The current drugs situation in the EU requires comprehensive and multisector responses across security, health and social policy covering the law enforcement, scientific, environmental, socio-political, technological and international dimensions of the issue. A people-centred and human rights-oriented approach are the cornerstones of EU drugs policy.
EU coordination in the fight against drugs
As part of EU efforts in the field of drugs, the EU is taking strategic and operational measures to reduce drug supply and demand by working closely with all partners at national and international level, EU institutions, bodies and agencies, as well as civil society organisations.
Justice and Home Affairs EU agencies such as the EMCDDA (the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction) and Europol (the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) play a central role in the drugs field in the EU and internationally.
Through the EU Drugs Strategy, the EU coordinates evidence-based, balanced and integrated measures with EU countries and speaks with one voice internationally. Law enforcement action against drug trafficking is coordinated through EMPACT (European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats). Drugs-related health damage is addressed under prevention, treatment and care services and harm reduction.
EU Drugs Strategy 2021-2025
In the context of the EU Security Union Strategy, the Commission adopted the EU Agenda and Action Plan on Drugs 2021-2025 to set out the Commission’s priorities for action in the field of drugs. Based on this document, the Council of the EU approved the EU Drugs Strategy 2021-2025.
The Strategy aims to:
- protect and improve the well-being of society and of the individual
- protect and promote public health
- offer a high level of security and well-being for the general public
- increase health literacy.
The Strategy takes an evidence-based, integrated, balanced and multidisciplinary approach to the drugs phenomenon at national, EU and international level. It also incorporates a gender equality and health equity perspective.
The Strategy is structured around three policy areas that will contribute to achieving its aim, and three cross-cutting themes in support of the policy areas. Altogether, the Strategy encompasses 11 strategic priorities.
The three policy areas and corresponding strategic priorities are:
- Strategic priority 1: Disrupt and dismantle high-risk drug-related organised crime groups operating in, originating in or targeting the EU Member States; address links with other security threats and improve crime prevention
- Strategic priority 2: Increase the detection of illicit wholesale trafficking of drugs and drug precursors at EU points of entry and exit
- Strategic priority 3: Tackle the exploitation of logistical and digital channels for medium- and small-volume illicit drug distribution and increase seizures of illicit substances smuggled through these channels in close cooperation with the private sector
- Strategic priority 4: Dismantle illicit drug production and counter illicit cultivation; prevent the diversion and trafficking of drug precursors for illicit drug production; and address environmental damage
- Strategic priority 5: Prevent drug use and raise awareness of the adverse effects of drugs
- Strategic priority 6: Ensure access to and strengthen treatment and care services
- Strategic priority 7: Risk- and harm-reduction interventions and other measures to protect and support people who use drugs
- Strategic priority 8: Address the health and social needs of people who use drugs in prison settings and after release
The three cross-cutting themes and corresponding strategic priorities are:
- Strategic priority 9: Strengthening international cooperation with third countries, regions, international and regional organisations, and at multilateral level to pursue the approach and objectives of the Strategy, including in the field of development. Enhancing the role of the EU as a global broker for a people-centred and human rights-oriented drug policy
- Strategic priority 10: Building synergies to provide the EU and its Member States with the comprehensive research evidence base and foresight capacities necessary to enable a more effective, innovative and agile approach to the growing complexity of the drugs phenomenon, and to increase the preparedness of the EU and its Member States to respond to future challenges and crises
- Strategic priority 11: Ensuring optimal implementation of the Strategy and of the Action Plan, coordination by default of all stakeholders and the provision of adequate resources at EU and national levels
The EU Drugs Strategy is accompanied by an Action Plan covering concrete operational steps and activities.
Rules on new psychoactive substances (NPS)
Since 2005 a system is in place to detect new substances on the market and a mechanism to assess their risks and put those substances which are harmful under control across the EU. Based on a risk assessment made by the EMCDDA, the Commission presents a proposal to ban harmful new psychoactive substances.
Given the rapid rise of new psychoactive substances, the rules were updated in 2017 to:
- Ensure that the EU has effective tools to take swifter action to ban the most dangerous of these substances from the EU drugs markets. This is due to shorter deadlines and more streamlined procedures.
- Strengthen the role of the EMCDDA, which hosts the Early Warning System, working 7 days/week and 24 hours/day, to allow the sharing of information among EU countries.
EU Agencies and initiatives working in the field of drugs
Justice and Home Affairs EU agencies working in the field of drugs include:
- EMCDDA (the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction)
- Europol (the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation)
- Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency)
- Eurojust (the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation)
- CEPOL (the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training)
The EMCDDA provides the EU and its countries with a factual overview on European level concerning drugs, drug addiction and their consequences. This provides a solid evidence base to support drugs policy-making on European and national level. Europol, Frontex, Eurojust and CEPOL support the EU and its countries in the area of freedom, security and justice, in which the issue of drugs is prioritised. The EU agencies also work with international organisations and other non-EU partners.
On 12 January 2022, the European Commission presented a proposal to revise the mandate of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), transforming it into the European Union Drugs Agency. This proposal seeks to ensure that the future Agency can react effectively to new challenges, provide better support to Member States, and contribute to developments at the international level. It delivers on the commitment made in the EU Drugs Action Plan 2021-2025 and EU Drugs Strategy 2021- 2025.
The Commission also co-funds initiatives in the field of drugs such as the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) which provides a forum for multi-lateral cooperation to suppress illicit drug trafficking by sea and air.
Civil society involvement
Civil society, in particular non-governmental organisations (NGOs), is an important partner in the implementation of EU drugs policy. The Commission has set up an Expert Group - the Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSFD), which supports policy formulation and implementation through practical advice.
EU financial programmes for drug-related projects
The following EU financial programmes included funding for drug-related projects between 2014-2020, to help implement the objectives set by the EU Drugs Strategy 2013-2020 and to foster cross-border cooperation and research on drug issues:
- The Justice Programme 2014-2020
- The Internal Security Fund Police 2014-2020
- The Health Programme 2014-2020
- Horizon 2020
In the 2021-2027 programming period, the following funds are envisaged to address various drugs-related challenges:
The international framework for regulating the production, export, import, distribution, trade, use and possession of illicit drugs is defined by three main international drug control conventions. Most UN countries are party to these conventions and have introduced drug control measures.
The EU is active on the international stage in the field of drugs, promoting the approach and objectives of the EU Drugs Strategy with one voice. The EU's external relations in the field of drugs are based on the principles of shared responsibility, multilateralism, the promotion of a development-oriented approach, respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law and respect for the international drug control conventions.
The EU addresses the issue of drugs internationally through:
- taking up an active role at UN level, notably in the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, to support the work on assessing and developing drug policies
- regional dialogues on drugs with Latin America and the Caribbean, Central Asia, Eastern Partnership, and the Western Balkans
- bilateral dedicated dialogues with a number of countries such as the US, China, and Russia
- assistance for a wide range of drug-related cooperation projects in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa along the cocaine trafficking route, and in Afghanistan and Central Asia along the heroin route
- technical assistance projects in the candidate countries and potential candidate countries of the Western Balkans, to help prepare for their possible accession to the EU
In terms of preventing the diversion of precursors that could be used in the manufacturing of drugs, cooperation between the EU and other regions or countries has a significant role to play (see dedicated page on drug precursors control).
Related news items
Today, the European Commission presented a proposal revising the organisation and capabilities of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).