prison, especially for young drug offenders, although five of these laws focused primarily on adults. Six Member States passed laws aiming to reduce the prevalence of drug use among young people.

The study notes that, despite several issues relating to young people in the plan, comparatively little legislative attention appeared to be given to them by the end of the period in question, although numerous non-legislative actions (e.g. educational or training programmes) may have been undertaken.
Thematic paper 6
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Drug-using offenders in the European Union 2000-2004

Drug use is directly or indirectly prohibited in all EU countries – except for in medical or scientific circumstances – and punishment for offences varies from administrative to penal, depending on the country. This thematic paper analyses current trends in the EU Member States in responses targeting drug-using offenders.  

International treaties have long endorsed the principle of providing treatment, education, aftercare and social rehabilitation to drug-using offenders as an alternative – or in addition to – conviction or punishment. In recent years (post UNGASS 1998), they have urged for such services to be provided in prison and have called for close cooperation between the criminal justice and health and social systems.

The EU drug strategy also endorses these principles, stressing the importance of ‘full partnership’ between the two sectors and requesting Member States to implement alternative measures to imprisonment and provide facilities for addicted prisoners. All Member States (EU 15) now provide measures to divert offenders into treatment and rehabilitation. The new EU strategy, while continuing to influence this approach, should support the need for evidence and evaluation in this area.

Official ‘drug texts’ (laws, guidelines, strategies, plans) suggest a shift in public perception of the drug problem – today it is seen less in a moral and public-order context and more in terms of public health. Whether the principle ‘therapy used instead of punishment’ is effectively implemented cannot be confirmed or refuted due to scare data in this field. More research is needed into the effectiveness of ‘alternative measures’ compared to their declared objectives –  both in the community and prisons – and results of best practice should be made available throughout Europe.
Thematic paper 7
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Legal responses to new synthetic drugs 2000-2004

This paper highlights evidence of legislative activity related to new synthetic drugs as an indicator of Member States’ commitment to the issue. It also examines to what extent legal activity may be attributed to the EU action plan on drugs.

Among others, the paper describes the wide variety of procedures that individual Member States are obliged to follow in order to control a new substance. These vary greatly between countries with the result that some simply cannot react as fast as others. This, in turn, may weaken the rationale of a fast, pan-European response to new synthetic drugs, and the effectiveness of the 1997 Joint action.

The paper states that no sizeable legislative action was taken in the period 2000–2004 that would clearly assist prevention, counter abuse of synthetic drugs or identify their production or trafficking. The attention to synthetic drugs implied or requested by the Council of the EU when designing the action plan is apparently not reflected in the laws reported over the 2000–2004 period by the 15 countries.
Thematic paper 8
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Evolution of European Union budget lines on drugs 2000-2004

Although the EU action plan on drugs foresees a series of activities for the period 2000–2004, and although the EU strategy calls for the provision of appropriate resources for drug-related actions and social consequences of drug abuse, no specific budget is allocated to the execution of the plan. Instead the plan relies on funds allocated to various Community initiatives and programmes covering the drug phenomenon.

This paper studies the evolution of EU drug budget-lines adopted from 2000–2004 as a measure of commitment to the drug phenomenon. At the outset of the plan, the European Parliament considered that resources earmarked in the Community budget for the fight against drugs were ‘woefully inadequate’ given the challenges faced.

Budgets dedicated to the drug phenomenon are not organised in a coordinated fashion, concludes the paper, with expenditure dispersed over several budget-lines or chapters of the EU budget. Between 2000 and 2004 some budget-lines were cancelled, while others – specifically attributed to the drug phenomenon – were integrated into more general budget-lines. This dispersion and constant redistribution complicate the global understanding of the drug budget, making it difficult to calculate the total amount dedicated to the issue. Merging drug budget-lines under a single financial chapter would not only increase the visibility and analysis of the total EU expenditure on drugs but would also contribute to a more streamlined and coordinated way of allocating resources.
Thematic paper 9
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Drug provisions in the EC external agreements 2000-2004

Cooperation on drugs with countries outside the EU is a specific objective of the EU strategy and action plan. This paper looks at the extent to which provisions on drugs were included in the European Community’s external agreements in the period 2000–2004 and examines their content and funding. 

The paper states that there are no standard provisions on drugs in the EC external agreements. But while provisions differ in title and content, they do show common traits. For example they all cover supply and demand reduction and encourage information exchange, coordination and technical and administrative assistance.

These provisions are a result of political agreements and do not necessarily result in concrete projects. Whether projects are implemented or not depends on priorities set under specific ‘Country Strategy Papers’ drawn up by the EU Member States and the third countries and approved by the European Commission. But this country-oriented approach is not always consistent with the global and coordinated vision foreseen by the EU strategy or with its aim of focusing specifically on trans-national drug routes. Several budget lines are available for the development of projects in third countries.
Thematic paper 10
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Related links
EU Action plan, 2000-2004

Further details on the background, implementation and evaluation can be found at the link above.


Page last updated: Friday, 31 March 2006